More visas needed??? Check, check and recheck!

Our cruise company sent us this email message a few weeks ago:

"Dear Mrs. Lyman,

Thank you again for booking with Vacations To Go!

I wanted to send a quick email to remind you that one or more of the ports of calls, you will be visiting, will require a Visa.

If you are a U.S. citizen, U.S. permanent resident or a Canadian citizen residing in Canada and have not contacted CIBT, to verify your visa requirements for this sailing, please contact them as soon as possible.

All other, non-U.S. or Canadian citizens must verify proof of citizenship and visa requirements with the embassy, consulate or immigration office of the countries in their cruise itinerary.

Vacations To Go has partnered with CIBT, one of the nation's largest passport and visa services companies in the country, to assist U.S. citizens, permanent residents and Canadian citizens in obtaining any required visas or a passport. Visas may be purchased within six months of the start of the vacation but please be aware that for some countries it may take up to 30 days to secure a visa.

If you are a U.S. citizen or permanent resident and need to obtain a visa, click
here.

If you are a U.S. citizen and need to obtain a passport, click
here.

If you are a Canadian Citizen residing in Canada and need to obtain a visa, click
here.

For visa or passport questions, call CIBT customer service at 1-877-841-8602. Be sure to identify yourself as a Vacations To Go customer and reference account 45585. CIBT is available from 7:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. CST, Monday through Friday.

Please let me know if you have any questions!

Sincerely,

Joaquin Contreras
Travel Counselor
Vacations To Go
jcontreras@vacationstogo.com"


We have total faith in our cruise counselor, Joaquin and his company Vacations to Go for providing us with the most updated important information, superb customer service and best possible pricing.  I imagine, that the above letter is a standard letter sent to upcoming cruise passengers via the cruise lines on their behalf resulting in the "travel agents" presenting the information to their clients. 

Upon reading this letter, we followed the links to CIBT, a highly reputable visa and passport company per online reviews, the Better Business Bureau reports and recommendations by VTG. 

Previously, we had used  VisaHQ, a company located on Embassy Row in Washington, DC in order to obtain our second passports (to find detailed information about the necessity of having a second US passport, please type "second passports" in the search box on our home page to go directly to our posts regarding the necessity of a second passport.)

With these links and information on hand, we proceeded to go to CIBT to set up an online account.  When asked, "what country will you be visiting?" I was stymied.  With four countries requiring a visa in our upcoming cruises through June 2013, my hope and expectation would be that we could apply for all four at once. 

Those countries requiring visas include:  Egypt, Jordan, Turkey and United Arab Emirates.  The other dozen of more countries in our upcoming eight cruises in 2013 (two more scheduled so far for 2014) do not require a visa for stays under 30 days. 

The dilemma we faced after receiving this letter:
1.  To apply for a visa, one must send their passport to the processing company along with a stack of ancillary documents, based on each country's particular requirements.
2.  To avoid paying extra processing fees, as much as $150 per visa, one may apply early to ensure the documents are received in time for the cruises and...to get one's passport back with the documents. When we ordered our second passports they were sent to us by registered mail to our mailing service in Nevada which we picked up when we went to Las Vegas for Christmas.
3.  Thus, without having established an address here in Belize and the potential for slow transit from the US to Central America, it's likely should we try to apply now for June, there's a high risk of not receiving our passports and visas in time before we depart on April 9th.

After Tom and I discussed this at length, after confirming that we did in fact need visas for these four countries we'll visit on our cruises from May to June, we came up with this plan:
1.  Complete all the paperwork while here using our portable printer and scanner.
2.  Begin the process of applying online while here, leaving out the mailing of our passports until we get to Miami on April 13th when our ship, the Carnival Liberty, docks at the port of Miami for approximately 10 hours.  
3.  Grab a cab, heading directly to a UPS store near the pier, mail our documents registered mail to CIBT, pick up our forwarded awaiting mail and packages we'd pre-arranged to arrive on April 13th, mail our excess luggage to my sister in Los Angeles, get back on the ship and continue on to the next cruise.
4.  In the packet to CIBT, we'll have requested the visa and 2nd passports to be sent to our hotel in Barcelona Spain, where we'll stay one night, May 5th, boarding our 15 night cruise in the morning through the Suez Canal to see the Great Pyramids, Giza, Cairo, The Sphinx, and more (will post details later), where three of the four visas are required. 

Whew! This is cutting it very close...one night in Barcelona with documents being delivered in a very narrow window. Of course, the hotel would gladly hold the package for us for a few days.  But what if it didn't arrive, or was lost? 

Suddenly, we both felt a twinge of stress.  Our only piece of mind would be to have them sent from the US to Barcelona, the quickest, most expensive way.  We were willing to bear this expense. And yet, there still was no guarantee.

Our goal thus far has been to keep stress at a minimum, avoiding that angst ridden feeling one takes on in bed in the middle of the night, interrupting sleep, a familiar feeling from our "old lives", a feeling that seems unavoidable in the hustle and bustle of daily life.  

Lounging on the veranda yesterday, creating a definitive plan we both could live with, a thought occurred to us simultaneously; let's call CIBT explaining our dilemma and see what suggestions they may offer. 

Since we no longer have a cell phone plan, using Skype and SIM cards as needed, we knew we could call their toll-free number using Skype, incurring no cost at all.  We discovered much to our delight, that we can call any business in the US without incurring any costs, as long as they have a toll free number.  They answer on their regular phone systems while we call on Skype for free.  Nice.  Thanks, SKYPE!  

Dialing their toll-free number, we were connected to a representative within 30 seconds. The call was clear with a bit of an echo.  Explaining our dilemma to the representative, she asked us to kindly wait and she'd be right back.  Watching the clock in Skype, she returned in less than a minute asking us the names of the cruise lines for these two upcoming cruises.  We responded that the May 6th cruise was with Royal Caribbean and the second was with Norwegian Cruise Lines.

Again, we were on hold for a short time.  She returned to the phone with glee in her voice, "I have good news for you!"  We held our breathe. "You will not need pre-arranged visas on either of your cruises.  You'll receive them on board your ship at the time you disembark to go on your excursions.  Both of these cruise lines have an arrangement with these countries to provide visas at their ports of call."

We squealed with delight.  Tom, or shall I say, "doubting Thomas" wanted more verification of this, worrywart that he is.  Immediately, we contacted Joaquin, our cruise guy by email.  An hour later, we received an email confirming that CIBT is correct, we don't need to obtain visas in advance for the four countries, not always the case, but in these particular two situations, we could relax.

Had we not "called" receiving this valuable information, we would have followed the  procedures online, paying the expenses of upwards of $600, while dealing with the stress of the timing.

Who knows how to travel the world for 5-10 years or more, managing all the details, documents, financial and medical concerns?  We don't.  But we're learning, day by day in bite sized pieces with so much more ahead of us.  We'll flounder, we'll make mistakes, we'll trust when we shouldn't and wrongfully mistrust when we should. 

Lesson learned and, reaffirmed?  Yes, check, check and then check again.  You never know what surprises may be awaiting you.

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