I’ve been meaning to write about this for several weeks but the sense of relief (of getting the visa) was too overwhelming and I didn’t want to ruin it by remembering the infuriating behavior of the Consulate General of India, San Francisco.
So last we wrote about this, we were up against a wall with the San Francisco consulate. I, as an Indian citizen couldn’t meet anyone with any authority in spite of visiting the consulate in person. They refused to process the visa and refused to reply to our queries. Also, they took $156 as visa fees but refused to refund it.
Oh and for those that were wondering, tweeting at Nirupama Rao (the Indian Ambassador) did squat to help us. She didn’t care and no one else did – either.
Well, necessity is the mother of invention. We had a few options in front of us so we went through each one considering the cost:
1. Cancel Zara’s return flight to India – she’ll fly to Lisbon and apply for her visa and then fly to India – Cost $$$$$
2. Fly to India as scheduled but then do a direct air side transit and head to Thailand, Nepal, Sri Lanka, or UAE (consulates had agreed via email to process the visa for a non-resident – not as stubborn and unreasonable as the San Francisco guys..) – Cost $$$
3. Fly to India but Zara would transit air side and fly to Lisbon. The journey would take her 45 hours in total and she would be stranded in the air side transit area in New Delhi (they don’t allow you to go through without a boarding pass for the next flight but the earliest ‘next-flight’ was 12 hours after our arrival). – Cost $$$$ + Agony
But there was a fourth option.
The fourth option would be cheaper but riskier. US law requires tourists to be in possession of identification at all times. The catch is that the only acceptable ID for a tourist is a passport. Option #4 would be for us to FedEx Zara’s passport to Lisbon where her sister would apply for a visa and then have it sent back to us in the US.
Now, for an Indian passport that would be totally illegal (check your passports folks, there’s a page in there prohibiting you from mailing it internationally), but for an EU passport – apparently it’s okay.
The only issue was that we were on a road trip in the US and we estimated that her passport would be gone for about 2 weeks. If during this time a cop stopped us while driving, she wouldn’t have any acceptable ID. This could be a bad thing depending on the cop’s mood. At least the brown guy has his ID on himself ;)
Well, we’ll just have to be careful and not speed, etc.!
So, we took the tough decision of sending out her passport. We also had some other considerations such as: What if it got lost in the mail ? Well, in that case we would have to get a new passport after filing a police report. It would complicate matters but matters were complicated enough already so we didn’t give it much thought.
We paid $67 to send it via FedEx Priority from Spokane, Washington to Lisbon, Portugal. We had printed out the India visa application along with a photograph, signed it, and included a copy of our marriage certificate as well. Another thing we did was take a color photocopy of Zara’s passport as a substitute just in case we ever get stopped by the police in the US (although a photocopy is not an acceptable substitute but it’s something..) The US is an interesting country in terms of variation between states in how laws get enforced. While researching these options I found that we would be toast if we were near the US border with Mexico but as long as you’re in Washington or Northern California, you should be okay. Also, Arizona is exceptionally strict about the laws regarding IDs. But we knew what the risks were so we decided to go for it!
The package reached her sister in Lisbon in 50 hours. She went to the Indian embassy on Friday afternoon with the passport and they were happy to accept the application. Not only this, but by Monday morning Zara’s entry visa had been approved and stamped! WAY TO GO INDIAN EMBASSY LISBOA!
So that was it, Zara’s sister DHL’ed the passport back to a friend’s address in Santa Cruz, California. We had to manage our itinerary dates to be in the right place at the right time, but it wasn’t complicated since it fit our schedule well..) Of course DHL Europe charged about $150 since they have a monopoly of sorts but that was it! Thank goodness for international express freight!
Our initial expectation was that the whole process would take about 2 weeks but due to the amazing efficiency of the Indian embassy in Lisbon everything was done in about 8 days!
Thus, with a cost of about $217 (and the risk of some jail time if we were to be discovered :P) we had Zara’s passport back in the US with us, with her visa for India – ready to fly back together!
Thanks to Barbara (Zara’s sister), the Indian embassy in Lisboa, and Sarah (our friend in Santa Cruz) we sorted out an issue that could have been quite a problem for us!