The consulate wants my passport to issue a visa but I am afraid I will not get it back in time: what to do?
July 22, 2010 8:13 AM   Subscribe

I am in a bit of a bureaucratic bind and I need some advice. Short story: I leave for a trip in 10 days and at this point have no visa for the country that I will be living in for a year. The consulate just emailed me a couple of hours ago and informed me that I need to send my passport to them (who are located in a city 12 hours away) in order that they can issue me the visa. Problem: I have been trying to get this visa for months now, and they have been terribly slow every step of the way. I am worried that I will not get my passport back in time before my flight. What do I do?

More details, but first here is the email that I received:

We are still waiting for your temporary stay visa confirmation from Immigration office in [Capital City of Country X]. While we are waiting for the visa confirmation, could you please to send your original passport to our office at [address] together with the visa application form that you have been filled it. You can download the application at our website at [consulate website]. Also please give us registered mail with your address on it for returning your passport (Fedex is recommended). But it would be better if you could come directly to our office at the end of July 2010.

I would just do as the email says express post my passport with another paid express post envelope inside and would trust that the visa was processed before I left (although even for the most efficient and dependable countries I would think that 10 days is cutting it rather close.) However, my experience with this entire process so far — if it helps I am studying in the country for a year abroad; it is in SE Asia — has been nothing but delay after delay, and it has been rather difficult to communicate with the consulate directly (due in part to the language barrier and in part due to disorganization on their behalf.)

The consulate website says that visa processing "normally" takes 3 days upon receipt, which means that even if I overnight the application tomorrow, I will not receive my visa by the Friday before I leave, perhaps Thursday if I am lucky. I leave on a Tuesday. This is of course if everything goes as planned.

These are the three options that I have thought of. If you have another idea, that would be great.

Option A: Do not send away my passport. Instead, apply for a Visa on Arrival when I arrive in the capital city. The advantage of this is that it will get me into the country. The disadvantage is that I will be going against the procedures of this application process (to be more specific it is a gov't sponsored scholarship to study in this country for a year.)

Option B: Fly to the city where the consulate is located and have the visa processed on the spot. I am not entirely sure they would do this for me, but seeing how I flew all the way there I think there is a good chance they could issue my visa on the day of. The disadvantage to this is the $350 of the round trip ticket and inconvenience of going all the way there.

Option C: Overnight express post my passport and cross my fingers. Of course this makes me nervous. But maybe I am stressing out too much about this? Is this typical procedure this close to my departure date?

I should also let you guys know that I have no trip cancellation insurance. Thank you in advance for your assistance!
posted by anonymous to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Contact them by phone and explain your situation and ask whether they would accommodate you should you take option B and show up in person? If they say they will, the $350 is the least of the potential inconveniences than the potential stress of the other 2 options. Failing that (or they say they won't accommodate you on the spot), try to make a connection with the person on the phone to see if you can get any traction/hope for option C.
posted by kch at 8:21 AM on July 22, 2010

It's pretty standard to have to send your passport to a consulate for a visa. The bad news: consulates are horribly disorganized, inefficient, and slow. The good news: some people know how to work them. I'm not sure if you're in the US, but my company uses PVS International to expedite our visas. That said, over the past few days, I'm 2 for 3 with them - they got me a visa for a contractor for West Africa in 24 hours (quoted 3-days on the website), for my boss to the Middle East in two days, but I wasn't able at all to get someone's visa for a third country.

You will probably have to send your passport for the visa. I would recommend working with an expeditor. Call PVS if you're in the US, at least; they'll be able to give you a ballpark timeline.
posted by quadrilaterals at 8:22 AM on July 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Based on my experience I would order the options as follows:

1. Option B: there is a finite cost but there is the certainity that you get it and your passport doesnt lose your sight. This way you can still do A if you had to.
2. Option C: on every occasion when I have tried it things have worked surprisingly well (luck cannot be ruled out though)
3. Option A: immigration authorities can be very pedantic and dont forget that they exist to keep people out of their countries

I dont know which country you are going to but I woundnt dare to do Option A with many civilised countries such as the USA/Germany/France/Britain
posted by london302 at 8:23 AM on July 22, 2010

It's pretty standard to have to send your passport to a consulate for a visa. The bad news: consulates are horribly disorganized, inefficient, and slow. The good news: some people know how to work them. I'm not sure if you're in the US, but my company uses PVS International to expedite our visas.

