One of my most frequently asked questions is usually , how do you decide on a travel destination. Do you just go to random places or is it all determined by specific factors.My answer to this questions is always two things the cost of travelling and the Visa Requirements of the destination. It got me thinking that i should share my personal Visa struggles as a young African with a Kenyan passport.
You probably know someone or have heard of horrible visa stories where someone had applied to go to a certain country, spent tonnes of money on the application, did an interview at an embassy that scared the crap out of them because they felt like them and their ancestors were being investigated and to make matters worse they got rejected!. Visa processes can be emotionally and financially draining, stressful, depressing and frustrating. I have had my fair share of this struggles, shed tears and its definitely the one aspect of travel that i completely detest.
My very first trip outside the country was to Uganda and since we are all part of East African Community (EAC) i really did not require a Visa just my Yellow fever card and passport. The same applies for the other EAC countries and as a Kenyan it should not be a hustle and i encourage you to start by visiting either of this countries.
I visited India about 2 years ago and this was my first trip abroad and my first time applying for a visa. I had always wanted to backpack across India and after doing some research i was certain it would not be a hustle to get the visa. However this was not the case and i had my very first hand experience with Visa frustrations. The Indian high commission in Nairobi is in the CBD and i confidently showed up with the required documents early on a Monday morning and proceeded to wait for my turn in the waiting room which is also where you submit your documents to the officials and answer a few questions too. I immediately noticed that some people would leave the room without their documents while others left with theirs looking very dissapointed. Which meant that they did not meet the requirements and had been asked to try again. So there i was already nervous and it was my turn to justify why i needed a 3 month visa to India. I presented my case so well or so i thought until the guy informed me that i needed a signed letter from my parents because i was 23 years old, unmarried and he felt that was too young for such a trip! WTH!!. I was speechless and before i could even comprehend what the fudge had just happened he handed me back my documents and called out to the next person. I was so mad!!. So i got home and to the amusement of everyone said what had happened, got the said letter and prepared myself for the next day. The next day bright and early i was back and guess what the same officer interviewed me again and for reasons that he did not want to share with me gave me back my documents and flat out told me i was not eligible for the Visa even after all that!. I was heartbroken and walked out to the hallway and started crying. I had provided everything required, paid for my travel insurance, had been completely honest with them and just like that my dream was being crushed.
So there i was crying and then this guy came up to me asked me what was up, i was so emotional and told him everything. Turns out he was actually an embassy employee and had some rank of some sort because he asked me to follow him to his office,took my documents and interviewed me himself again. It was my lucky day and i Thank God for sending him my way,he informed me everything was in order and i got my Visa approved on condition when i came back to Kenya i would go to back to show them i did not dissapear in India.
Getting a Tourist visa to India should not be a hustle and i think personally i had such trouble because i was asking for 3 months. If you plan to visit India for a short time say 1 month its actually easier to apply online and get an E Visa and you do not even need to go to the embassy, they send it to you via Email. For more info you can check out here all the requirements.
South Africa is the only African country that i have been to so far that i had to get a visa to get into. Thankfully the Visa process is not a hustle and some of the Basic requirements involve,a reserved return ticket, travel itinerary, 3 months bank statements and a hotel reservation (Click here for more info). We flew with Ethiopian airlines and managed to get a 20 hr layover in Addis Ababa and as a Kenyan you do not need a visa to Ethiopia and can actually stay visa free for a maximum of 365 days! How cool is that! We then flew down to Capetown and took buses all the way back to Nairobi and did not need a visa for Namibia, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania which was awesome.
Schengen visa makes travelling around Europe easy and allows you to freely travel around 25 Schengen zone member states. Meaning if you want to go to Europe you only need one stamp on your passport and you can literally go everywhere your heart desires as long as its in the Schengen zone.
When applying for this kind of Visa its advised to apply at the Embassy of the country which you think you will be spending much of your time. Once applied and granted its very difficult to extend this Visa and if you extend more than the given 90 days you could risk a chance of getting banned in the future from entry to the Schengen area. You can always try and apply for a multiple entry but in most cases they will only grant you a single entry.
I applied for my schengen Visa through the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Nairobi. The application process involves you filling in an application form online then proceeding to the VSF center to submit the documents. There is no interview, its just submitting everything and then waiting for them to contact you after about 2-3 weeks.
After sometime i got a text message asking me to collect my passport the next day, i remember how nervous i was because the message did not reveal whether i had been issued the Visa or not. When you collect the passport its usually in a sealed envelope and after collecting mine, i remember i decided to use the stairs so that i could open it and have a look. First thing i saw when i did was a letter that had a very huge VISA REJECTION and my name!!. The letter went ahead to explain how coming from a socially, politically and economically poor country it did not seem that i had enough ties to my country and chances are i would not be coming back. It was around the election period and there was already some tension and i thought `oh no!they probably think am running away `.Also being young, unmarried and without any kids was also a major factor in my rejection and it was clearly spelt out. I CRIED SOOOOO MUCH!!. Then the letter ended with me being informed that i had 3 weeks to appeal the decision, which if i did i wouldn’t have to pay a new application fee and what not.
I remember getting home so determined to get any or all documents that would prove if they gave me a chance i definitely would be back. If you own any property or even lease in Kenya it comes in handy, your company registration certificate, employers letter etc. I would also advice you to make sure you notify your insurance in advance so they can suspend the insurance until you are granted, because you always have to pay for the insurance before you even know if you can travel and its non-refundable!.
Anyway i appealed the decision and i was granted the Visa a few days later. So far i have had two Schengen visas and what i can say is that it somehow gets easier after the first one although you basically have to do everything all over again every time. Its definitely worth it once you get it because you can go to so many places with it. Depending on the embassy you decide to use the requirements can differ but are usually almost the same, for more info on that click here.
Do you guys have a visa struggle story?. If so i would love to hear your experiences, thoughts on this post and how you dealt with your own Visa struggles.