July 1, 2009
Zhou and I are in for a long trip...
Today we had our first out-of-town task to prepare for our upcoming year abroad: get three visas. Not all 11 that we will eventually need to get, but just three. Vietnam, Kenya and China. We were originally going to get them through the mail before we remembered that we would be in DC, so we thought we could get them in person. After all, we're in a country where everyone speaks English and we have access to running water, so how hard can this be?
I think it will be best to write the rest of this post in an educational format, so you can learn what not to do based on each of our three stops.
1) If you're very short on time, do not arrive at all. If you're somewhat short on time, do not arrive later than 9:45 (the embassy opens at 9:30). This was the one thing we did right. We showed up at 9:31 and walked right up to the window. A lot of good this would end up doing for us...
2) Do not expect your visa in less than a week. We ended up paying $20 per visa as an expedited charge in order for us to receive them the next day. That's a 30% increase over the list price of $65 per visa.
3) Do not arrive with just a credit card. It may seem obvious to some to bring cash or a check, but not us. I ended up running three blocks to a Wachovia ATM to withdrawal cash for our three visas. It actually seems a little ironic to me that you can't use your Visa to get your visa.
4) Do not show up without having read all instructions online. For Kenya, if you don't fill out the online application ahead of time, they can't do anything for you. Fortunately for us, it turned out that we wouldn't be able to get our Kenyan visa anyway because even expedited here took two business days to process.
5) Do not expect to get your passport back. Vietnam was able to make a photocopy of ours for their overnight process, but Kenya said they would need to keep ours for their process. For countries like this, you can only get one visa at a time.
6) Do not show up where you think the office should be - look it up first! After walking what felt like two miles from Kenya to China (the embassies, not the countries), we came to a sign that read something along these lines: "we have moved to a land far far away." Fortunately the sign was in English, so we could read it.
7) Do not assume the embassy is in the same location as the visa office. For China, this is not the case. We called my brother who found out that they are two separate places, and all reviews said not to even bother showing up to the visa office - it was way too much of a hassle. Just send your passport and application in the mail.
The worst part about today? We still have to finalize everything tomorrow. I'm sure there will be a laundry list of "do nots" that we'll need to cover tomorrow as well.
A funny side story: we were eating lunch at a local diner which I can't remember the name of when we overhead a nearby lady's directions to her friend: "Yeah, I'm sitting at a diner right next to the Starbucks and down the street from another Starbucks." If you ever need to give directions, find your address and never mention anything about Starbucks! There's 8 million of them! We ended up finishing our meal before the lady's friend ever found the place.
[Any suggestions about how we can improve our travel-posting format are welcome. Is there anything you'd like to read on a daily basis?]
Picture of the Day: my dad is the headliner for Taj Mahal's karaoke night.