Best Laid Plans …


As an Australian, I take it for granted that I can travel anywhere in the world that tickles my fancy.

Sure, I might need to get a visa. But to me getting a visa is just filling in a form and handing over the fee – easy.

But for Darling Man, getting a visa is a complicated and fraught process. I did not take this into account when I organised our Europe adventure. Instead, I was focused on where we would go and how much it would cost.

I did do a quick check to confirm that Miss M and I can touch down just about anywhere in Europe and get a visa on arrival. I noted that Darling Man needed to get a visa before he boards the plane. But investigating the visa application process came quite late in the piece.

We are flying into Paris and spending the most time in France, so we needed to apply for a visa for Darling Man through the French Embassy. Stumbling block number 1: the French Consulate in Chiang Mai doesn’t process visa applications. In fact, the French Embassy in Bangkok doesn’t process visa applications either. They’ve outsourced the process to a company called TLS. To make life even easier (and that’s a very sarcastic “easier”), TLS has automated most of their processes — like answering the phone and making appointments.

To apply for a Schengen visa through the French Embassy, Darling Man had to provide bank account statements, travel insurance documents, copies of his air tickets and documents to prove where he will stay while in France. These documents can either be proof that accommodation is booked and paid for, or they can be “attestation of lodgement”. When I first read the term, I thought it was an awkward translation of “letter of invitation”. But no, a lodgement attestation is an official form that must be issued by a French city hall.

Because we didn’t check the visa application form carefully enough at first, we ended up in a mad scramble to get letters sent over from our exchange families in France and Holland.

Our Dutch exchange family nipped into their town hall one afternoon and filled out a form and was given their “attestation” letter, which they promptly scanned in and emailed. They also put the original in the post, even though there wasn’t enough time for it to arrive.

Our French exchange family nipped into their town hall and … was hit by a wall of bureaucracy.

Here is part of the email, our new French friend sent us after her visit:

I picked up all the forms today and there are a lot of papers to fill and to collect in several government offices.
Then I have to go to a solicitor to prove to the French government that I’m a trustworthy person and also to collect some others paper (to prove that the house is really mine for example).
This will take time, I’m afraid.
When the file is OK, I have to give it to the city hall, then the police will come to my house to check that everything I wrote in the file is correct.
After that, we have to wait 15 days to get the lodging attestation by the town hall.
I’m afraid it will take long time to do everything, but I will try my best to do this as soon as possible.

And so, Darling Man took the train down to Bangkok without an official lodging attestation from France. He took a letter written by the French family, and a copy of the home owner’s identity card. He took the scanned Dutch lodging attestation and a scanned letter from our hosts in Italy. He also took a copy of the booking I made for our first few nights in Paris and a copy of the letter of inquiry I sent to what we hope will be our first camp site, in Aix-en-Provence. He also took a letter from me saying that we were traveling together, we had no ties in France, plenty of money, flexible tickets and that we hadn’t given ourselves enough time to get the specified paperwork from Europe. I also wrote about how we were going to be cycling and camping with a two-year-old and we hadn’t booked all our campsites because we weren’t sure how far we could travel every day. I also pointed out that Darling Man’s wife and daughter would get a visa on arrival, no questions asked.

Darling Man fronted up for his appointment, made through the automated appointment booking system. He was told he didn’t have the correct paperwork. He was told he should be applying for a visa at the French Embassy in Vietnam because he’s Vietnamese. He was told to write a letter explaining why he was applying for a visa in the wrong country. He was asked if he really wanted to submit the application considering the high risk of rejection.

And so, now we wait. Wait to find out if we will travel to France as a family. Wait to find out if we need to cancel flights, reschedule our holiday, get more documents sent over…

The wait has been made even more painful by a series of automated emails Darling Man received on Thursday – the day he arrived back in Chiang Mai after another epic 16-hour train journey. The first email said his documents had been sent to the French Embassy. The second email, just four hours later, said his passport was available for collection at the TLS office in Bangkok.

Darling Man called TLS, painfully negotiating the automated telephone system until he found an operator. Only to be told that TLS couldn’t discuss the outcome of a visa application over the telephone. If Darling Man needed to know if his visa application was successful, he’d have to collect his passport.

We had asked a friend to collect the passport for us. Darling Man gave him a letter of authorisation while he was in Bangkok. But this friend had such a busy day on Friday he didn’t have time to leave his office. He is hoping to collect the passport today.

I have butterflies of worry in my chest — I am sure Darling Man’s visa application was rejected but I am hoping it wasn’t. And I am also hoping our friend in Bangkok doesn’t get busy today.

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3 years ago

By: Barbara

A career girl who dropped out, traveled, found love, had a baby, went back to work and then decided to drop out again. Blogging from Ho Chi Minh City at the moment. With a new baby!

14 Comments

  1. I am so sorry. Being from the USA I tend to forget about how difficult it is for people from certain countries to get visas. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you – something will work out. It might not be Plan A, but something will happen.
    Nancy Sathre-Vogel recently posted..Pearls of Wisdom from Lisa Merrai Labon

  2. Lauren says:

    Bloody hell, that sounds insane! What a NIGHTMARE :(
    Lauren recently posted..Friday Photo Essay: The Moonlike Landscape of Pag

  3. Yrah, as Brits, we take our passport for granted, too.

    What an absolute nightmare and I’m sorry but what the **** are embassies doing outsourcing such important things like this? Surely one of the main reasons for their existence is to go through visa applications from foreign nationals?!! It’s coming to something when even the embassies are working like multi-national companies. If we need a new passport while we’re in Turkey, we now need to apply to the British embassy in Berlin!! Just silly.

    Hope you get the outcome you want from this, Barbara.

    Julia
    Turkey’s For Life recently posted..Turkish Food: Tahin For Turkish Breakfast

  4. Nancie says:

    Fingers crossed! As a Canadian I never give Visa’s a second thought. Some of us are spoiled.
    Nancie recently posted..Travel Photo Thursday — March 29, 2012 — A Magic Moment in Sevilla, Spain

    • Barbara says:

      Are we spoiled, though? I feel its discrimination against people from developing countries. Sure, some of them run off, but the requirements for this particular visa are just ludicrous. We’ve checked the requirements FOR THE SAME SCHENGEN VISA through the German Embassy and they are sane. We’re drafting a backup plan now that may involve Frankfurt. But … such an expensive diversion.

  5. Aledys Ver says:

    This is an absolute nightmare and a disgrace! I hope you get all this mountain of silly paperwork done in time for your holiday and that you can travel all together as a family without any kind of problems.
    Aledys Ver recently posted..Gnocchi alla Romana on Argentinean Gnocchi Day

  6. As an American, it is so easy for me to travel too. I may get charged reciprocity fees, but at least it is pretty easy for me to get into most countries.
    Stephanie – The Travel Chica recently posted..The Driest Place on the Planet is Flooding

  7. Jill says:

    Wow. thats just ridiculous, I’ll stop complaing right now about having to wait 5 days to get Indonesian visas in Vietnam.

    I am so looking forward to reading all your French Adventures, I really want you ALL to go!

    And I really loved the series on street food, sorry I was slow and disorganised and didn’t contribute in the end.

    BTW every single thing we’ve eaten in Vietnam has been fantastic, and we consulted your ‘how to eat Pho’ so as the avoid the dodgy bits next time!
    Jill recently posted..Our Akha hilltribe homestay

    • Barbara says:

      Awww, thank you Jill. I’m glad you’re enjoying Vietnamese food. It’s just the best, isn’t it?

      I’ll have another international street food festival at some stage. You are most welcome to join in!

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