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A Colombian Passport to Asia

We all know that Colombian fame around the world is not the best. Our terrorist history has left scars in our lands, our past, our present, in the perception others have about us, and the relations we have with another countries. Due to this, even though we are proud of who we are, it is no wonder that traveling with a Colombian pasaporte is not easy. The procedure and paperwork required to obtain a visa is generally a headache and forces us to plan the trip with a lot of anticipation, leaving little room for flexibility in case we need to change plans.

With our plans to travel around Asia, we had to pick and choose in advance which countries we desired most to visit. Next we had to schedule each country in a specific order based upon maximum length of stay allowed. Despite the numerous countries we wished to visit, only five qualified based the numerous factors we had to consider: India, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand. While some were easier than the others, none but Singapore was easy. This is what happened.

India

I applied in Bogota. Since it was our first destination, I had to have that one. I didn't need any appointment. The Embassy was well decorated, the staff was friendly, and there was no line, unheard of for embassies. I was asked for the most common papers: passport, copies of passport, passport photos, bank statements, plane tickets, a standard form, yellow fever vaccine certificate, and of course, the payment, $50. In comparison to the Schengen Visa (Europe) I fought for last year, it was easy. Three days later I had my visa leaving me with "good" expectations for India. Too bad those expectations disappeared the moment we arrived in country.

Malaysia

Malaysia does not have an embassy in Colombia, so you have to apply in the British Council which has the representation of this former federated Asian colony, now self ruled country. The application is online and after submitted you setup an appointment for the interview. The fee is $80. At first, we were not sure about going to Malaysia, so we skipped applying in Colombia. Later while in India we made the decision and applied at the Malaysian Embassy in New Delhi. All the information for the application was not online, so when we arrived to the embassy, I had everything (passport, photos, plane tickets), but not the payment that was supposed to be made in a local bank. No where did it say what the payment was, where or how to pay, so we assumed cash. We were wrong. The deposit required a bank and guess what, it was a holiday: bank closed. The registrar however received my application and gave permission to bring the payment confirmation the next day between 9 and 10:30am, only a 90 minute window. Like everywhere, the banks don't open until 9 so we had very little time to make it all happen. Thanks to our host Shalu we were able to make the payment (only $7 in comparison to the $80) as soon as the bank opened, rather than waiting in the 1+ hour long line, her husband skipped the line to the premier window. Finally about 10am, we hoped into a tuk tuk, but soon were stopped by the infamous New Delhi traffic. Arriving late, the office was already closed.

We'd brought the cell phone, but the battery was minutes from dead. Oops. We tried calling the embassy several times before to obtain the proper information requirements, never an answer, ever. The first day talking with others in line we found out that none of them had any luck either. But, we tried again anyway and what luck, someone answered: a miracle! Thank God. The officer gave us instructions to leave the payment receipt with the security officers on the other side of the compound. After 5 days I received my visa! Yeah! We were so excited to go to Malaysia for the next 30 days, but when we arrived in the airport immigration stamped only 14 days...what?! The embassy in India told me I was allowed 1 month and everywhere where I researched online said most of the countries were allowed 1 month. Bad news, after more digging we found out Colombia is in that "black" list with Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc. Even with only 14 days, we really enjoyed our time there and will surely return.

Singapore

Arrive in the airport. No questions. No departure ticket. Stamp for 30 days. Done. Why so easy? It is soooo expensive to stay in Singapore, I guess they figure you cannot afford to overstay. We could only afford 10 days :)

Indonesia

Every visa has an expiration date, in this case the expiration for the Indonesian Visa is 3 months after the day you apply. In the beginning we'd planned to stay in India for 2 months (well, as you know, we changed our minds). If I had applied in Bogota, the visa would have expired before we arriving in Indonesia. So the best way was to apply while we were in the road. The length of the visa they give you is 60 days, which was perfect because we had planed to stay month and a half. Brendon, as an American, is allowed to enter the country with a visa on arrival for a $25 fee, but only for 30 days. So he applied for a visa as well, enabling us to stay longer than a month. The Indonesian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur impressed us by how "organized" they were. Even though there were a ton of people applying for every kind of visa, they managed to attend every one in line and were friendly at the same time. They asked me for the common papers too: fill out a form, passport, passport photocopy, passport photos, plane tickets, and a recommendation letter (optional). I'd planned this letter back in Colombia where it was a requirement. Since I already had it, we adjusted the dates and presented it anyway. It was writen by family friend of Brendon's, and I think it was a really good idea! Three days later we received the visa and moved on!

Thailand

The expiration date situation is the same as the Indonesian Visa (3 months), so I was not able to apply in Bogota either. This turned out to be the best thing that could have happened. In Bogota, they asked me for a "ridiculous" amount of papers (almost the same as for Europe): passport, passport photocopy, passport photos, yellow fever vaccine certificate, plane tickets, hotels reservation, itinerary, form, job certificate where it says job title, salary and time working in the job, and finally, bank statements for the last 3 months. I had had a stressful case applying for the Schengen Visa in the Spain Embassy in 2010, and I didn't want to go through that again. At the same time though, having to apply for the visa abroad made me nervous for a little while. It turned out than it was easier than either of us had thought it would be. After the hiccup in Malaysia, we (Brendon also applied too to stay 2 months without renewal) finally applied in the Thai Consulate in Jakarta - Indonesia. All they asked me to present was my passport, passport photos, and the plane tickets! We also had to pay the normal fee, in cash, but in dollars. We had an extra stash of emergency dollars, all 100s. Turns out, all the bills we had were in the same series flagged for counterfeit and not acceptable. We had to hit up the bank and it was already closed for the day. Fortunately, I'd booked our hotel a mere 3 blocks from the embassy so as to have no more traffic troubles (good since Jakarta has awful traffic). After a trip to the bank the next day, three days later we received our 60 day visas. Yuju!

From my experience, you can now see than we Colombians are required to present much information in application for a Visa. We wait in long lines, wake up really early to arrive to the consulate on time, spend days collecting all the papers required, just to demonstrate we are good people trying to see the world...And even after that, nothing assures you are going to receive your visa. One thing I've learned, is that applying for a visa outside of Colombia is generally much much easier and cheaper. Why? Who knows.

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Posted By: Andrea 3/24/2012