My company uses CIBT for the same reasons. They are not cheap, but it should be cheaper than physically flying there yourself.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:30 AM on July 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Option D: Maybe its not common where you are but in the UK there are agencies who - for a fee which depends on the country being applied to and the time available - will take care of all the business of going around to consultates to submit and collect passports for the visa process. is this service available where you are? Based on UK prices it would be much cheaper than the $350 you mention. I used this kind of service myself 2 years ago for a trip to China and would definitely do it again.
posted by biffa at 8:33 AM on July 22, 2010

First, call that consulate and keep asking until you get the actual person who's going to be doing the visa. Get that person's name. Explain your issue very calmly and clearly to that person. FedEx (or whatever the equivalent is that will get it there first) the passport to that person.

Next, you say this is all due to a government-sponsored scholarship -- is the sponsor the government of the country you're going to, or your own government? Because either way, there's gotta be an office somewhere that you can talk to and say, "Hey, that scholarship you guys gave me? It's going to go to waste if you can't get Mr. That Person at the consulate in That City to get this done for me now." And tell Mr. That Person that you're going to do this, just so he knows you're serious and this is something that has to happen.
posted by Etrigan at 8:34 AM on July 22, 2010

If at all possible, go directly to the consulate and see if it can be processed on the same day. I would absolutely not try option A - showing up and applying for a visa on arrival - as you're likely to be entering the country under false pretenses. If you're going to study, you need a student visa. If you enter on another visa, you may very well be committing a crime. If you're tossed out of the country because you've not got the right visa (which is completely within their rights), not only is this going to complicate your current situation but it will also complicate future visa applications to many other countries (there's often a question asking if you've ever been denied a visa/entry).

This all might sound a little alarmist but immigration rules and restrictions are increasingly strict. It's important to remember that you don't have any right to be any country where you're not a citizen - if you want to go, you need to play by their immigration rules.
posted by lumiere at 8:35 AM on July 22, 2010

I've never used one of those visa-expediting services, which sound interesting, and might be a good option.

I will say this: option B is the one that gives you the most certainty, or at least the most advance notice that you're hosed. If you fly there and still don't leave with your visa, you're in a better position to deal with the consequences than if you send the passport off and are in limbo for an indefinite period, or worse, fly to the country and find yourself in some kind of Kafkaesque bureaucratic nightmare.

It would be a big PITA, but at least it's a known PITA.
posted by adamrice at 8:48 AM on July 22, 2010

Nthing using a professional visa service.

Obviously, I can offer no guarantees - but I know how much you must be stressing.

We have used reputable professional agencies in the US - both when the cost can be billed to a third party (yay) and it's just a lot easier to have professionals doing the work for you AND when we have messed up ourselves (a passport needed renewing PLUS a visa & we noticed the problem very late in the day, and the company said it could manage the renewal in time). The eye-watering premium charged was absolutely worth it.

I wish I knew how these companies can make the red tape melt away.
But if they tell you it's possible to get the correct documents back in time & you do have the necessary paperwork filled-in & ready to send, we have never yet been disappointed. Also, in our experience, the companies DO check personally with you when they get your paperwork that you haven't filled in anything wrong or missed a crucial step in the application, which is extra reassurance when you're up against the clock.

(I have the oddball nationality passport in my family, plus a different surname to my husband & grown children, plus the country of issue in question has been hit - in the past - with changed rules about visa requirements out of the blue. We also travel a fair amount. So I've done a lot of embassy schlepping and nail-gnawing in my time).

