Do You Need A Visa To Go To Australia?
The day was FINALLY here. Our tickets were purchased six months ago.
Everything had come together to end our journey in the USA and head out over the water. Our first stop outside the country was to Perth, Australia.
I had met Paul last year on a mentor program in Thailand and had become very good friends in the “short” time there. As friends do, he invited me to come visit if I ever had the chance.
Well, the chance came up after our online buainess had started to look promising and my first thought, let’s go visit Paul and his family!
Here is Paul and his wife, myself and Mary (another member of the group).
We had said our last good-bye of all of our good-bye’s in Las Vegas to my folks and then we were on the plane to San Francisco to sit and wait to board for our international leg to Perth, Australia (with a stop along the way in Auckland, New Zealand).
So, there we were, waiting in the airport, with plenty of time, looking forward to our pizza dinner when it happened: we heard each of our names over the airport loud-speaker informing us that we needed to come to the boarding gate.
What the heck, miss our pizza? No way! What could they want??
We were both nervous at this unexpected call over the loudspeaker. I ran down to see what they needed and found out that to go to Australia, we needed a visa prior to entry.
We had done our research and had not found the fine print OR just assumed you don’t need a visa for Australia….do you? Indeed, you do.
Here we are with our boarding passes.
The gate agent told me that it would be no problem; they could expedite the visa process in 15 minutes and we still had close to two hours before takeoff.
I jokingly asked if we could go and eat our pizza that had just come out of the oven and they had no problem with the request. We ate our pizza quickly and headed back to get the visa’s taken care of.
So, there we were at the gate, working with two gate agents to speed up the process of entering the names and information. It was very low-key – neither one of them seemed rushed or concerned as we had more than an hour.
The agent asked if our 7-year-old had ever committed a crime and we all laughed. Our 7-year-old, our 12-year-old and then Karen all answered no to that question, but then they asked me.
I asked if a misdemeanor was a crime just to verify before answering; the agent just repeated the question and I went ahead and answered honestly, “Yes”.
Holding my breath, waiting for a follow-up of “what was your crime”? There was nothing except a long pause. The agent hesitated and gave me a look of pain.
Her answer was, “I cannot let you on the plane”.
Our hearts dropped, our jaws fell open, our stomachs did flips and our brains were spinning. What happened to: What was the crime?
Nothing of the sort. The agent felt so bad to read what the computer had come back with that she called the Australian Embassy in Melbourne to see what other option there was to get us on that plane – the one that was now down to about an hour before actual departure.
The embassy said that I would have to speak to the Australian embassy in person. My immediate question was, How the hell do I do that if I can’t go to Australia?
We gathered our heads, reeling from disbelief that this was happening. After months of waiting for this day, we were getting on this plane! We grabbed the computers and went to work.
What we eventually found were the crimes that Australia was worried about were things such as: escaping from prison, escaping from immigration, or being sentenced to a life sentence…
Really? Even worse, the one hour expedited visa questionnaire that we found online asked: “Have you ever spent more than 12 months in jail?”
Well that answer was a resounding, “NO!” Why didn’t the gate agent ask that question? We took the information back down to the gate and showed her the information. We were 20 minutes away from departure and people were already boarding.
I was hoping for some kind of miracle to change the course of this disaster. For some way not to have to tell Paul that we were not going to make it. He and his wife had been making plans and looking forward to this time together for months as well.
Other agents were busy trying to help us to figure out a way around this too. It seemed as if everyone was on our side after understanding the situation. What looked like an airport executive/manager in a suit and tie, who had just walked off the tarmac, were all doing their best to brainstorm a way around this mishap.
I had asked the gate agent what would have happened if I had answered “No” to the crime question.
She said that she knew from experience, they look up your criminal record and if they find that you have not answered truthfully, they place you in “Quarantine”, fly you back to your home country and put a red flag on your passport. Not that you can’t ever gain entry, BUT, many more hoops to jump through.
The final answer – the plane left without us that evening. Ouch!
The real kicker?? It had been 25 years since I had gotten a ticket by the police – for drinking and driving, a misdemeanor. 25 YEARS!! It had come back to haunt me. Again!
Another plane was heading out the next day to Auckland, so we left the airport and went to work on what other options we could find. There were hotels close to the airport, but instead, we opted for one a little further out from the airport to try and save a few bucks. With a pricey taxi ride, there was no savings and we ended up in a questionable part of town in a seedy Travelodge hotel. What did happen though, was unbelievably, there was an Australian Embassy within walking distance of where we stayed that night.
Determined to get on that plane, Karen and I were both up and ready early to call the main US embassy in Washington DC (Eastern Time). Their advice?? Call Australia (which we had already tried the previous night). Still trying to find a way to get this visa issue resolved, I headed to the San Francisco Australian Embassy office to be first in line.
I had made the call to Paul to tell him we didn’t make it on the plane, and he was hoping things could get worked out as well. After speaking to the agent at the Australian Embassy, who was emphatic but was unable to help as they don’t have anything to do with visa issues, I was starting to realize that we were approaching a dead end to this. The end result was it was going to take 3-4 weeks to obtain a visa to get into Australia – which was longer than we had planned to stay in Australia. The start to our international life was not going as planned and it was more than frustrating for so many reasons, yet here we were, sitting in an expensive, tiny, seedy hotel room in San Francisco, trying to figure out our next move.
We decided our next best scenario was to get to Bali, Indonesia, which had been our plan for when we left Australia. Could we use our tickets to re-route us to Bali?
The answer was, of course, “No”. Ugh! We had used the first part of our tickets to get to San Francisco, so it now had limited options with “change fees”. ($1700+ just to get to Auckland – our intended layover stop). Even if we were willing to shell out that amount to change our tickets to Auckland, we couldn’t get any closer to Bali without more charges (Auckland to Bali = $2000 +).
Our hopes were dwindling as to how to, one, get out of this hotel, and two, get out of San Francisco. It was not “cheap” here and we knew we couldn’t stay for any length of time living out of a hotel.
Should we go back to Vegas and stay at my folks until we could figure this out? We knew that trying to purchase a new ticket anywhere overseas at the very last minute was not going to be cheap. Did we even dare to look? We did.
And for the same price as it was to get to Auckland with the “change fees”, we were able to get to Bali, although it meant having a 13-hour layover in Seoul, South Korea (that blog coming soon!).
We also had to give up our tickets from Perth to Bali. A very unexpected and expensive start to our travels but it keeps us determined and motivated to enjoy this new lifestyle we have been looking forward to. We are not going to let this first hiccup deter us.