Visa Issues - Ready or Not?

I’ve never had any real visa issues while travelling. My two visas for India were each processed in less than a day; in Panama a visa was issued upon arrival, and in Korea I’ve extended my visa in less time than it takes to order a ShanghaiSpiceChickenBurgerSet at McDonald’s. My most recent jaunt to Gabon— Central  Africa— has been the most hectic experience I’ve had in my visa collecting career.

Once I knew that I would be travelling to Gabon to visit some close friends, my first task was to figure out what items were needed. I made a quick checklist:

  • Passport Photos
  • Copy of photo page from passport
  • Copy of IDs
  • Current address
  • Yellow Fever vaccination
  • Travel itinerary
  • Authorisation d’Entrée (issued by the immigration authorities in Libreville)

That last item would prove to be the most taxing to procure. Since I’ve been living in Korea, I visited the Gabonese embassy in Seoul and I was delighted that I would be saving about $100 compared to what the embassy in DC charges.

I submit my documents to the kind people in Seoul, and they inform me that they can not/will not issue a visa until I secure that final document. Fair enough. I have plenty of time. I submit the necessary documents to Libreville via my host, and we wait. And wait.

…And wait.

Finally I get confirmation that the document is ready. My friend in Gabon goes to pick the Authorisation d'Entrée. It’s ready, but it requires an additional signature before they will release it to him. Damn semantics!

Meanwhile, in my pre-travel exuberance and mission to fill up my passport (I’m soo close!), I book a flight that would have me stop over in Bangkok (They said the visa was ready, right?!). So I'm all set to leave: Thursday's the day.

My Gabonese Visa. At last! 

My friend is told to come back [for the Authorisation d'Entrée] on Friday. 

…Flatline… 

I'm slightly panicked. Breathe. Time to put on the thinking cap. Perhaps the embassy will make an exception. Maybe I can get the visa from the consulate in Bangkok. Maybe I can just get the visa upon arrival at LBV. No, monsieur. Perhaps I can speak with the ambassador. Nicca, please!

I had no choice but to postpone my travel. I was able to meet up with some old Korean pals, and explore parts of Seoul that I’d previously left uncovered. Hey, make lemonade, right? In the meantime, my host in Libreville, realizing that we could no longer take the words to mean what they mean, worked out another solution. He was able to secure a laissez-passer from one of the cabinet ministers, which would allow me to travel to the country sans visa and secure one upon arrival. That Monday morning, I returned to the embassy and they returned my passport (along with my $50) and wished me a safe journey. Bon voyage. I felt extra adventurous travelling without a visa, and perhaps a little pompous as I explained the situation to the airline clerks who inspected my travel credentials. Even though the situation was a little chaotic and frustrating, it worked out and I entered the country with mild fanfare. The immigration officials ushered me off to a side queue, where my passport and laissez-passer were reviewed. In exchange for $95 USD (still $55 cheaper than DC) I was issued my visa.

All’s well that ends well, I suppose. I wonder if Omar Bashir can relate?

Have you ever had any issues obtaining a visa, or had to reschedule your travels due to unforeseen setbacks? We want to hear your stories. Leave us a comment below!