Win I win this Powerball jackpot, I'll just pay people to do this stuff for me.
November 28, 2012 6:42 PM   Subscribe

Is a Visa service worth it?

I need suggestions for a reputable Visa service (I did check the archives, but the questions are all about four years old). I also need to know if using a Visa service is worth the fees (about $100). I am terrible with paperwork, deadlines, etc. and the idea of trying to do all this myself is giving me hives. On the other hand, I don't want to pay a service to mail some things for me.

Details/things I would hope a service might do for me or help me with:
--US citizen.
--Going to South Africa from February-December as a postgraduate student.
--Husband is going as my spouse (an extended visitor's visa).
--I still have no official confirmation that I was accepted to UCT and my online acceptance has my name spelled wrong.
--We need to be there by February 7, 2013.
--Husband is a resident of a different state than I am and may also have to change his flight after we submit our visa forms (due to a medical issue).
--We have bits and pieces of the items needed to apply (medical forms, but no background check, for example). Those can be acquired in the next week or so, but will a service help us with that kind of thing?
posted by mrfuga0 to Travel & Transportation around South Africa (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I come from a community of immigrants who needed Visas to go back to the Old Country. Everyone used Visa services and Passport expediting services. However, everyone had personal references for Visa services, rather than just picking one out of the phonebook.

And, generally, when dealing with the government in this manner -- lots of confusing paperwork -- I'd definitely pay someone who knew what they were doing to do it, as long as I wasn't getting ripped off. That stems from the fact that my day job is having people pay me to deal with the government so they do not have to. I wouldn't try to do what I do at work by myself if I didn't know anything about it.
posted by griphus at 6:49 PM on November 28, 2012

They're not doing anything you couldn't do, but I still think they're worth it. That $100 buys you a lot of free time and bypasses a fair bit of stress and frustration. Plus, they might from experience preemptively suggest additional documents that are sometimes requested, but not in the official instructions.
posted by anonymisc at 8:04 PM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've used Travisa a couple of times and their service was always excellent and well worth the money. They know what they are doing and are very professional.
posted by Dansaman at 8:49 PM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am terrible with paperwork, deadlines, etc. and the idea of trying to do all this myself is giving me hives.

This + potential travel issues + spouse = $100 well-spent. I haven't used a visa service, but I also used to live primarily in DC and every time I needed a visa, I would go to the embassy. (Often multiple times.) The last visa required something like thirty bucks of air time with the company they hired to answer questions, hours on the internet, a stop by Homeland Security to get my biometrics in, many emails to my university, and an trip to NYC to do it in person at the consulate. If you're already dealing with medical issues in your family as well as moving to a foreign country for most of the year, and if you have trouble with deadlines....why risk something going on? I don't know anything about South Africa's visa system, but you're only looking at two months of time here to get all the paperwork from your university and the forms on your end together, as well as having everything submitted. Research a quality visa service for South Africa and hire them, and good luck!
posted by jetlagaddict at 9:03 PM on November 28, 2012

Does UCT have an Office of International Students or equivalent? They might deal with this kind of thing for you for free. Worth checking, since they could help with the university bureaucracy but the visa service probably can't. But otherwise visa service sounds totally worth it.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 10:41 PM on November 28, 2012

I've always used visa services for going to India. The one I used didn't really fill out the form - I did that - but they did all the queuing and whatnot at the visa section.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:52 AM on November 29, 2012

I've used a visa service to travel to Russia (which has an ever changing and ill-defined process). The money is well worth it. Look at it this way: how much do you get paid an hour? If we pitch low at $10, the visa is worth 10 hours of your time. You can easily consume that much time in a complex application procedure, with filling in forms, delivering them, queuing at the embassy, picking them up. The picture gets even better if you consider how much this is going to cost you in time and money if you get it wrong.

One piece of advice: do a bit of research to get recommendations as to which service to use. Can't hurt.
posted by outlier at 1:03 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think that sometimes the visa process is designed to require you to use a visa service - even to the point where the consulate will often have cards for a preferred visa processing place on hand for you when you haven't done it quite right. Plus it's often hard to get someone on the phone who speaks a common language with you sufficiently enough to explain what you have done wrong so you can fix it.

