Nicaragua – Visa on Arrival

A friend recently traveled to Nicaragua. She has valid USA work permit visa. She got a visa on arrival at Nicaragua.

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Canada Visa – Rude staff at the Canadian Consulate, but quick processing

Visa Type: Temporary Residence (tourist visa)
Issuing Country: Canada
Application Centre: Consulate General of Canada, New York City

Duration of Visa Granted: 7 Years
Time taken for processing:Next business day

Requirements:
Standard documents — hotel bookings, flight bookings (provisional will do), 2 photos, passport, application form (beware – there are 3 different application forms to fill out), letter from employer, covering letter, marriage certificate, payslips, bank statements. Get details off their website here

Experience:
No appointment needed. Turn up in the morning between 8 and 10.30 AM, go through a security queue, and wait for your ticket number to be called. The officers who collect the documents are not helpful and don’t answer any questions. They just say “submit everything you want to submit”.

They simply told us to come the next day between 1pm and 2.30 pm to collect our passports.

Now, the collection experience was weird to say the least. They made us queue outside the building by the roadside for 10 mins first. Then the guard led us into the consulate in a line (as if we were school children). After security we were given another ticket and then our number was called after about 30 mins wait.

It was OK for me, but another person had a bad experience in front of me. This lady had lost her ticket (which you are given when submitting the application). The guards refused her entry saying that “if you went to a baseball game without a ticket, would they let you in?” … my argument (which I voiced right there – to deaf ears!) “This is not a bloody baseball game”. The lady was basically denied her passport because she had lost this ticket. She was offered no alternative way to get her passports back. I can only hope she figured some way out. If you try calling the embassy for help, their automated voice system only says “we don’t handle visa related enquiries”!! Why bother with publishing a phone number at all! Crazy!

Key points to keep in mind:
1. No appointment needed.
2. Need 30 mins to submit application.
3. Need 1 hour to collect passports
4. Be prepared to stand in line (in the open-air) for 15-20 minutes at collection.
5. Don’t loose your application ticket (issued when applying) else you will not get your passport back!

USA L1 visa application – on an Indian Passport

So, my company is planning to send me to New York for 6 months, on a blanket L1 visa. Application is in process, will keep you updated. But one sticking point so far — I have been with my company for exactly 12 months. And in that period I spent 30 days in the USA during a number of trips. Apparently, I cannot count those 30 days towards my 1 year with the company. So I have to wait for a month, before I can apply!

Update!
As usual the US embassy were super efficient. The appointment tool roughly 2 hours. My L2 visa (and my wife’s L2 Spouse visa) was approved on the spot. We got our passports by courier on the 4th business day after our appointment (appointment was on a Monday, got the passports on the Friday).
Only slight headache was that the embassy’s credit card machine wasn’t working. We Indians need to pay a ‘fraud protection’ fee of $500. So I had to go out of the embassy and get cash (equivalent in Pounds).

Visa Country: USA
Visa Type: L1 Intracompany Transfer and L2 Spouse
Embassy: USA Embassy in London, UK

Second time USA B1/B2 visa application

Passport: Indian Passport
Embassy: US Embassy in London, UK
Visa Decision Time: On-the-spot
Visa Appointment Wait time: About 2 weeks
Passport delivery time: About 3 working days
Points to note

  • No electronics, not even earphones/cables/key-fobs allowed in the embassy
  • You can take a book and/or a snack, but no bags
  • Time spent within the embassy: About 1 hour
  • You need to complete your online application beforehand, and carry the confirmation page & payment receipt
  • Passport delivery costs about £16, you need a credit/debit card to pay for it. No cash.

Documents that they looked at:

  • Current passport
  • Old Passport with old US Visa
  • Application confirmation

I took a slew of documents, including bank statements, payslips, letter from my employer. They didn’t look at any of them.

Questions they asked in the interview:

  • How long will you be in the US?
  • Where did you get your last visa?
  • How long have you lived in the UK?
  • Where did you live before the UK? What did you do there?
  • Are you married? Is you wife in the UK?

Hope this helps!

Visa Free Travel to Mexico – if you have a US visa

I just read on the website of the Mexican embassy in London that people of ALL nationalities do not require a visa to Mexico, if they hold a valid USA visa. Have you tried entering Mexico on a US visa? Please share your experience in the comments below.

