The Turkey Shuffle

by Karen

No matter how much careful planning you think you do, there’s always something small that can slip through the cracks. In our case, it was a pretty big crack!

Somehow we got the idea into our heads that Mark didn’t need to apply for a Turkey visa beforehand, that he would be able to purchase one upon arrival for $20. We both could’ve sworn it was true. In fact, it IS true for US citizens, but not for Philippine citizens.

We were thisclose to booking our 14 days in Turkey, when on a whim we decided to read the page about visa requirements.

PHILIPPINES
Ordinary passport holders are required to have a consular visa before travelling to Turkey.

To say that we panicked is a gross understatement. We scrambled to get all his visa paperwork together, going through the motions of booking fake hotels, printing out flight itineraries, filling out forms, and grabbing cash, and raced towards the Turkish embassy in Paris, only to find out they were closed. We then realized that it might take days or weeks to get the visa approved, so we gave up on the idea of going to Turkey for 14 days.

Turkey was an important strategic segment of our trip. Because we’re only allowed 90 days in Schengen territory, and because we want to experience Christmas & New Years in Europe, we needed a way to extend our time in the Europe region through January. An obvious solution would be to fly to Asia, then come back, but we have bigger plans for that trip later. 😉

So what were our other options? We couldn’t go to a country that required Philippine citizens to get a visa in advance, and we couldn’t stay too long in Schengen, lest we go over our 90-day welcome.

  • Extend our stay in Morocco (US & Philippine citizens OK for 90 days)
  • Go to Israel (no visas required for both of us)
  • Go back to London

After e-mailing the Turkish consulate in LA about our visa issue, I found out that there was a loophole for Mark entering Turkey. According to the friendly Turkish consulate worker:

If you come to Turkey by a cruise ship and thereafter leave Turkey for another country by the same cruise ship, all cruise passengers on board are exempt from visa for a daily stopover. If your cruise ship starts from Turkey or ends up in Turkey, all passengers are subject to a visa to enter Turkey. Depending on the citizenship of the passenger, an advance visa may be necessary to disembark.

Really? Even if we have to disembark the ship? *flutter of hope*

Mark found a cruise with Costa Cruises that fits into our itinerary quite well (anyone back home wanna join us???). But, we need to be absolutely sure, for real this time, lest we repeat our mistake:

YOU DO NOT NEED TO HAVE AN ADVANCE VISA UNDER YOUR CRUISE TRAVEL ROUTE FOR ALL TURKISH PORT OF CALLS. AS LONG AS YOU ARE LISTED IN A CRUISE PASSENGERS LIST, YOU VISIT TURKEY.

Yes sir, we will go and visit Turkey! With the supposed blessing of the Turkish consulate, we went ahead and booked our cruise!

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Now because we are leaving from Italy, we would be spending extra time in a Schengen zone. We did the math and so far it seems to work out (we hope). So if we’re on a cruise ship, which country are we technically in? I e-mailed the Greek consulate in LA and got back this response:

When you are on the cruise ship in Greek waters, you are considered as being in Greece.  They will stamp your passport when you enter and exit the country.  As a U.S. citizen traveling on a U.S. passport you can stay in the Schengen area 90 days in any six months.

So, hopefully this all works out in the end. A cruise will be a nice break from all the planning, and in addition to Turkey, we get to visit Greece, Croatia, and 2 new Italian cities in the process, something that we hadn’t planned. 🙂

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UK Visa Approved!

Mark finally got his UK visa approved, so this clears the way for us to finally book our flights and accommodations. Luckily, Morocco and Turkey issue visas upon arrival, so we don’t have to worry about those beforehand.

Managed to finally sell our couch yesterday, after posting it on Craigslist for 2 months. I think we’ll be keeping our mattress though. Preparing to sell my desk.

Unfortunately, plans for lending my car out to someone fell through, so I will need to figure out a solution on what to do with my car. I guess out strongest option at this point is to go ahead and drive it all the way to Boston, otherwise I will need to see if I can leave it in a friend’s garage. I did some research on the cost of storing a vehicle in SoCal, and the numbers are ridiculous:

Self-storage: $380/month
Driving from San Fran to Boston: $320 gas
Flying from San Fran to Boston: $180/person

So the cost of flying vs driving is about the same, except that driving is 44 hrs straight, not including possible detours we will take. But on the flip side, we do get to see the US and possibly monuments we’ve never gotten a chance to see. It could be an adventure, but eat into the cost of our Eurotrip.

 

At the UK Visa Office

Who knew applying for a UK visa would be a bit complicated? Actually it’s not, we just neglected to read all instructions!

While at the USCIS office in Santa Ana, the security guard told Mark that he didn’t bring our booking confirmation for his biometrics appointment. We were confused, because we thought that the email confirmation notice was our booking confirmation–but it’s not. We needed a sheet with a barcode from the Visa4UK website itself, something that the security guard mentioned was a very common blunder people made.

We rushed over to the nearest FedEx and printed out his booking sheets. Fortunately, the British embassy doesn’t require much paperwork like the German consulate did. The only hassle is that there is only one British embassy in the entire US! And it happens to be in NYC. I think Mark ended up paying close to $100 just to buy postage and a return envelope just so we could get his visa on time.

Just 6 weeks and counting!

 

Schengen Visa

Starting my first entry in this travel journal. We’ve come a long way since planning the start of our adventure!

Most recently, Mark got approved for his Schengen visa. The process was a bit nerve-wracking, but in actuality the interview was the easiest part. The hardest part was coming up with the itinerary (121 days of travel!), booking 18 hotels, and submitting 5 flights, 11 trains, and 2 buses as part of our journey. I had learned very late that the Schengen visa is only valid for the number of days you request. Earlier, for simplicity’s sake, I had stated that we would only be in Germany for 2 weeks, assuming Mark would automatically get a 90-day visa. Wrong! Hence I scrambled to complete our full itinerary. We also had to scramble to get traveler’s insurance, as Mark’s health insurance during sabbatical would not cover us abroad.

Getting the Schengen visa was a huge weight off our shoulders, and now we can focus on getting him that UK visa. We have to get biometric fingerprints next week and mail it off to the embassy in NYC. You’d think that a country as popular as the UK would have consulates all around the US, right?

We are still awaiting our background check records from the FBI. I had foolishly written a cashier’s check to the Dept. of Treasury instead of the Treasurer of the US. Hope that doesn’t cause a huge delay in processing…