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:
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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11 years ago