Here is the exact wording from the Embassy of Mexico …
“According to the new regulations, from the 1st of May 2010 it is not necessary to apply for a tourist, business or transit Mexican visa if you hold a VALID VISA for the United States of America -regardless the nationality- . Immigration authorities in Mexico will ask for your US visa and a valid passport when you arrive. ”

“Permanent residents in Canada, Japan, The United Kingdom (Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK), The United States of America or the Schengen countries wishing to travel to Mexico do not require a visa to enter the country as a tourists and business visitors for a 180-day stay and as a visitors in transit for a 30-day stay.”

This is an extract from an email I got from the Consulate of Mexico in Washington DC: “If you have a valid passport (any nationality) and a valid US visa (any kind of visa) or green card, you do not need a tourist visa to visit Mexico”

Adding my first hand experience below
The wife and I traveled to Mexico in August 2012. We have US L1 and L2 visas, and we also have older B1/B2 visas. The Immigration Officers at Cancun Airport just looked at our US B1/B2 visas, stamped our passports and let us in. No questions, no hassles, no need for a Mexico visa.

Domestic Flights in the USA — always carry your passport

If you are a foreigner in the USA, intending to fly domestic, ALWAYS carry your passport.

I faced great delays yesterday, while trying to catch flights between New York and Atlanta.
Before security, the TSA checks people’s boarding passes and IDs. They accept US Driving Licenses as valid IDs. But they were less than impressed by my UK Driving License.

At NYC La Guardia, I presented my UK License, and the lady immediately gave that back to me and demanded a passport. I was at a loss. I didn’t imagine I’d need to carry a passport. She then made me stand aside for 10 mins while she located her supervisor. The supervisor looked at my UK License, my credit card and my business-school alumnus ID. Then she made me go through ‘extra screening’ — which meant they swabbed my hands for residue (or something) and did some chemical test on it. But then they let me through OK.

When I tried to get on my return flight at Atlanta airport, the process was repeated — except they were adamant that NY security shouldn’t have allowed me to fly without a passport. I was made to sign some disclaimer giving them the right to dig up my personal data, they noted down my addresses, looked at my license, my business school ID, my office security pass and finally let me go with a stern warning.

So, in short, when in the USA, always carry your passport.

First Time Cruising – Indian in the Caribbean

Being Indian, two things struck me soon after I boarded the Celebrity Summit in Puerto Rico:
1. My wife and I were part of a small minority among the passengers (under 45 years old, non-white, childless couples).
2. The staff on the Ship was predominantly Hindi speaking.

This was unsurprising. Indians tend to put up with a lot of hardship, to make a living. But we, as a nation, are not as happy to spend our hard earned money on luxuries. The staff on the ship typically spends 6 months at sea, at a stretch. Living in cramped quarters, getting shore leave once every 2 or 3 weeks for half a day. Not an ideal life.

It was easy to feel out of place, but at the same time completely ignore everyone else on the ship. The population was predominantly white republican Americans, aged over 45. We couldn’t really find anything in common with them, and after the first day, stopped going to ‘social events’ on the ship. It was funny when the ship’s stand-up comedian asked “who here likes Obama”. The theatre echoed with “boos”.

The ship was luxurious though. A bit excessive even. The service was impeccable and we were made to feel very welcome and well looked after. But we also had to cough up $25 a day in tips, in addition to the cost of the cruise. They had an excellent Gym & Spa. The pool was boring and small. The food was good, but not so good if you are vegetarian like us.

Top tips for first time cruisers (especially Indians):
1. No need for visas (or even passports) in Caribbean ports. But carry photocopies of your passport anyway.
2. Bad idea carrying passports to shore excursions — it can get wet or stolen. I managed to drench my drivers license and about $20 cash.
3. Carry a photo ID other than your passport — will need that to get back on the ship.
4. No need to buy a ‘drinks package’ in advance, unless you plan on heavy drinking.
5. All food was included, at least on this ship. Except for one fancy restaurant.
6. Avoid ship organised shore excursions when you can — crowded and generally not worth the price. Explore on your own.
7. Plan a budget before going, and then double it. Your holiday is guaranteed to turn out to be VERY expensive.