I like to consider myself a well seasoned traveler. I have traversed the planet and boarded many a plane, train and boat. I saw my share of travel tribulations over the years. Sometimes though, sheer stupidity can rain on your parade.
After booking my flight to Australia, I was over the moon with excitement. Four months in Indonesia left me craving some fresh greens, drinkable tap water and organic peanut butter… all of which I knew lay waiting for me at the other end of a four-hour flight. We had friends waiting for our arrival, camping gear at the ready, cameras charged and swell reports scouted.
The day of the flight I was giddy with excitement, all of my worldly belongings packed perfectly into a backpack, the boards all wrapped up and ready to go. We arrived at the airport exactly three hours ahead of departure, which was fine… being early is always better when it comes to the airport.
Trouble in Paradise
We made our way up to the AirAsia counter to see if we could check in early and drop our boards off. After scanning our passports the woman looked at us quizzically , “So you have no visas?”.
“No, we don’t need visas, we are just getting a tourist visa-on-arrival.”
There is no such thing.
To our horror, we had made an incredibly stupid and rookie mistake: we didn’t check if we needed visas. As U.S. and U.K. citizens, we incorrectly assumed that we could receive a visa-on-arrival, just like every other country we’ve traveled to. Unfortunately Australia is not every other country. I couldn’t wrap my head around my stupidity.
Why didn’t I check? Why didn’t I ask? Why didn’t I do ANYTHING in preparation?
The Social Media Freakout
Cue the mad dash for an internet café. I posted on Facebook about my dilemma, hit up my TravelBlogSuccess comrades, and googled visas immediately. The response hit me like a sack of bricks: you need a visa before departure.
Definitely. Need. Visas.
While many of the replies included “good luck!” and “I hope it works!” I could feel my cheeks reddening. I write a damn travel blog. I should have this travel thing on lock down. Now I was publicizing my mistakes. My ego bruised and blistered, I kept searching forums, travel websites and eventually found myself at the official Immigration webpage.
We scrambled to apply for electronic visas, thank you Australia for being so internet savvy. Sweaty palms and creeping nausea became my permanent state. I reluctantly paid 130$ AUD to the Immigration Department in hopes that they approve my visa in the following three hours. I ran back and forth between the café and the check-in desk for the next two, asking to scan our passports to check the visas and finally begging a representative to call the Australian Immigration. After much deliberation and chatting, I suddenly doubted the woman’s ability to relay information to me and asked to speak with the Immigration officer myself. What I found out was alarming. I applied for the wrong visa. It will take 10 days.
The Ridiculously Easy Solution
I didn’t have 10 days. That was the entire trip in Australia. I needed to leave the country, my Indonesia visa was up, but I also couldn’t afford another flight anywhere else. I explained my situation and the lovely Australian Immigration Officer told me of an e-visa that only costs 20$ and usually gets approved in FIFTEEN minutes. Fifteen minutes! I couldn’t believe it. I sprinted back to the café and applied immediately. I received my visa… immediately.
As Mark collected his toothbrush and essentials out of our collective baggage, we surrendered to the fact that his Visa won’t arrive in time. We agreed that I should go on and he would arrive as soon as possible. At the last moment, five minutes left to check in, we asked to check his visa once more.
His boarding pass printed; the visa processed moments earlier. We cheered, hugged and celebrated with others in line, it felt like winning the lottery. Success. We had beat the odds. We were on our way.
This my friends, is NOT how you travel. Checking for Visa requirements before you enter a country is an absolute must. Do not as I do. Do not assume because you haven’t met difficulties before that you will evade disaster in the future. Always, always, always over-prepare. Create a checklist, use the internet to your advantage, see where others have gone before and inquire within.
To those of you who answered my pleading messages, endured my frantic posts and sent me information, thank you, thank you, thank you!
To see what kind of visa you need before flying into Australia, reference the form on http://www.immi.gov.au/Pages/Welcome.aspx.
To apply for an electronic tourist 3month visa for only 20$ check out https://www.eta.immi.gov.au/ETA/etas.jsp. [This visa only applies to residents of the US, Canada, Brunei – Darussala, Hong Kong (SAR PRC), Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, and Korea, Rep of (South).]