Other,  Travel

The Bureaucratic Nightmare of Trying to Get a Visa During a Pandemic

 

No, I am not trying to travel for pleasure in the middle of this mess. I’ve been working on this for two years now, and when everything is awful and plans are going to hell left and right, somehow things have properly aligned for me. I never want to do this again. Three of my closest friends, dealing with the same shit. Wasn’t bureaucracy a third world country problem?  I guess not.

Sometime in 2018, not so far gone from college, looking at the options I have for my Master’s. Number one option? Gastronomic Tourism at Le Cordon Bleu Australia, taken online. My Alma Mater makes sense. I can get a job, which will pay for my insistence on continuing education. 

Too calm, I’m looking for it again. It doesn’t exist anymore?

A frantic search of anything remotely similar, I’m sure this is what I want to study next. Basque Culinary Center? Never heard of it. How have I never heard of it? A small but prestigious school in northern Spain has what I’ve missed out on at LCB: Master’s Degree in Food Tourism. 9,000ish USD? Sign me up. 

I knew I should’ve saved more. Stupid Florida.  Well, one more year to save up and properly plan my next steps. 2020 is laughing at me somewhere, I know it.

What a mess. Should I even try anymore? Don’t give up. But know when to quit?

Pandemic encroaching on my plans, everything is closed, limited in personnel, or just not answering. 

Twelve different things does the Spanish Consulate ask for, only two of them have proved extremely complicated. Application form? Filled out in 5 minutes. Passport-sized photo? 30 minute trip to Wallgreens. Passport? 10 seconds in the copier. Driver’s license? Another run in the copier. Admission letter? Printed. Health insurance? Hired. Medical certificate? Signed. Visa fees? Paid. Disclaimer? Filled out. 

My desk atm

The background check? It’s been fun moving around the last couple of years, but it has finally come back to bite me in the ass. 

The Spanish Consulate wants to know if I’ve lived somewhere for more than 6 months in the last five years. Three different background checks. Querétaro, Florida, and Colorado. How am I supposed to get a background check from Mexico when I can’t even leave my house?

Every single website has different addresses, phone numbers, emails. Am I surprised, though? Stupid Mexican government. Finally, somewhere on search results page 19, Mexicanas En España, clearly explained and bulleted. Lord bless them, I was about to lose it. 

I know what to do now, I think. Time to call my friends back home, see who is up for the monumental process. And boy is it a process.

Make an appointment at the Mexican Consulate for an “Embassy/Consulate request for criminal record letter”, attest to the fact that I can’t leave the US and am sending someone to represent me in Mexico. Mail said request to Mexico along with the other papers necessary to get the criminal record letter. Surprise! Need to make an appointment via email at the Criminal Background office for the person who will go in my place, but also send a scan of all the papers in advance. Why? Anna went to the appointment; it took her 4 hours to get the record. Off to get the Apostille now. Not so fast, said the Directorate for the Registration of Appointments, Legalization, Apostille and Administration of the Insular Territory. She needs to come back in a few days, no one is here today that can look at the documents. And after that, she still needs to come back again (So, a third time) to get the Apostille. Sorry, Anna! About two weeks later, the first complicated part is back in my hands. About a month and a half from start to end. 

The same options for the US: two state background checks, one for Colorado, and one for Florida (not an option re pandemic epicenter) or a federal one, courtesy of my friendly neighborhood FBI. Have to apply online, drive to Denver to get my prints taken. Step out of USPS and on my way to the car, phone rings. The results are in. That was fast. Still have to apostille it, though. Gotta mail the papers to Virginia even after being warned to “reconsider waiting to mail your request until we resume normal operations. You should expect delays processing your request for authentication services”. Well, it’s not like I have much of a choice now, do I?

Automatic responses to my emails to the Consulate keep piling up in my inbox. “If your stay in Spain is less than 180 days, please give up. If your stay is longer than 180 days, email us a copy of your acceptance letter along with your full information and we will get back to you when we are again able to schedule appointments”. Still haven’t gotten back to me, unsurprising at this point. After weeks of pestering, a different email shows up. “Due to the circumstances, no Visa appointments are being given out at the time. However, as an only exception, here are the steps to mail in your request.” Great. Now, I can no longer use the fact that I don’t have an appointment yet as an excuse as to why things aren’t moving along. Still waiting for the apostilled FBI background check.

Weeks of obsessively refreshing the USPS website only to see the same “Label Created, not yet in system” taunt, but today the little progress bar turned blue and read “In Transit”. I jump out of my seat and immediately send a voice note full of excited squeals to everyone who has been waiting on some news of those bloody papers.

Two days later they show up on my doorstep, in the same pretty envelope I had carefully sent them in weeks ago. Quickly but carefully thrown into the scanner only to realize I still need my upcoming bank statements to send the whole bundle to the sworn Spanish translator. Another three days.

Finally printed off my bank statements because #paperless, but the Spanish embassy page specifically says they don’t accept statements printed off from the internet. Went to the bank to ask for the statements; the kind and honest lady informs me it would be the same document as if I had got them myself, but with the added fee of  6 USD per statement. Maybe add a cutesy little note explaining the situation to whichever poor soul receives my two pound-heavy stack of papers at the consulate? Settle on having them notarized, hope that means something to them.

Copies on copies on copies placed behind originals, scans sent to the translator, and not two days later back at my door with a stamp, an engraving, and a signature. Finally complete.

Jesus Christ that’s a lot of paper. Wonder how many? 81 pages. FFS, this is ridiculous. My Bachelor’s thesis was 154 pages.

For comparison

Checking. Rechecking. Scanning once more just in case. Organizing. Reading. Where’s my passport? Downstairs. Ticking off boxes, and hasty annotations. One more time, just to be sure. Run to the Post Office, get a money order, flat rate envelope, and variable rate large envelope. Why can’t they make flat rates bigger?

Back home. Check again. Carefully, everything goes into the first envelope. Name and address in terrible, shaky handwriting. It’s 17:15, I won’t make it back to the Post Office. Slower now, into a plastic bag. Into the last envelope. Better writing. Sprinkled with holy water and a blessing. Placed on top of the printer to be dropped off in the morning.

Don’t want to take them. I keep feeling something’s wrong. Check them again. Everything’s in order, still don’t want to. 

Sweaty palms gripping the wheel. Slow steps to the door. “I can help whoever’s next”. Let the person behind me go ahead. Just drop off the damn papers already.

Now we wait.

 

Andrea Wintergerst

Based mainly in Colorado. Loves cheese, rain, and starry nights. Can usually be spotted in the wild wearing a Spirit Jersey and balancing two cameras. Often laughs and cries at the same time.

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