Have you ever noticed that there’s always some peculiar system or archaic procedure to adhere to while making your way through immigration? Each country presents the traveller with its own ridiculously bureaucratic hoops to jump through without any logical explanation.
I have a large 70-page business passport which lasts me, on average, about 18 months. Most African countries demand some serious real-estate by occupying a full passport page with their visa stickers and stamps.
I mostly travel to countries suffering self-esteem issues, and hence, my passport fills up with unimaginative multi-coloured stickers rather quickly. Sure, it’s nice to flick through the passport and see where you’ve been, but applying for a new passport every 18 months isn’t fun — particularly when you’re constantly on the road and can ill afford administrative delays. As a general rule however, the more pompous the government, the greater the acreage requirements seem to be.
This is after all, Africa; where any starving child can tell that a hologram emblazoned sticker is more expensive than an ink pad and a rubber stamp. Wouldn’t it be more productive to feed the children or fight malaria? An inferiority syndrome on a national scale — Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana & Nigeria, to mention a few. These nations, like a spoilt little child, have an affinity for big and expensive visa stickers. I call it, The Bling Factor.
Countries that can hold their own within a world of peers, more mature in their thinking and comfortable with their image, seem content with a small ink stamp and a hand-crafted squiggle — well done Rwanda, well done Botswana, you’re ahead of the herd.
But even these more mature countries like to mess with the experience. I’m glad that they’re using a small rubber stamp — I like the economy of it all — why then, must they insist that it goes on its own page; can’t it coexist nicely with other stamps on similarly vandalized pages? — and that’s just a stamp from a previous visit, you can’t imagine the resulting fanfare when they spot a stamp from a neighbouring country — three pages in either direction, sometimes blank, seems to be the unspoken convention.
Now, I’m not opposed to fingerprinting at all, but surely, scanning both hands upon entry should be enough? Where exactly is the wisdom in scanning both hands, yet again, upon exit? Is it for fear that I’ve swapped my left arm with that of a friend’s? Shouldn’t a single finger suffice for a conclusive match with the entry scan?
You’ve now my photo, my prints and other bio-metric data. Surely, an investment in such infrastructure aims to minimise human toil, improve accuracy and speed up processing? Why then, are queues longer, the experience inconsistent between trips, and logic-defying reasoning used to explain it all? That’s right Namibia, you’re part of this lot.
A group of 30 tourists arrives at Windhoek airport and form two queues. One at the left immigration counter and the other at the right. All 15 on the left receive a 3 month visa, all 15 on the right receive a 14 day visa. Each tourist is a German passport holder and the trek they all signed up and paid for runs for 21 days. You can imagine the resulting confusion and distaste.
My latest trip to Turkey left a lot to be desired — immigration is always a bit of a hit and miss. We were given fast-track vouchers which couldn’t be used in any of the lanes. But quick thinking saved my [beef] bacon, a flash of an old Business-class stub got me through to the priority line. Here at least, I was able to examine the visa costs on a glowing red screen. The prices seemed to be arbitrarily selected without any clear indication as to the reason for the variation.
Maltese and South Africans enter for free. I have no idea why, but I imagine that the strategic position of both these countries makes it a good location for performing crew changes and maintenance on Turkish shipping fleets.
But seriously, with unpredictable currency fluctuations, why then, do I need a table which tells me that Australians must pay either USD 20 or EUR 15? At current rates, USD 20 equals to EUR 15.53 — it only makes sense to pay for the visa in EUR for a 53 cent discount.
Another thing, why are nationals of some countries allowed to pay with EUR, USD or GBP while others (such as Indonesians) are locked into a single currency? Is it assumed that Indonesians only carry USD? Quite ridiculous when you think about it.
And what in the world did Canada ever do? They pay a threefold premium over other nationals. Does this have something to do with airline protectionism, much like the ongoing row between Canada and the UAE? Did they refuse Turkish Airlines from landing in Toronto too? As far as diplomacy is concerned, I’m starting to wonder whether Canada is in alignment with other Commonwealth countries, or whether the strained Turkish-French relations are souring the mix?
I was puzzled, but after some quick research I came across a few stories and recent developments which shed light on the situation.
The Turkish Foreign Policy website states that “Canada’s favouring the Armenian view on the events of 1915 in the ongoing debate between the Turks and the Armenians as well as among the historians, along with its being the only country to qualify at Governmental level the events of 1915 in line with the Armenian allegations, has had negative repercussions on the official relations between the two countries.” Furthermore, the site goes on to mention that “Following the conclusion of the Air Transportation Agreement, Turkish Airlines started to operate regularly between Istanbul and Toronto three times a week.” Aha, I knew it! Protecting their airspace with one hand and pushing globalization with the other.
Wouldn’t it be nice if immigration counters, in addition to the list of visa costs, gave the traveller a reason as to why they’re being charged a fortune (or nothing at all) to pass the checkpoint? It would certainly bring about a higher awareness of foreign policy and transform, an otherwise unproductive queuing experience, into appreciation for diplomatic relations.
Politics aside, on my outbound flight to Ankara, my luggage wasn’t tagged all the way to EsenboÃƒ€žÃ…¸a International Airport (from Dubai via Istanbul). Which meant I had to wheel my suitcase two kilometres towards the domestic terminal in Istanbul, check it in again and clear security a second time. But this has more to do with ground staff education than immigration.
Coincidentally, the luggage lady at Istanbul airport assures me that a suitcase bound for Ankara would have been transferred automatically, if so tagged. That is a relief. For a moment there, I thought the Turks were basing their baggage routing on some convoluted TSA-inspired system.
On the return trip, and running late for the flight, I might add, I handed my passport over to the gentleman at Istanbul immigration. In my usual efficient manner, I passed the passport with two fingers separating the important pages, the picture page and the visa page — all in the hope of speeding things up. Of course, at times, these types of helpful acts do get lost in translation and muddled up in cross-cultural misunderstandings. But in this case, given the number of fully used pages in the passport, it was pure stupidity to ignore my bookmarks. I stood there admiring the airport architecture while he flicked through all 70 pages, back and forth multiple times, trying to find the visa and corresponding stamps.
I must admit though, the Turks have a great sense of humour and love a good laugh. He found the visa and stamped the page, then asked me to move to the right and into view of his small webcam.
Ãƒ¢Ã¢€š¬Ã…€œHat, hat, remove your hat,” he gestured by tapping the top of his head. It is mid-January and minus twelve outside — a beanie makes for required apparel this time of year, especially for a baldie. I removed my hat and smiled for the shot.
“Where is your hair?” he asked with a smug grin. Payback for the 70 pages, no doubt.
“I travel light,” I said, “I left it at home.”