Monday, January 6, 2020

E-Visa Rant

Myanmar's new flag was adopted on October 21, 2010. In the flag, the color yellow symbolizes solidarity; the color green symbolizes peace, tranquility and vegetation; the color red symbolizes valor and decisiveness; and the white star represents the union of the country.  -- Wikipedia

Today I landed in Yangon Myanmar, formerly Rangoon Burma and I have a bit of a rant. E-Visas are all the rage and they are exactly what you think they are. You apply online for a Tourist Visa to a particular country when a visa is required. You go to a Government website and enter your basic information. Most times, you have to upload a passport-sized photo. You pay the fee and 24 - 48 hours later, you will receive an email confirmation letter stating that you are approved. This is NOT your visa. The approval letter is usually a .pdf and it must be printed. Do not shove your phone in the face of the immigration office. You hand the "unfolded" letter along with your passport to the never smiling agent and then stand uneasy for a couple of minutes listening patiently for a random question that will make you panic no matter what it is or the lovely sound of the agent stamping your passport and hand sliding it back to you.

Border Agent: Sir, how long will you be staying in Myanmar
Me: BLUE! Wait, What?

Some countries offer a Visa on Arrival. It is the same process but you fill out the form manually and pay your fee in cash. You answer a few questions and off you go. Pictures are optional depending on the country. Finally, some countries do not require visas for tourists. These options are all dependent on what country you are going to and what passport you hold. What is my rant you ask? Well sir. If you actually take the time and read what the Government requirements are for your travel country of choice, just follow the damn instructions.

Here is an example and I have heard it before. Myanmar has the choice of E-Visa and Visa on Arrival (VOA). My E-Visa was simple and required a photo that was "within 6 months". I filled everything out, uploaded a new photo and paid my $50. Within 24 hours, I had my approval letter. I immediately put it on a flash drive, found a print shop and printed two copies. I arrived at Yangon, took my goodies to immigration, waited in a short line and put through in five minutes. From landing to being in my cab ride to my hotel, it was 30 minutes because I do not check any bags. My rucksacks are 55 and 30 litres respectively so both can be carried on-board.

The Visa on Arrival was an option for Myanmar but it made no sense to me. Honestly if the E-Visa option is available, I don't even consider VOA. You arrive at the Visa on Arrival counter where there is always a line of panicking travelers. They are usually searching for their passports, grabbing a form and anxiously sharing a lone pen trying to fill it out the forms, all while standing in line so they don't lose their place. Once at the window you hand over your passport, the form and real passport photo. Then you must pay the fee. It is always, always, always paid in cash and usually US dollars.

I was wandering to immigration and as I passed the long cue for the VOA, I heard more than one group of people complaining that they had no cash, were pissed there was no ATM and/or that they could not use their credit cards. I peeked in the window and could see a pile of passport waiting to be processed. These people were going to be here for a while.

Here is my observation. In this day and age of "access to information" combined with humans having the attention span of a goldfish, people tend to read the first line of any paragraph and just go with it. "Visa on Arrival" is available at Yangon International Airport. "Done, that is what we will do". The great thing is, if you actually read on, it gives very specific instructions including Cash Only, No Credit Cards and there are no ATM's available. You also need a new passport photo and there are no photo services available upon arrival.

Now, these tired travelers are going to start arguing with Immigration about their Visas and usually with the arrogance of a Western Traveler. "Do you know who I am and where I am from?" Now you have increased your stress level. You are pissing off the border agents and you tend to forget that you are crossing an international border. These people can put your ass right back on a plane and sent you back to where you came from. There are usually tears and nasty reviews on whatever website/travel site you can find about how "fucked up" the visa process is for Myanmar, or any other country. Nope, not true. The process is easy. You chose not to follow it.

I arrived at my hotel around 8 PM. I walked over to the local shop and bought a few large cans of local beer. There were a few young Dutch guys sitting out front of the hotel. I said hello and joined them. I brought this subject up and they proceeded to rant at how stupid people are when it comes to immigration and international borders. "Just do what they say and you will have no problems" was the mantra for the night. It really is that simple. Now I am not saying a land border crossing between Niger and Mali or Turkey and Syria are going to be this straight forward. There are always exceptions.

Travel is not all sandy beaches and glorious sunsets. It can be stressful and tiring. Make it easy on yourself. Read past the first sentence. Find out exactly what the requirements are and follow the instructions. Recognize that not every airport is as glorious as Changi Airport in Singapore. Stop assuming they are going to make an exception just for you because of the color of your passport and you are so special. If you do everything you are asked, you just might get a slight smile with your stamp from a tired immigration agent just trying to do their job.

In addition, for the love of whatever you God you pray to, pack a pen!!!

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