Getting together our Visas for our Round the World trip is becoming a logistical challenge.
I’ve already blogged about this a bit, so here’s an update. We need Visas for China and Russia for our Round the World trip. For China, we can’t get our Visa prior to 90 days, and for Russia, it’s 60 days. Here’s how we are sorting out the Chinese and Russian Visas process.
For Russia, we need our passports, an extra passport picture, the application, and an “invitation” from our hotel. Since we aren’t staying at a hotel, I’ve asked our Airbnb host to provide one. Unfortunately, she won’t provide one. I’m trying to put my head around why a hostess won’t provide a “simple letter.” But then when I think of perspective, and I think about some of the rigor that Russia is known for, I don’t think I would want to draw attention to myself in that manner either. Fortunately, the Visa services (I used Way to Go) companies will allow you to pay for an invitation. This sounds a bit like graft to me, but alas, I’m not willing to take on the Russian government over a $75 extra expense (3 x $25).
China is a bit easier. They also want a lengthy application, picture, passport, and itinerary, but it’s straight forward and just a matter of checking off a few boxes. Thank heavens the application is in English.
Timelines to Visas
Here’s our challenge. Each Visa takes 10-14 days to process, plus overnight mail both ways, adding another 3-4 days to the process. We can pay to expedite for about $75 per Visa, which times 3, becomes quite overwhelming for processing fees. So, if we send for our China Visa on Jan 15, we’ll get it back around Feb 5. We will then send our passports back out for the Russian Visa on Feb 6, getting them back around March 1.
We leave for our trip at the end of March, giving us 2-3 weeks of safety room in case we have an issue with the Visas. I’m already getting hives thinking about not having my passport for six weeks and then worrying that we won’t have Visas in time. This is a test about trust. Goodness, I hope I pass.
Originally I was planning on going to San Francisco, where both Russia and China have consulates, and just getting our Visas myself. But then I realized it would take at least 4 days, if I were lucky, to get both of them. I don’t have 4 days to wait in San Francisco. So I’ve been reviewing Visa services.
Use a Visa Service
Several Visa services come recommended; www.visahq.com, www.truvisa.com, www.passportandvisa.com from TripAdvisor and FlyerTalk. I have contacted these services and others to ask if they would negotiate some fees with me. I believe that paying for 6 service fees on one family’s set of needs seems a bit ridiculous. Apparently, they don’t.
AAA Comes to the Rescue
Fortunately, I am a member of AAA (since I was 16!, thanks Mom!), and find that my AAA membership pays for its self over and over annually. A quick call to AAA uncovered that, as a member, there is special pricing with Truvisa. I’ll be able to get our service fees down to about $40 a Visa, resulting in only $240 of fees. $240 is much cheaper than a 5-day stay in San Francisco (but probably not as fun.)
So, I’ll be working out the paper work, photos, special invites and such over the next 2 months. Then, I’ll pray to the gods of travel and hope that there are no glitches in the Russian or Chinese Visa offices and thank Truvisa for sorting out the Chinese and Russian Visas.