Do You Even Have Your Australian Visa, Bro?

Tourist Visa #travel #coffeeandpassportThe Big Trip was finally here. I was taking my 11-year old on an epic trip to Australia. Our home airport is the good old Boise Airport  which is an easy (albeit pricey) airport to fly in/out of. Our itinerary had us flying to Portland and then onto LAX for our international flight to Brisbane. So I assumed that arriving an hour early to our easy airport would have been sufficient. If only I knew that a) the origin city counts as the first flight of an international trip so you should be there earlier and b) you need a visa to get into Australia.

I handed over our passports to the Alaska Airlines employee. “Okay, everything looks good.”

I glanced over and saw the longest security line I’ve ever seen at BOI.  “And is your visa number here in your passport somewhere?”

“Uh, visa what now?”

“Your visa to Australia. Where is it?”

Blank stare. (Inner monologue. “Oh sh*t. Oh sh*t.) “I need a visa to get to Australia?”

A pained look passes over theAlaska Airlines employee’s face. “Yes like China, Australia requires a visa to enter their country.”

(Inner monologue. “Oh sh*t.) “Okay, well I didn’t realize that. I’ve been to Ecuador, South Korea, France, Mexico even Israel and never needed a visa. Can we do something right now?!”( In retrospect, it’s quite possible I did have a visa for Korea, Equador and Israel. I wasn’t the organizer for those trips which were in an organized group.) My 11-year old looked like she’s going to throw up and they don’t offer barf bags until you’ve actually boarded your flight.

Arrived at airport at 2:20. Flight leaves at 3:30. Currently 2:30, boarding in 30…

“Hold on,” she sighed the long and languished sigh of someone exhausted from dealing with idiots and walked back through double-doors marked Employee Only. Ten minutes later, she emerged with a piece of paper with a website address written on it. “Come here,” she gestured to the old DOS computer behind the counter. She typed in a URL. “Usually these come through in 15 minutes. I don’t think you’ll make your flight though. Oh and it takes a really, really long time for the browser to load. The internet connection is really slow too…”

Loading. Loading. Loading.

The webpage finally loaded at the pace of American Online on dial-up and I frantically typed in the information for our visas and entered my credit card information for the $20 fee for each visa. It asked me for the email address to send the second visa. “If I input my email address twice, will it do a cross-reference and think it’s a duplicate?!” (Keep in mind that at this point, my brain had gone into fight-or-flight mode and my thinking skills had clearly fled.) So…I entered my husband’s email address. I received a text telling me that my visa was being processed and that I would receive a response within 24 hours. TWENTY-FOUR HOURS?!

“How’s the progress?” asked the Alaska Airlines employee.

“It just said it usually takes 24 hours!!”

www.coffeeandpassport.com

“Nah, they usually take 10-15 minutes.” No sooner were the words out of her mouth that I received approval and a visa number. (Inner monologue. “Oh crap! I sent the other one to his address!” Frantic phone call to hubs. “Oh hey there, having a bit of a crisis. Are you on the freeway? Can you pull over?”

“I’m actually back at work.”

“I sent a visa confirmation number to your hotmail account. I need it stat!”

Silence. “Uh, I don’t have the password to that account on my phone.”

(Inner monologue. “#$$*^%$^FSG#@#$^)

“I have it at my desk, hold on!” (Minute that feels like an hour passed.) “Got it! Here’s the number!”

I ran the visa numbers to the counter. Furious typing and voila, I had our hot little boarding passes in our hand. “I can’t give you the boarding passes for your Virgin Australia flight. You’ll have to get those at the counter at LAX. Good luck!”

Long story slightly shorter…we made it. Barely. 30 hours later when I was paddling about in a swimming pool in Brisbane, my Aussie friend said, “I’m so glad that we’re not saying, ‘it’s a shame that Allie couldn’t be here with us'”.

I’d like to think of this visa episode as a learning experience that taught me several valuable lessons.

Lesson #1 – I am an idiot. (Don’t rely on your traveling companions to hold your hand and inform you of details. Do your own homework and be prepared. Don’t be a passive participant.)

Lesson #2 – You need a visa to go to Australia. Duh.

Lesson #3 – Get to the airport of your originating flight a helluva lot earlier so you can resolve issues such as this. You don’t just need to be early at LAX.

Lesson #4 – The website where I applied for my visa ripped me off and charged my credit card $180. (That fun little tale coming later…) Make sure you’re on a real visa website.

Lesson #5 – Sh*t happens when you travel. Some of it will be your fault. Some of it will be someone else’s fault. Be flexible and roll with it. And hey, maybe some of it will make a good story someday.

 

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  • I’ll add another tip – as a travel companion (especially if you’re not starting from the same city), start conversations early about logistics and coordination. Find out if your travel companion wants reminders of things to prepare, or if this will make your travel companion annoyed with you (well before economy travel + jet lag irritability sets in). Some people like lots of help getting used to a new travel experience, some people want to manage the whole experience themselves, some people may just want to share a common trip checklist so everyone knows what’s needed but responsible for their own items.

    All this means I felt like a complete jerk for not reminding you that you needed a visa for Australia.