I recently had a friend contact me via Facebook with an alarming message: "I just left India and realized that I can’t get back in for two months. The problem is that my flight leaves from Delhi this Friday." To add insult to injury, my friend only had a 7-day tourist visa to visit Nepal, and it was also about to expire. So what should my friend do?
It’s a conundrum that faces many people who live, work or volunteer overseas. You have all of these great opportunities to travel right at your fingertips, and it might seem like an exciting idea to fly by the seat of your pants (I have no idea where that expression comes from), and bounce around from place to place without thinking too much about the logistics. People do this all the time! And quite often, nothing really comes of it. But then we get back to my friend who is stuck in Nepal…
My advice to him was the same advice I would give anyone. CONTACT YOUR EMBASSY IMMEDIATELY! As in, as soon as you realize there is a problem. Not after you stop at the bar to drown your sorrows, or after you return from a 2-day nature hike. ASAP. This can be the difference between someone being able to help you or not help you. You’ll have to wait on line, go up to the window and explain what is going on. Maybe you misplaced something, or didn’t understand what the travel rules were, or simply lost you passport. I guarantee, Foreign Service workers have heard it all. And even if they can’t help you directly, it is their job to help you figure out what to do.
What else can you do if you’re stuck with a visa problem in a foreign country?
- Call your parents. I know. This sounds terrible. But you’d be surprise at how much help someone can be if they are working on your behalf from your home country. The tourist and work visa system is a very political one. There is a lot that goes into the visa process that you and I probably don’t even want to understand. But your mom or dad might know someone who can help, or knows who to call – the more people looking into the matter for you, the better.
- Be contrite. You will probably have to explain your situation multiples times. Actually, you will definitely have to explain yourself multiple times. And at some point, you’ll probably have to admit that you’ve made a mistake. Don’t be defensive, and don’t try to blame the system. When you are overseas, you have to abide by local rules, and if you don’t, you have to be prepared to say that you’re sorry. A little kindness goes a long way.
- Finally (and this isn’t really going to help anyone who is currently in a predicament), try not to let a visa issue happen to you. Make sure you know they rules of the countries that you are traveling to and from backwards and forwards. How often can you cross the border? What is the relationship with bordering countries that you might like to visit? If you are planning to extend your stay, it’s important to know how long the renewal process typically takes – this will avoid your current expiring while you are still waiting for the renewal!
What shouldn’t you do?
- Don’t try to sneak over the border. This should really go without saying, but the worst this that you can do if you find that you are in violation of your overseas visa is violate it a second time, or worse, violate your visa in another country. The US Embassy will never suggest that, and as I said above, you should always listen to the embassy. Unfortunately, waiting it out on an expired visa, or being stuck somewhere when your flight leaves from somewhere else can be an incredibly expensive problem to have. It is a rare case when a country absolutely won’t make an exception is someone (accidentally) violates the terms of their visa, but it does happen. Be prepared to pay for that. And in a pinch, make another call to mom and dad.
- Don’t panic. It might seem like things are really bad, but if you’ve realized that you have a visa problem, you are probably one of thousands of people who have had similar circumstances happen to them. Take some deep breaths. Make a plan. Talk to someone else for support. Then start taking step to fix the situation.
This post is definitely about a worse case scenario. There are tons of online resources (including this rundown of visa terms and requirements) that can help you plan a trip abroad so that your paperwork is always in order. If you make sure that you do a little homework, you probably won’t ever have to think about what to do in an emergency! But it is helpful to know that someone else has done some of the thinking for you, just in case.