Thursday, May 24, 2007

Visa power

The last 2-3 days were a bit hectic due to the visas I needed - for Argentina and France.

My Brazillian visa expires in about 2 weeks, and my plan had been to leave Rio on May 31st, travel in Argentina for 2 weeks, and then fly out to Paris on June 15th. Last week, the Argentinian consulate said that it takes a week for the visa to be processed, which meant I would get it today (May 24th), and I guessed that the French visa would take a week at least. Things were touch and go, and over the weekend I was a bit nervous because I hadn't received the documents from Paris with which I could apply for a French visa. If it didn't arrive by this week, I would have had to make alternate plans - stay on in Argentina or fly to London instead of Paris, and work out things from London. Finally got the letter from Paris 2 days ago and breathed a sigh of relief. I called the Argentinian consulate on Tuesday, and the officer said everything was fine and I could pick it up on Thursday (today).

Yesterday afternoon, just before I was heading for lunch, I got a phone call from the admin office in the institute to come by to the office. I thought it must be some paperwork, but it turned out the Argentinian consulate had called. Thankfully, for this month I have a home and an office (very useful while applying for visas), and I'd given the instt phone no as my contact number. Called the Arg consulate back, and there was a problem. Since I was planning to cross into Argentina by land, the Rio office couldn't issue me a visa. I would have to apply for a visa at the border (the Iguazu waterfalls), which would presumably take another week. I didn't have time for that, especially as I had to apply for a French visa immediately. The officer remembered me, and said that the only way they could give me a visa was if I was flying from Brazil to Argentina, and said that a faxed copy of a ticket would work. He said he would need it in a few hours, if I wanted the visa by Thursday.

When it comes to buying airline tickets, I've worked out a couple of ways to *buy* tickets (I'll refrain from being too public about it), so I went down to the computer lab and printed out a ticket from Rio to Buenos Aires. It was lunch time, and the admin office was closed, so I pottered around, and prepared for a lecture I had to give in a few hours. Went back up to the admin office around 1 and faxed it, but the visa officer was away for lunch till 2. Headed back to my office and hoped that the fax I'd sent would suffice, as I had to give a lecture in about an hour, and it would get over around 5 pm - when everything would be shut. Called up around 2, and he said everything was fine, and I should come by tomorrow. I don't know if he knew that I still planned to go across by land and not take a flight, but it's not really his problem.

After my lecture, I printed out and completed the French visa form, made photocopies of all my documents (some of which a friend had faxed from London), and realised the French visa application was going to span 4 continents. A passport issued in Delhi, a bank statement from Boston, a letter of invitation from Paris and a current address in Rio. I was braced for a tough interview and spent the rest of the evening brushing up on my French.

Headed out this morning and went straight to the Argentinian consulate at 930. It opened at 10 and got my passport by 1020. The French consulate was a bit further away in the downtown area, but I'm familiar with Rio so I took a bus and got there by 11. Walked up to the visa section and saw that it was quite empty. Brazillians don't need visas to travel in Europe, so there were just 2 other people. Waited patiently and went through all my documents and realised I'd goofed up. I'd forgotten to bring 2 photographs. The visa section closed at 12 or 1230 so I had less than an hour to get a photo taken. Since it was the main commercial area of Rio, I figured there had to be a photo studio close by.

Went down and asked the security guy and he said there was one next door. Walked across and they said their computer system wasn't working, but there were a couple along a street further down. I had to do it quickly because tomorrow is some kind of a holiday for some of the consulates. It had started raining by now, and I didn't want my papers to get wet so I ran. Running in downtown Rio in the middle of the day, clutching my bag tightly and desperately looking for a studio must have made me look suspicious, but I didn't care. Asked around and was told there was one next to the post office a few blocks away, so I sprinted. Got there short of breath, had my picture taken quickly and ran back to the consulate. Still had about 30 mins before they went for lunch and hadn't even had a chance to talk to the visa officer.

On the way up on the elevator, I practiced my lines expecting her to kick up a fuss. Reached the visa section and waited for a bit for some other people to get their paperwork done. Obviously, the officer didn't speak any English. I gave her all my papers and waited for some problem to arise. She went through them slowly, and after every page she turned I realised my chances were higher. This was my 10th visa application in the last 12 months, and in almost every one of them, there's been a problem regarding my non-residency. An Indian applying for a French visa in Brazil was going to be a problem for sure.

After 5 minutes of looking through the papers, she turned away and filled out some stuff on her computer. Still no questions, and I was quite puzzled. She printed out something, tore off a portion and gave it to me without saying anything. It was the receipt and said 60 Euros. I'd expected the visa fee to be about 30 Euros and wasn't carrying enough cash, so I asked her about how to pay. She smiled and pointed at the slip, which said "GRATIS" and said the pickup date was May 31st. For a few seconds I was a bit shocked, and then asked her if that was all. She still didn't say a single word, smiled and waved and called the next person in line.

So that was it. No questions, no fee, no problems. It worked out and I'll get it in time to spend 2 weeks in Argentina. I got 2 visas approved in one day, without paying a penny.

PS Did you know that one can go to more than 50 countries with an Indian passport and get a visa on arrival? Check out this link.


a said...

that's a really useful link at the end - thanks. great to hear that things worked out so well/easily.

bandafbab said...

They worked out so easily, that I'm a bit suspicious. I'll call the French consulate next week to make sure there's nothing missing :-)

Anonymous said...

That's great. How did your French visa cost nothing? I am going to get mine tomorrow. I didn't know that one could go to Canada through an expired visa with a valid I-94. I have 6 or 7 Canadian visas by now.


bandafbab said...

Interesting link, isn't it? The Indian passport is quite receptive in Africa and small islands. I'll stick to those after Paris, maybe.

The French visa was free because it's a Scientific exchange visa. You should point that out at the interview.

Baskar said...

I didn't really have an interview, people here don't go to the consulate for visas, but they have some sort of office where one can drop your application. They did not like my photos, so I had to get new ones. They were also not very happy about my health insurance card. I am supposed to have health insurance, so I gave them my Brandeis one. They didn't believe this it is still valid since I am no longer a student.