#SubaruOfftrax – A world of bureaucracy: or how an embassy “lost” our passports before we left Canada!
This blog post is dedicated to anyone either considering embarking on this type of adventure, or curious to know the “behind the scenes” of organizing this trip. And no, this is not the “what do I need to pack for 4 months on the road” post. But, now that I think about it, we will entertain you with that as well. Its day 1 and I’m already ready to toss 1 t-shirt into the “you’re going to be a pyjama, then I’m going to wash the car with you” bag.
First, if you’re going to drive across 32 countries, you will not only need to pack a load of patience, but also a big bag full of sarcasm. You are in fact NOT going to an all inclusive in Mexico, so sit back, pour yourself a strong cup of coffee, and be ready to drive yourself mad figuring the visa puzzle out. One country at a time!!
Good thing that everyone on our team has travelled enough around the globe to know that the proverbial “s–t will hit the fan”, can happen at any given time. With this said, none of us saw what I’m about to tell you, happening. Guess, literally EVERYTHING can happen.
Driving East requires quite a few visas, and pending which nationality you come from rules vary: Visa or No Visa is the question!
Most of the time not only you need a visa, but also an LOI (letter of invitation) to the country. So, unless you’ve been to Russia before or any of the “Stans”, I’m pretty sure you’ve rarely heard of this mysterious piece of paper (an email really) that allows you to actually apply to a visa. Basically, you need to get in touch with a local business or tourist agency (local as in their country…not Canada) , and ask them to invite you to, lets say: Azerbaijan. Said “piece of paper” comes with a cost varying from $20, to $40 to $80 US.
Once you have this in your hand, then follows the visa application, which seems quite easy, if only the information was actually clear on some of the countries embassies websites. And what I mean by that, is that sometimes its unclear on their website if a) you need a visa; b) how much it will cost c)you need an LOI d) how long will it take e) a+b+c+d all together !! So, its a bit of a logistic nightmare to figure out which visa you should be applying first to make sure you can fly out of your country, passport in hand. Oh, and did I mention that months in advance you need to know when you are entering and exiting the country you are applying for as well? So, tip 1: figure your route out 6 months ahead and guess-timate everything!
For the records, the only visas we could apply to before leaving Canada were: Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Russia and Uzbekistan + the LOI for Turkmenistan. For the other visas we still need this will happen at the border.
Ok, let the fun begin. Once you have figured points a, b, c and d above mentioned, you will need a printer, a photocopier and what seems like hundred of passports photos that make you look like you’re about to go to jail. Seriously, the “no smiling ” on a passport photo makes everyone look like they are about to enter North Korean gulags.
Now, besides all this, each country of course has different requirements: different number of passport photos (& sizes…. Of course can’t all be the same cuz that would be easy!), scan(s) of passport, signatures, a gazillion copies of the application printed, and so forth. Once you have quadruple checked that you have everything they require, put all in a FedEx prepaid envelope, insert all above paperwork + you’re passport and send it off . Yes, you read it right: the passport goes away from you in hopes it will come back with a big full page visa sticked onto it!
Then, you wait, and you torture daily the shop you live above to ask if a FedEx envelope has come in. Poor Richard from Stellar Cellular was on the look out for months, and I’m sure he celebrated when we finally left Toronto!
When the passports come back with the visa in, you quickly start the circus all over again. On a funny note, the Russian embassy is in Toronto (on Bloor street), so we actually did apply in person. Now, remember what I said about points a, b,c and d above? I should also add a point e) when applying in person, being lots in translation does happen. So when Jess went to the Russian embassy she said: “I need to apply to double entry visas for Russia for these 4 passports”. The Russian employee somewhat understood she wanted our visas done “RUSH”. Bottom line we spent as much as a full week in a five star all-inclusive in the Bahamas for our Russian visas! Whatever you do, don’t mess with Russia. Say “spasiba” and move on.
So, whats up with an embassy “losing our passports” you ask? Well, Canada doesn’t have all the embassies, so we sent 3 Canadian + 1 Italian passport to the Uzbekistan embassy in New York city. Time required for visa: 10 days. Last time our passport were seen and tracked by FedEx? May 30. Departure date for Jess: June 26. Plenty of time right? Until this: the FedEx tracking number doesn’t exist. As, its never been used. As in, the embassy MUST still have our passports. When we called the embassy they said they had sent our passports back on June 9….!!. Then FedEx said: no, we have not been to that building in at least a month! So, where are our passports you ask? Lost. But not only our passports are lost, also all of our visas as well. Yup, everything you read above, lost. Gone. Uzbekistan was the last of the 5!
So what do you do when you have to fly out of the country in 48 hours? The day of said flight, you head to passport Canada, you declare your passport lost and you dish out $ 270 for a rush passport! About 4 hours later you go back to pick up your brand new passport (with no visas), you take your flight, you land in London and spend the first 2 weeks of your vacation before a massive adventure, running around all the embassies across this massive town, and you re-apply to everything!! LOI, visas, etc etc $$$$$$$$$$$ —- but in pounds!
With this, you also miss flights to Barcelona and Corinne ends up going to Brussels to pick up the car without Jess. Thank goodness for double citizenships!! Otherwise we still wouldn’t have picked up the car!!
So, if you’ve read this far, we have all of our visas back. Its been quite a stressful last 3 weeks as you can imagine, but we finally hit the road, passports and visas on hand.
Im sure the visa nightmare is still not over, as along the road we will have to apply for visas at borders. In the past, teams have been stuck for days in the process. But, as they say, this is also part of the adventure.
Till the next border….