t2

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Arrived Safe and Sound in NY, Against the Odds



Wow. I wasn't sure I'd actually get here, because I had so many things going wrong...

But in the end, all is good.

So first of all, I told you about my American bank issue which is why I had to come to the US in the first place... But I was having another issue with a local bank here, divorce related, and because of it I would have had a stop order on my leaving the country. Fortunately, some amazing friends helped me out and I was able to take care of that issue, so then I was able to leave the country.

But then there was my passport to deal with.

Yes, passports. Ugh.


I've been traveling recently, a few times in the last few years, but as a dual citizen I have both a local passport and an American passport, but my American passport expired a few months after my last trip to America, five years ago. (It was a passport I got at the age of 16, never renewed it as an adult.) I never bothered renewing it because I knew I couldn't afford to go to the US, and it was a lot of money to renew a passport I didn't need (since my local passport is accepted all the places I've tried to travel, without needing to apply for a visa).

But with this issue I was having with the bank, once I was able to find the cheap tickets, I decided that I'd go in September, but when I went to contact the American embassy to renew my passport, the first available appointment they had was at the end of August, less than 3 weeks before my flight out. However, I talked to a friend who worked at the embassy who told me that if my appointment was within three weeks of my flight, I could get an emergency passport, so I wasn't too stressed.

Fast forward to the end of August and I go to the embassy for my appointment. The first issue that came up was that they saw that I was married and had a different legal last name locally than what was on my American passport. They told me that if legally my last name changed here, legally my last name is now that around the world, and I couldn't have a passport with my maiden name anymore. I started really stressing out, because the whole reason I was going to the US in the first place was because of not having up to date ID that matched the name on my bank account, hence being locked out, and if they insisted on changing the name on my passport, it would probably screw me over as well in terms of the bank. I started arguing with them that I didn't want to change my name on my passport, I'm anyhow getting divorced... I basically begged the workers at the embassy to not force me to do that, and they made a special exception and said that since my divorce was already in progress, they'd let me keep my maiden name on my passport.
And then in terms of emergency passport, they told me that my passport would take 7-8 days to be ready, and then the courier service would deliver it to my house, and that would cost 60 dollars. They told me that if I was within a couple of days of flying and my passport still didn't arrive, to call up the courier service to see if they had it, and if not, show up at the embassy to get an emergency passport.

Ok, flying out Wednesday. Friday I call up the courier service and they don't have my passport. Sunday I call them again, still nothing. I sent the embassy an email to make an appointment for my emergency passport and then got a response that they are closed until Monday and they'll get back to me when they open. Oh great, that doesn't work, because I have to leave early Wednesday morning, and I was told that sometimes you get the emergency passport the next d day, so I really needed to go to the embassy on Monday. I read that the embassy opened at 8 am on Monday, so left the house at 6 am to arrive there right as they opened, to give them time to take care of me, and I was prepared to wait... but there was terrible traffic and there was no way I'd make it there on time by relying on buses, so once I got to the city I took a taxi there, got there a little after 8 and there was already a huge line...
I got in line and when my turn came, they asked me if I had an appointment, and I said I didn't, but I pleaded my case and told them how soon I was flying, and I didn't have time to make an appointment, and this is what the embassy worker told me to do... and the guy wouldn't let me in. He said that they are busy, that he'll take my name and sometime after 12 someone will call me to let me know what to do. I wasn't ok with that, because that wasn't a guarantee of anything, they didn't even tell me what would happen after 12, if they'd be able to give me the emergency passport, nothing! I was begging him to please just let me in and if anyone has free time in between appointments, especially since I wasn't from that city and came all the way there, but the man was resolute and told me that I needed to leave the window, and proceeded to ignore me.
I wasn't ok with that, but they refused to help me any further. So I decided to just sit down, a few feet away from the window, in full view of the workers, there to show them that I wasn't giving up quite so easily, that I needed help, and I'd just be waiting there until someone decided to help me.
I sat there for a few minutes, literally on the verge of a panic attack. I reached out to some friends for moral support, because at this point I thought I was screwed, wouldn't be able to travel, wouldn't be able to get my money, etc.... And then once I caught my breath a bit, I then opened my email to compose a letter again to the embassy workers, begging them to let me in to at least talk to someone... but before I could even get the letter written, I heard the man at the desk calling out my first name but with a last name quite unlike my own... I wasn't sure, because my name isn't super common (nor is it rare), but decided to reach out to them and see if they were talking about me, just in case. And just my luck, he was! He told me that they checked inside, and my ready passport was waiting there, and to come back at 1 pm that afternoon to pick it up.
Relief!
I then used my few hours I had to go to the other part of the city to do a cleaning job for a friend (that I usually work for, but I'd be missing my usual time because of my trip), and then did that for a bit and then came back to the embassy.
And there was no one there. The appointments were done for the day. They wouldn't let me in.  Again.



And told me to use the emergency phone they had to call the embassy, but even that wasn't working and hung up on me after listening for 10 minutes to announcements about who they couldn't help. And again, I started getting really worried.


But finally a guy came to the window, saying he was the one who's been reading all my emails, he knows my situation, and he apologized, and he handed me my passport.

The amount of relief I had at finally having that passport in my hand....

