Rick and Tina, who we met on our last cruise, had signed up for an extended Asia cruise through Holland America (HAL). I contacted her before they left, and she clued me in on an aspect of the trip that we had not even thought about – visas. On our previous travels, the only visa that we had to worry about was on a prior cruise when we visited Russia. The tour company took care of the visas for us, so it was no big deal. Tina mentioned that they had just sent away for their Indian visas and that it was going to cost them upwards of $250 EACH to get them. OMG! I was already stressing about the cost of the trip, and now we had to worry about expensive visas as well?
So, I added a “visa” column to my cruise spreadsheet, and started researching. Fortunately, not every country required visas, and many had something called a “visa on arrival”, which (given the name) did not need to be arranged in advance. Whew! Clayton was busy researching as well. Visas for those arriving on a cruise ship are often handled differently than those arriving by other means, so we decided to go directly to the source – NCL. I called NCL to ask about how visas would be handled, and the customer service agent I spoke to told me that a company called Visa Central would be handling all of the visas. Great! I went to the Visa Central website, and could find absolutely no information on our cruise. Dang! I contacted them by email, and was informed that since these were brand new itineraries for NCL, that it was way too early for them to post any visa information. I inquired when it would be available, and was told not until 90 days prior to sailing. In case you haven’t picked up on it yet, I detest waiting to get things done. Ninety days was entirely too close to embarkation for our comfort level; we wanted those visas now! So, we started reading up on how other cruise lines handle their visas for similar itineraries. There was no guarantee that NCL would handle things the same way, but at least it gave us a starting point.
It turns out that, with the exception of India, all visas tend to be taken care of by the cruise line. Your onboard account is charged for whatever the visa costs, but you don’t have to procure them ahead of time. This was very good news, but just in case, I researched how to apply for visas in all of the countries that required them, and bookmarked the websites where we could apply. I read up on the Indian visa, which apparently is only rivaled by China as one of the most difficult to apply for. Many people stated that their applications were rejected for a variety of picayune reasons, such as applying too early. Someone else had theirs rejected because the background on their visa picture was not “white” enough. Those on cruises had a difficult time with listing a contact person while staying in India, or listing a hotel address for their stay (since they were onboard a ship). The cost could vary dramatically as well. Many people went through a visa company, like Visa Central. I found that a person could apply directly through a company called Cox & Kings, which is the only company that is an authorized service provider for visas for the Indian Consulate. So, there were no additional charge to apply through them, unlike the other companies.
Even though it was too early to apply for the visa, I downloaded and read through the application process, so that when it was time, we would have all of our ducks in a row. There was an amazing amount of information to find, including the birthplace of each parent. I had to guess for my father; anyone that would know is no longer living. Any name changes had to be documented with copies of legal documents. Drat! I have been married 3 times, so needed: my birth certificate, my marriage certificate from husband #1, my marriage certificate from husband #2, my divorce papers from husband #2 (I went back to my maiden name after the divorce), and, of course, my marriage certificate from my wonderful husband #3. I was glad I had plenty of time, because I needed to send away for one of the documents. I really wanted to get that application done, but we had to wait until we had the contact information for the NCL rep in India.
I read the message boards on Cruise Critic fairly frequently, and in May, someone posted the information we needed. Yeah!! We could get our applications done! Even though I had prepared all of the information ahead of time, it took a couple of hours to fill in our on-line applications. And then, we had to assemble the “packet” in a particular way, or it would be automatically rejected. There was an 8-10 step process for putting your information together. My hubby and I sat at the dining room table and assembled our applications. We then double and triple checked each other’s packet to make sure they were done correctly. We had to stop at the store to buy glue sticks to glue our visa pictures to the applications, and then nervously headed to our local FedEx office to send them in.
Cox & Kings was very good about keeping us informed of the progress of our applications. We received notice the following day that our applications had been received. We then received notice that my husband’s application had an error: Instead of signing his full legal name, he had signed first, middle initial and last name. Application rejected! He had to reprint the page with the offending signature, resign correctly, and then overnight it to Cox & Kings. The original cost to send our packets in was $15 each, but this time, since it was not part of the application process, it cost $55 to send in that one stupid sheet of paper! The next day, first thing in the morning, Clayton received notice that his application had been reviewed, and would then be sent on to the consulate for (hopefully) approval. I, in the meantime, had heard nothing about my application. Weird, since I had not been informed that there was a problem with it. I didn’t have to resubmit anything, but his still was approved first! At the end of the day the day that Clayton received his email, I finally received mine. We were told that it would take up to a week to hear back on final approval. It ended up only being a few days. From start to finish, our passports were back in our hot little hands within a week!
Visas have been a hot topic on our cruise message boards. Visa Central finally posted the visa kit for our cruise in July. There was a statement that NCL would be taking care of ALL visas (except for India) for US and Canadian citizens. Many on the cruise did not believe them. I got numerous emails from people that were stressed out about the visas. People were posting questions about the visas. The big concern was that NCL might not actually do what they said they would. Passengers would then not be able to leave the ship at some of the ports if they did not have the appropriate visa. I called NCL to clarify; the agent had to keep calling her supervisor for clarification. I spent an hour on hold, but eventually was told that not only would visas be taken care of, but that the only one that would cost anything would be the visa for Vietnam ($30 charge). Woo-hoo! Of course, when I posted this information, there were those that didn’t believe it. . .