Russian Visa Shakedown

Ran into the following requirement of the Russian Embassy when trying to apply for a tourist visa in New Delhi:

The original tourist/hotel voucher issued by a Russian tourist agency/hotel, which is registered with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs  (MFA) of the Russian Federation containing the necessary data of a traveler (name, date of birth, etc.), period of stay (date of entry and departure), name of receiving Russian travel agency, list of services paid for (transportation, accommodation, sightseeing, etc.), signed by a representative of the tourist agency, stamped with the agency’s seal and bearing an official MFA reference number. Faxed and scanned copies are not accepted.

I consulted my trusted travel agent on this and learned that the voucher has to come from a registered travel agency in Russia. And these travel agencies demand INR 20,000 (USD 300 approx.) for issuing a letter for one traveller.

Ain’t nothing but an old fashioned shake-down. Needless to say, Russia trip postponed till their Ministry of Foreign Affairs becomes more tourist friendly.

Update: I wrote to 2 separate hotels (in Moscow and St. Petersburg). Both confirmed that they will send me the required letters in Scan copy via email. But there are some further complications:

  • The local visa application centre here in Delhi refuses to accept scan copies – their website clearly says that the original must be couriered or mailed – impossible to predict how long that will take.
  • The hotel gives the letter for free, but says that they will charge 2000-3500 roubles if I take the letter but then cancel my hotel reservation.

In short – it is way too complicated and potentially expensive for a short casual visit. Russia visit cancelled for now.

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India ignores its Tourist Paradise, While South Korea cherishes & promote theirs

It’s a shame that the beautiful coral islands of Lakshadweep in India are going waste from a tourism perspective. Even Indian nationals require a special permit to visit Lakshadweep (http://lakshadweep.nic.in/depts/revenue/entry_permits.htm). No wonder that tourism there is not developed at all. See this photo below to understand exactly what we are wasting.
Agatti Island, Lakshadweep
See this blog for more on Lakshadweep tourism: Top Tourist Places in LakshadweepContrast this with Jeju island of South Korea. A beautiful volcanic island, that South Korea is actively promoting for tourism. Nationals of most countries do not require visas for Jeju Island – even if they do require visas for the rest of South Korea (Indian nationals included). . India should learn a thing or two from its Asian neighbours.
Photos from Jeju Island:


Get more info at the Official Site for Korean Tourism

Brazil Visa for Indian Citizens – Ruthlessly Efficient Process

Target Country: Brazil
Passport: Indian Passport
Visa Type: Tourist Visa
Processing Consulate/Embassy: Consulate of Brazil, New York, USA
I went to the embassy over-prepared with loads of documents including hotel bookings, insurance, marriage certificate, cover letter, bank statements, employment letter etc etc. But the lady at the visa counter was ruthless and only took the exact documents listed on their website (http://novayork.itamaraty.gov.br/en-us/tourism_visa.xml) Note: She didn’t ask for a proof of residence, eventhough that is listed on the website

 

Documents they actually took:

  • Tickets to and from Brazil (in our case, we are flying into Argentina and out of Brazil. They refused to accept any domestic flight tickets or hotel bookings)
  • $20 fee per head, in a US Post Money Order
  • Online application confirmation page
  • Valid passport, with US Visa

Experience:
Very smooth. I didn’t need an appointment. There was a wait of about 20 mins before our turn came. Took me 25 mins total to submit the application. The officer was ruthlessly efficient and quickly took the exact documents she needed, and sent us away. The visa was processed in 5 days and it was easy enough to pick my passport up, with the receipt they had given upon submission.

Need inspiration? See these photos I took in Brazil:
Classic Rio
Misty Iguazu Falls
The Real Macaw!!

Argentina Visa – Straightforward to apply but long wait at the consulate

Target Country: Argentina
Passport: Indian Passport
Visa Type: Tourist Visa
Processing Consulate/Embassy: Consulate of Argentina, New York, USA
Visa Received: 90 Day Multiple Entry Tourist Visa
Documents submitted:

Tickets to and from Argentina (in our case, we are flying into Argentina and out of Brazil, so I included all our domestic flight booking as well).
Hotel bookings for every night spent in Argentina (I also included Brazil, for completeness, as Brazil is part of my trip).