Good luck.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 9:37 AM on July 22, 2010

I've used a visa expediting service, days before leaving for a country with catch-22 visa requirements and unhelpful consulates. It was expensive, but it was also like magic. At this stage, I highly recommend option D.

There are a few high profile ones, plenty of reviews of each. I picked one because their core staff included someone specialising in the former-USSR (where I was going) and they were based in one of the cities that had a consulate of the country (I think this matters). They were responsive on the phone to my questions as I filled out their paperwork online, and they just made it all happen at surprising speed, no hitches.

It's worth the extra money. You won't need to cross your fingers - they know exactly what they're doing.
posted by -harlequin- at 9:44 AM on July 22, 2010

If they don't get your passport back in time, can you just claim that it's been lost and apply for a new one? I know my aunt had a new passport issued same day since she lost it on the way to the airport...
posted by hummercash at 9:52 AM on July 22, 2010

I don't know why there is all this secrecy about your destination but I can share a little about getting a visa for Taiwan.

You should take option B. This way, the passport is in your hands the entire time.

The other thing is that Taiwan's office, in particular, has a 3 business day processing time but if you pay an extra 50%, they have same day expediting. You drop off the passport in the morning between 8:00 and 11:00a and come pick it up between 3:30 and 4:30p with the visa stuck in it.

Since your destination is probably not Taiwan, call the office and ask about expedited services.
posted by just.good.enough at 9:54 AM on July 22, 2010

I've also successfully used these visa services and can only recommend that approach. It was a few years ago and I don't recall the exact company now, but they charged $100 for their effort, if memory serves.
posted by Dragonness at 10:21 AM on July 22, 2010

Oh, regarding option B: I am almost certain that would not work. I live in a city full of embassies. They do not care if you show up. In fact, they have really strict rules about you showing up. For example, the Nigerian embassy only processes visas in person from 9-1 M-R, and they still take 3 days. They are not going to be impressed that you are there, nor will they see that as adding urgency. We had a(n American) contractor try and get a visa at an embassy abroad, and they seemed to take particular delight in making him sit around all day and then come back the next.
posted by quadrilaterals at 1:27 PM on July 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

My visa was turned around today in a few hrs using a visa company for a fee of £275...despite supplying information that wasn't quite what the embassy had employer is paying this eye watering fee as they failed to confirm my trip until a week ago...leaving me no choice bit the 24hr service! So I can only recommend leaving it o the specialists. Whatever you do don't just go there without the right visa as this could jeopardize your year there. It would be preferable to delay your arrival.
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:49 PM on July 22, 2010

Use a service. I've used Travel Docs in the past and have been pleased each time.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 6:26 PM on July 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Mod note: From the OP:
Good news! My visa is safely in my possession. I found an expedition service and they managed to take care of all the red tape in good time. Not only does this provide me peace of mind, but it gives me the weekend to travel out of the province and say goodbye to family before I leave. Had I been waiting for my visa, I could not have left. So thanks for that. I had no idea these companies existed. Also, thanks for advising me not to go with option A (and also to the poster who warned against option B). The Consulate did not do on the spot processing and I would have been denied a visa had I just shown up in the country. So thanks again MeFi, you've exceeded all my expectations. :)
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:01 PM on July 29, 2010 [3 favorites]

I don't know who the OP is, but I am having a very similar problem and I can't thank this person enough for posting this question. And to all the people who have answered...your responses are infinitely helpful! This is just another example of AskMetaFilter being the best resource one could ever hope for.

Seriously, I've been in tears all afternoon, unable to think, as I watch my dream slip away into a tangle of a nightmare. But I think that these expediting services will help me in the event that my Visa application gets rejected a second time and I have to start all over. It's also comforting to know that I'm not the only person on Earth who's ever been in this special snowflake-shaped boat.
posted by iamkimiam at 11:46 AM on August 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

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