And then people started worrying me again on Tuesday. Because I realized when I tried to do online check in that I was going to have a problem. My tickets were booked under my local married last name. And they were asking me in the online check in for my visa information. I don't have a visa since I don't need one, as I'm American, but when I tried to check in with my American passport it wouldn't approve it since it was a different last name. I called up Virgin Atlantic (the airline I was using to fly to the US) to see if they could add my American name to my ticket, but they couldn't, and told me I'd have to try my luck at the airport.
Friends told me to bring my name change papers with me because otherwise they wouldn't let me board, since they're very strict about that, but all my name change papers are in the local language. People were telling me to get it professionally translated and notarized, but it was already late on Tuesday, and I didn't think I'd be able to get it done before I left, and of course the rush job would be ridiculously expensive. I just took my non translated documents with me and hoped for the best.

I arrived at the airport and checked in, was told that at the desk they would probably be able to give me boarding passes for both countries, since I booked the two flights under one ticket (even though it was separate airlines) but they told me they weren't sure they'd accept it in England because of the different last names and the lack of a visa....

I hadn't slept the entire night, because I knew that if I fell asleep once I finished packing, after 1 am (since I only started packing once I got home from celebrating my boys' birthdays), that I would likely sleep through my 5 am alarm clock and miss my bus and then miss my flight... So as soon as I got on the airplane I conked right out. Apparently I missed some action that there was a sick person on the plane who needed to be deplaned and then they took off an hour late. I just slept through half the flight.

Once in England, I didn't have so much time between flights, and it took so long to get off the plane, and then we had to switch terminals and the bus between terminals took so long, and what with the plane having been delayed an hour... but I ran as fast as I could and got to the gate with time to spare, and they asked for my American passport because of the visa issue, and I was prepared for the worst possible scenario... But no, they didn't bat an eyelash about it being two different last names, didn't ask me for any further information (so I'm really glad I didn't shell out the money for a last minute translation of my documents), and just let me on.


The plane was empty. Empty I tell you. You see all those seats? No one there!!! Apparently, we had a hundred and fifty passengers on the plane or so and 747s fit 240 to 330 passengers. The pilot even made an announcement that we needed to stay in our assigned seats for takeoff because of plane balance issues, but once we were in the air we could move around.

So I had an entire row to myself, and I pulled up the arm rests and just slept like a baby most of the flight. Which is pretty awesome because it means I won't be jetlagged, as I'm staying up until 2 am writing this post, and then going to sleep at a "normal" enough bed time for the east coast.

So I met up with a long time friend tonight for a BBQ which was awesome, and then at another good friend's house to sleep over. And tomorrow, to the bank to take care of issues and then meeting up with friends.

I'm so glad I made it here with everything. So many things happened that could have put a wrench in my plan, but it all worked out. I'm hoping things work out really smoothly the rest of my trip as well!

Good night!

7 comments:

  1. Great you managed to get in to the US. If you ever come to Bangladesh do let me know as I live here.

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  2. Hope the bank stuff goes smoothly!

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  3. I don't know where you get the patience and determination from, but bravo young lady for sticking to your plans and making it happen. I hope the rest of your trip goes smoothly. Welcome back to America. Wish I lived in NY so I could meet you. Let me know if you ever in Georgia. Safe travels and good luck with the bank.

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  4. You handled everything with grace under pressure! Hope everything goes well at the bank.

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  5. OMG I so hear you on the name thing: "Jules" is the name I always used since I was little, even on official things, but since my parents never officially changed my name it became an alias on my US passport, and when I moved to Europe they refused to use Jules for anything and instead used my Chinese name, which is my official first name. Fine, irritating, but simple enough. I can live with using Y. to do official things, like booking airplane tickets.

    Then I got married.

    I hyphenate my last name now. Since getting married, I've gotten a passport from the European country, which has my last name listed as "[MAIDEN NAME] with [HUSBAND'S NAME]". I never had a problem booking flights using the hyphenated last name. And then, a week ago, on our way home from Washington Dulles, as I'm checking in, I get a problem: my passport name and my ticket name are different. For a good twenty minutes I was shaking because they said they couldn't do anything without a marriage certificate (like, who travels with that?!), and I didn't have that in the cloud, plus my phone had died...Eventually, though, they gave up and let me on the plane.

    Getting to the US was also a problem. We're EU citizens, so most countries (including the one I live in) have reciprocal visa agreements with the US. What neither of us realized was that at some point over the past two years or so, travelers to the US also needed an ESTA visa. Luckily, I have a habit of always getting to the airport 3 hours in advance, rather than the usual 2 (let's just say experience has taught me that snafus follow Parkinson's law) and we frantically filled out all three visas, and JUST made the plane (like, they stopped boarding at 14:35 and we showed up at 14:34).

    You have my sympathies. Wish you a smooth rest-of--your-trip, and may the odds be ever in your favor.

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  6. I'm an expat too, Croatian living in the UK since I was 18, um, quite a few years ago.... So your story sounds all too familiar! Kudos to the guy that ended up sorting out your passport - government employees treating cases as human beings are sadly all too rare, but make such a difference!

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  7. Like you I live in one country but have ties to another, and have had huge problems with banking. Wishing you the best of luck getting everything sorted out quickly and painlessly!

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