No fee required for Indian Citizens
Filled application form
Valid passport
Notarized letter of employment (also translated into Spanish)
Bank statements for the last 6 months.
1 Photo (4cm x 4cm — US Visa style)
Proof of Travel Insurance (Certificate stating my name and details of policy) – this wasn’t asked for, but I included it anyway.
Also, I included 6 months worth of payslips and my marriage certificate – but these were not asked for

Experience:
Very smooth. I didn’t need an appointment. There was literally no queue here either. Took me 1 hour to submit the application – the officer took her own sweet time to call us in and then to review our documents. The visa was processed in 7 days and it was easy enough to pick my passport up.

The staff were nice, polite and competent, but don’t go in expecting a fully professional process.

Need Inspiration to go? See these photos from Argentinian Patagonia…
Walking on Water?Perito Moreno Glacier

Bermuda … Impossible to figure out whether Indians need a visa or not

Just a note on my recent experience with figuring out the visa system for Bermuda. I was planning to go, but finally decided against going because of schedule clashes, but the visa process is outlined here for you anyway.

To describe it in one word: Confusing

This is what the Bermuda department of immigration website says

  • Indian citizens are on the Visa Nationals list. I.e. we require visas.
  • Indian citizens can arrive in Bermuda without a visa if they have either a) US Green Card, b) Canada Green Card or c) Indefinite Leave to remain in the UK
  • We can get a “visa waiver” if we have any other multiple entry visa to the UK, USA or Canada (and are flying to Bermuda from one of those countries & returning to one of them as well). This includes visas such as (but not limited to) H1, L1, B1, UK Tier 1, UK Tier 2, Student visas, Multiple Entry Tourist visas, Canada Temporary Resident visa etc.
  • We need to pay a $200 per head visa waiver fee — which is preposterous in my opinion

But then when we called the Bermuda Department of Immigration, they told us something completely different :

  • Indian citizens are not on the Visa Nationals list. I.e. We do not need visas at all.
  • And also, very confusingly, we still somehow need multiple entry visas to US/Canada/UK.
  • No clarity on the $200 visa waiver fee

So the visa confusion, coupled with the expensiveness of Bermuda and unavailability of late evening flights to/from New York, ensured that I don’t visit Bermuda.

If you have experience in Bermuda visas / visa-waivers – please do comment below

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!

UK Tier 2 Visa – oh what a mess

Target country: United Kingdom
Passport country: India
Type of Visa: Employer sponsored Tier-2 General work visa

Experience:
UK Home Office is seriously trying to limit immigration into the country. This means they have tightened up a lot of processes that made it easier to get a Tier 2 or Tier 1 in the past.

I did not have time to apply for my Tier 2 by post, because of essential travel plans. The postal application takes upto 3 months to process.

So I had to go for a ‘premium appointment’. I had a look through the UKBA website, and there were no premium appointments available for the whole year! Crazy! In the past it was possible to call the UKBA and get an appointment over the phone. Now that phone number has been withdrawn. Also, in the past, Lawyers were able to access the appointment system through a separate interface and get premium appointments for an extra fee. That has also been shut down.

So, after much fretting, my lawyer (Fragomen Plc) was able to get me a premium appointment at the Sheffield public enquiry office. I went there on the day with all my paperwork, to find that there was a ‘problem with the computers’. I had to wait all day (6 hours) at the office. Even then, my passport wasn’t returned the same day (as it used to be in the past). The passport and biometric visa card came in the post almost a week later.

All in all, very frustrating and stress inducing.

To top it all off, when I tried to enter the UK at Heathrow for the first time on my new Tier 2 visa, I was ‘detained’ at the border for 15 mins. Apparently they recorded the wrong fingerprints on my biometric card. So now every time I travel to the UK, I will have to wait around for 15 mins while the officers perform additional checks before letting me in.

But here are some photos to inspire you to go live in the UK!
London Central Mosque on a Snowy Afternoon Inverness by Night Cove near Fistral Beach, Newquay