Friday, April 06, 2018

Portuguese visa challenges


Don Quixote and Sancho Panza statue in the Cervantes Monument, Plaza de EspaƱa in Madrid

Scanned from a Kodachrome slide, photographed by John in 1971 - with an iconic Nikon F, not the camera in the picture
Perhaps significant as we prepare to embark on an Iberian Odyssey


This is the ideal time to go to Europe; it is spring, but the expensive tourist season has not quite begun. We will of course be writing about the wine, food and accommodation on our travels and have already made some good contacts there. If you know of any, we would be very grateful for the contacts, recommendations and 'don’t do’s’! This is our route map, for our road trip from Porto up the Douro Valley, and to Lisbon, then south-east into Spain, through Andalusia and up to Madrid, then back to Porto and home after 4 weeks. We have hired a car and all accommodation has been booked on AirBnB or Booking.com

All we require now is to receive John's Visa, the process of acquiring which is being very frustrating. Travel in Europe for South Africans is becoming very complicated; the amount of information you have to produce for the visa is staggering, they insisted on all accommodation, flights etc. being booked and paid for beforehand and documented with both our names on all the accommodation bookings; this despite an invitation to visit from Amorim Cork. Lynne spent days on line researching and booking and paying for all the accommodation. The days of just getting there and exploring are GONE. They have no idea how much money they are losing in restricting tourists this way. And WHY? We don't want to live there, just visit as we have done to many countries over the years. Insurance, medical insurance, receipts, tickets, bank statements, Passports, ID's, municipal bills and even pension statements were demanded and some rejected because they were "not quite correct", so they had to be replaced. Bureaucracy gone mad. And you don't deal direct with the Embassy any more, you have to pay an Agency to do it all. We suspect they get paid for the number of visits the visa seeker makes, so they keep sending you away for more Bumph. It used to be that if your spouse was a citizen of the EU, as Lynne is, none of this was required. Not anymore. Lynne wonders whether the same will apply to people with British passports when Brexit is complete. And it appears that no one at the Portuguese Consulate has any concept of the urgency when one is waiting for a visa and, indeed, one’s passport with only a few days until we are due to fly.
However, we are really looking forward to the trip, flying on TAAG Angolan airline to Porto from Cape Town with a brief stop in Luanda to pick up more passengers. They have very good fares. We booked with TravelStart who have great specials on lots of flights. Our house sitters are ready to spoil the cats.
Portuguese Visa Postscript: Thank Heavens for a persistent wife! While John was fruitlessly struggling with VFS (Visa ?Facilitation? ?Services?), Lynne phoned the Portuguese Consulate. Sounds like an obvious thing to do, but all enquiries are directed to VFS. Phone calls, emails, web enquiries and, eventually, another visit to VFS in Strand Street all came up with the information that his passport was with the Portuguese Embassy in Johannesburg awaiting action. No information about progress or timescale. This was Thursday, we fly on Monday. Lynne’s call to the Portuguese Consulate brought the information that the passport had never been sent to Johannesburg. It was at the Consulate in Cape Town and the visa was ready for collection from a lady named Sandra. It was collected from her at 8am this morning, Friday, 6th April. Thank you Lynne, thank you Sandra. And, wow! The French gave me a visa for 3 years. The Dutch gave me a visa for 1 year. The Portuguese gave me a visa for 34 days. I can't wait to see the next one... the law of diminishing returns?
This poses the question: Why do they use VFS, an organisation which does everything it can to obstruct efforts by potential visitors to obtain a visitor’s visa? Friends who have acquired Schengen visas for other countries tell us of similar experiences. We had similar problems getting a Schengen visa last year from the Netherlands and a close friend who works for Foreign Affairs in the Netherlands Government – and wrote a supporting letter for our application – found the whole process quite strange. It seems that VFS is based in India and works all over the world. They make dealings so difficult that one wonders if the Guptas are involved

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