I had a similar experience to outlier with the Russian visa process, having filled out the form in blue rather than black ink (yes), hard time getting the right-size photos, difficulty getting the right paperwork, you name it. It easily took up 10 hours of our time, with three or four trips to the consulate - all while they had our passports! - and we finally ended up using part of a visa service's offerings to get it all sorted out and only got our visas (and passports back!) the day before we left on our trip. If I were to do it all again I would use a visa service to save on stress, time, and money.
posted by urbanlenny at 7:45 AM on November 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Great info, thanks everyone! I should have added that we live at least five hours from the closest consulate, which make sit even harder. I will go for it, I think.
posted by mrfuga0 at 8:06 AM on November 29, 2012

I think they are a scam: I've applied for a few visa's lately and I've never used a service. I really don't see what they are going to do. You would still have to fill in the forms yourself - or fill in a form that they use to fill in the forms. And then they just stick stuff in an envelope for you and post it off.

The only thing they can really do on your behalf is work out which forms you have to fill in and tell you what you need to get. (Which is probably already listed on the visa application).

Maybe they can queue for you, but you might want to check.
posted by mary8nne at 8:39 AM on November 29, 2012

Oh, yeah, my experience was with Russia as well.
posted by griphus at 8:55 AM on November 29, 2012

I think they are a scam

I largely do too, but I think that they are a scam that the consulates are either in on or support willingly (which is what I was getting at with the reference to them having a visa services company's card on hand). Seriously, the place we went to was in a reputable-enough building downtown, but the office was unmarked (no name or identifiers of the company) and despite having a big floor full of space, the visa people we dealt with were all packed three to an office. Shady for sure.
posted by urbanlenny at 9:00 AM on November 29, 2012

I came over to England as a spouse on my husband's Skilled Worker visa, or whatever it's called. I tried to get mine by myself, and it was rejected due to some ambiguous instruction I had failed to interpret correctly. They do not refund your money when that happens. So I had to go through the whole thing again with the expediting service. And yes, it was absolutely worth it. They made sure it *worked*. And much more quickly than one can without using such a service. I went through a company called A. Briggs. They did their job, and were very polite and helpful.
posted by Because at 11:31 AM on November 29, 2012

While I would never use one myself, I understand why others do. Visa applications can be rejected for the most minor of reasons - usually just a failure to correctly fill out the forms. So if the entire process seems too daunting to you, use a service. A good one will be able to make sure that you have everything in order before submitting your application and then you won't have to endure waiting a week or two only to find out that you've been rejected for some dumb little mistake.
posted by fso at 7:57 PM on November 29, 2012

I think they are a scam

Obviously, I can't speak for all visa services. But when I pay $100 bucks to a service to take my application to the embassy, wait in the (multi-hour) line at the embassy, submit the paperwork, return to the embassy to pick it up and deliver the result securely to me (not to mention keeping track of changing regulations and the actual meaning of requirements and regulations) - that's not a scam. That's making good use of my time.

Case in point: Russia changed its visa process about 18 months ago, supposedly to "liberalize and simplify" the process. The change meant there was a lot of contradictory advice (some outdated, some just because people didn't know). Embassies and consulates in different cities were processing applications in different ways with different levels of stringency. One part of the new procedure replaced a paper form for a vistors permit with a web application. I spent 5 hours unsuccessfully trying to get a permit from this website. (Which was comedically bad - a page of information would rejected with a message to correct what I had entered, without saying which part of it was wrong or why it was wrong. I would get randomly logged out of the system. Information would be lost. It rejected my birth name as "containing illegal characters". It asked ambiguous, wide-ranging questions without any guidance: "Do you have any special skills?")

Eventually, I gave up and went to a visa service. When we got to talking about the web-app, the advisor waved it off. "Oh yes, all the regulations say it's compulsory to use the website and they're not taking the paper forms any more. But everyone knows the website doesn't work, so the old forms are still being used."

This is what you pay a visa service for.
posted by outlier at 12:42 AM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

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