The Worst Part of Travel

Stories from our users.

Sherpa’s products make it easy to get travel visas. Through our customer development process, we’ve found one thing to be almost universally true: it’s not easy to get travel visas. Our most evangelical users have been people who have had trouble getting a travel visa in the past, and that is not a small group.

In this post we’ve taken a few of the stories that we’ve heard from our users that tell the story of a broken system. While these case studies are acute, they are not unusual — highlighting that the standards for ease-of-use in visa, immigration, and customs bureaucracies, are woeful. The names of the users in these stories have been changed to protect their privacy.

Maureen

By no fault of her own, Maureen had flagged herself as a possible fraud in the eyes of the Indian government…

Maureen was travelling to India for a quick trip to see all of the sights that she’d been dreaming about since she was a kid. She knew from talking to others who had travelled to India that she was going to need a tourist visa before entering the country. Reeny Googled “India Travel Visa” and clicked on the first link that came up.

Maureen had stumbled upon a third-party Indian visa application website that looked kind of sketchy, but her faith in humanity led her to apply on their online form. The website took her information and payment, but she did not receive any follow-up about the provided services. She was afraid that her identity was at risk, and wasn’t sure if she had the right visa for her trip.

After waiting a week — and having received no follow up — Maureen found another more legitimate looking website offering the same visa services. This process was very similar to her first experience, and to her relief she received a confirmation email after paying through the website. Maureen was now confident that she had what she needed to go through Indian customs.

Upon arrival in India, Maureen was taken aside by customs officials in the airport. The officials were highly suspicious of her because she had two entry visas associated with her Passport. By no fault of her own, Maureen had flagged herself as a possible fraud in the eyes of the Indian government, and wasted hours being questioned as if that were the case.

In the end, Maureen enjoyed her trip to India, but it was tainted by her bad experience applying for and holding a travel visa.

Bertram

Not having the right visa, Bertram was forced to cancel his trip before it had even begun.

Bert was excited when we had finalized his plans for a trip to Sri Lanka. Having planned the trip to visit friends, he was told ahead of time that he would need a visa to enter the country. Bertram booked his flights and set about travelling to the Sri Lankan Consulate in Toronto well ahead of time to make sure that he had the right travel visa.

The day of his departing flight, Bertram arrived at the airport and proceeded to check-in. It was here at the counter that he learned he needed a transit visa for India , where he transferred flights en route. More troubling was the fact that this type of visa was not available upon arrival in India.

Not having the right visa, Bertram was forced to cancel his trip before it had even begun. He received no refunds for flights, accommodations, or the Sri Lankan visa. Bert is now super paranoid about travel documentation.

Clarence

Not in a position to question or argue with the process, Clarence was hit with two unnecessary exchange rate conversions.

Clay was on a trip in Southeast Asia that he had been dreaming about his whole life. When he entered the Philippines, it was stated at the border that Canadians were entitled to visa-free travel for 30 days. Knowing that he was covered for the month of January, he gave little thought about the actual stipulations of the visa parameters.

Clarence forgot that January had 31 days, and so he had technically overstayed his visa-free time frame. Upon leaving the Philippines, he was told that he was liable to pay a fee which is incurred daily for overstaying a visa. Luckily, the one day overstay only cost him $85 USD and he was able to pay. Other travellers, either tight on money or unable to access funds immediately, may not have been as fortunate.

That wasn’t the only travel visa snafu on that trip.

A few weeks later, he was entering Laos. To purchase a visa on arrival, he was notified that the government prefers individuals to pay in USD. When Clay didn’t have enough USD, he was asked to go to an ATM to withdraw Laotian Kip. Clay was then escorted to a bank teller at the airport, and was asked to exchange the newly purchased Kip to USD. Not in a position to question or argue with the process, Clarence was hit with two unnecessary exchange rate conversions.

Clay successfully paid the fee and acquired the visa to enter Laos, but when asking the official why he couldn’t have just paid the fee in Kip in the first place, the officer answered very casually “due to corruption”.

Debra

Debra was told conflicting details about her status by the government, her lawyer, and the company she was working for.

Deb was required to get a visa for some long-term work she had found in the United States. Luckily for her, the company she worked for had paid for a service to assist her with the visa application. The visa service company was quite thorough and gave her everything she needed, however, ultimately it was up to Deb to decode and digest all the details of the application and the visa. Because of her lack of understanding as to what the limits and stipulations of the United States visa system were, she felt obligated to carry a binder full of documents around with her. Debra was told conflicting details about her status by the government, her lawyer, and the company she was working for, and it made her uncomfortable to travel back-and-forth to visit her family and friends.

Clive and Sally

…Clive and Sally basically had to take a vacation to do the paperwork for their vacation

We met Clive and Sally while they were in line at the Chinese Visa Services Centre in Toronto. They had driven from Southwestern Ontario, about 3 hours away from to the closest Chinese embassy. The couple had gone through the process before, and they knew they would have to take two days off of work to come in, fill out all of the required forms, and submit their applications. This process involves paying extra for expedited processing, but it saves them from having to do the 6-hour round trip twice.

When you add up the opportunity cost of leaving their family business for a day, the expedited processing fees, and the hotel room, Clive and Sally basically had to take a vacation to do the paperwork for their vacation. They were surprisingly positive about being able to spend the weekend in Toronto, but noted that the first time hadn’t gone this smoothly. While they were able to make the logistics work for them, other international travellers west of Toronto wouldn’t be so flexible.

Dennis

Facebook groups proved to be the best resources, as former applicants offered the practical and correct advice…

Dennis was applying to universities to complete his Master’s degree in the United Kingdom. The Tier 4 General Visa is for longer periods of study, and the process looked daunting. Dennis sought the assistance of a third party company to process the school application and aid in acquiring the visa after acceptance.

While acceptance to the school was successful, the visa application process was arduous. The “expert” was of little to no assistance, even though the individual was registered by the UK university to assist Canadian students. The information provided by the expert, the host university, and the United Kingdom Visas and Immigration website were all different. From required documents to submission formatting, nothing was standardized. Dennis ended up taking matters into his own hands, calling the university in their time zone throughout the summer leading up to the semester he was supposed to spend abroad.

Other international students were facing similar challenges. Facebook groups proved to be the best resource, as former applicants offered the practical and correct advice about documents needed and the overall process. In the end, Dennis attended his visa interview appointment, drove to the interview with all his documents in the correct format, and paid for expedition of the process. He was successfully granted his visa and attended school, due entirely to the fact that he took matters into his own hands.

A friend of his was accepted to study in the UK a year later and faced the same process. The school took long to process her application that she had to abandon the program for an entire year. If Dennis had not spent a considerable amount of time going through the application process, it’s likely he too would have missed the opportunity to study abroad.

Our General Findings

Bureaucracies have earned their reputation for laboriousness and inflexibility. This sample of stories gives a good range of the ways that people have issues applying for travel visas, but it’s just a sample of the experiences that people come to us with. If you have a story, good or bad, about getting a travel visa we would love to hear about it. We’re dedicated to simplifying this process, and every snapshot of the state of current of affairs helps.

— Max Tremaine (@MaxTremaine), CEO of Sherpa

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