Thursday 15 December 2016

Passports, visa issues, and other first world problems…

I’m pretty sure you must often think from reading my blog updates or seeing my Facebook travel posts that our life of nomadic world travel is all fun and adventure and frolicking on the beach – and it mostly is – except for when there are problems.

Problems can range from: delayed flights, missing flights, broken aeroplanes, feeling ill and wondering if you need a doctor, having toothache but no dentist, feeling sea-sick with no sight of land, getting hurt and wondering if you’ll ever get better, fleeing from a typhoon, being in the path of a hurricane, etc etc…. 

Those are just a few off the top of my head.

But some problems are really tricky to overcome – they are usually first world issues to do with having no fixed abode - and we have been dealing with some of these recently.

Like what to do when you have been travelling for a while and you want to continue travelling but you know that at the end of the month your bank debit card will expire and, in the tiny remote place you are in, your debit card is the only card that works at the only ATM?

Add to that, knowing that every month after, each one of the credit cards in your wallet is going to expire in turn (like a row of dominos falling down). 

Having no debit card means no access to our bank funds and no credit cards means no flights can be booked online leaving us pretty much penniless and stranded.

Do we have to go back to the UK just to visit our bank?

Then there is the visa issue. We are so lucky to have UK passports – one of the most powerful passports in the world (erm, well, right now at least) which allows you a visa and entry – often on arrival - to many wonderful countries. Recently we were in Malaysia were we were given a 90 day visa on arrival and Indonesia were it is a 30 day on arrival visa.

We are now in Thailand, where with a UK passport you get a 30 day visa on arrival. But what if we want to stay longer – and we do? 

This is a problem that can be both costly and exhausting. For example, to get a 60 day visa you need to apply outside of Thailand at a Thai Embassy or Consulate for that visa every time. This is what is known as a visa run.

I mentioned passports – and that brings me to the main topic of this post. 

Many countries insist that you have at least six months valid on your passport. We knew our passports were good for another eighteen months. Or so we thought - until we went on a visa run to the Thai Consulate in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia recently. The Thai visa takes up a whole page of a passport and then there are the additional in/out stamps too. It was pointed out to us that we had now run out of blank pages in our passports.

This was not so much a problem but an immediate crisis.

No pages – no visas – no stay – no travel – and the clock was ticking and the days counting down. Did we have to dash back to the UK to replace our passports?

Thankfully we found a way around having to take the hit of buying expensive holiday time air fares (our current visas expire a few days after New Year) and, after contacting Her Majesties Passport Office in Bangkok, we were told we could replace them as overseas citizens through their office. Hurray!

It took exactly three weeks from us sending off our current passports and all our paperwork to Bangkok, them checking it all and sending it onto London, for us to receive our brand new passports.

Out with the old and in with the new!

During that time I tracked our returning passports with DHL passing through their depots in London, Liverpool, Birmingham, New York, Hong Kong and back to the passport office in Bangkok for collection.

Our new passports have travelled far and wide without us!

We were saved the cost and inconvenience of having to go all the way to Bangkok by enlisting the help of a friend (thanks Mark) who lives in Bangkok and who did the drop off and pick up for us and posted our passports back to us on our tiny island in the Gulf of Thailand.

I have to point out that the Thai postal service is excellent and so we had no problems doing this. However, there are many places in the world that doing sensitive stuff like this by post would be inadvisable if not absolutely impossible. What do you do then? I have no idea.

And the credit and debit card problem? It wasn’t easy but again we had help. We had a family member to post out our new cards, once they’d been issued by the bank, to a friend in another country whom we planned to meet up with at some point. And, on another occasion, we had to time things perfectly so that we were in a country/place/address where we could rely on a courier getting to us. Making this all like a game of worldwide tag.

But now we are viable once again. We have our new bank cards, we have our new passports and we are once again prepared to take a boat and a bus and a plane and a train and then probably an Uber taxi - to get to the next place outside Thailand which has a Thai Consulate or a Thai Embassy - where we can get our next visa back into Thailand again. Which we don’t consider to be a problem at all!

Until next time,
Love, Janice xx