Monday, February 27, 2017

At The US Consulate in HCMC

After some of the recent adventures that I have been through, it turns out that my passport is getting pretty full, and I will probably have to renew it fairly soon, not because it is about to expire, but because I am getting close to running out of pages.  Most countries that one can visit require a minimum of two blank pages in a passport to enter; some require four blank pages.  Right now I have six full pages left and spaces here and there for individual stamps on some pages.  But some countries take up a full page for their visa and then maybe a quarter of the adjoining page for the validity stamp.  Since I renewed my Vietnam visa, there are two full pages in my passport for the visas, and then multiple stamps on the next page.  I only had to get one visa sticker for Laos even though I renewed it; they were able to renew it in Luang Prabang with only a stamp, but if I had renewed it by leaving and returning, I would have gotten another full-page visa sticker.

So I have a conundrum coming up.  My Russian visa is in the passport I have now, and Russia does not allow a visa to be valid in an old passport (most other countries do allow you to have a visa in an expired passport, and then show it along with your new passport, but Russia does not allow that).  And I am hoping to visit Russia a few more times in the next few years, since I have a multiple-entry, three-year visa to Russia.  But Russia only allows you to transfer a visa to a new passport at the consulate or embassy where you got the visa, which in my case, was the consulate in Houston.  So I would have to either return to the US to transfer the visa to a new passport, or, possibly, mail my old passport and new passport (once I get one) to a visa service agency in the US to have that done and then have both mailed back.  I probably can't do that while I'm in a country where the mail service is sketchy, though I could do it by private carrier and pay through the nose...but I have time constraints that make it almost impossible.

So when I was in Laos, I figured out what I thought was a workaround to this problem.  Under certain circumstances (and it looked like this circumstance would qualify), one can apply for a second valid passport.  Usually this is only available in situations where it would be just about impossible for one's travel to continue without the second passport.  A good example is if one is going to Israel, and then to one of the Arabic countries that bars entry to anyone with an Israeli stamp in their passport (even though Israel will put their stamp in a separate card rather than in your passport if you request it).  That way, you can get the Israeli stamp in one passport, and stamps from any countries you enter via a land border, such as the West Bank or Jordan (because these stamps are circumstancial evidence that you entered Israel and grounds for some Arabic countries to deny you entry), and then get your stamps for the Arabic countries in the other passport.

My plan therefore changed from entering Vietnam somewhere in the middle and slowly making my way down to Saigon, to heading directly to Saigon so I could visit the consulate and get a second passport, then heading back up to the middle of Vietnam.  It took me about a week to get from Southern Laos to Saigon, stopping to rest in cities along the way and do some sightseeing.  I made an appointment with the US Consulate to get the second passport, and got together all my forms and documents to get it happening.

When I got to the US Consulate, there was a huge line stretching down the block.  But it turned out I didn't have to wait in the line, since the line was for non-US citizens applying for visas to the US.  US citizens could just go on through, going through security, of course.  I had researched embassy visits and it was a good thing I did, because there are a number of prohibited items that you can't bring into a US embassy or consulate, and they won't let you leave the items anywhere on the premises; you will just be turned away and have to make a new appointment.  You can't bring in a cellphone, any keys with electronic fobs, any memory sticks or cards, any cameras, etc.  So I left all those items in my locker at the hostel, and just went there with my identification and documents.

I showed up for my appointment, and presented all my documents, and my letter requesting a second passport, and everything seemed to be going fine.  They explained the procedure whereby I would get my second passport sent to me by courier, and I listed the hostel's address, after letting the hostel know that I would have it sent there.

But then it all went wrong.  I got called up to the window again, and was told that they might not be able to issue me a second passport, because there was a requirement for a second passport that I have a letter from my employer justifying my travel.  I told them I don't have an employer, and they said that they probably couldn't do it then, but they were going to look into it more to see if they could find a workaround.  I was completely baffled by the fact that they were seeming to tell me that I had to be employed to get a second passport.  I went to sit back down while they researched it further, and a woman tapped me on the shoulder, and said she overheard what they told me, and she had gotten a second passport a few years ago without having to have a letter from an employer.  So maybe it is a new thing.

Well, they called me up to the window again, and told me that they could not issue me a second passport, and gave me the cite to the rules in the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) that supposedly explained why I couldn't get it.  So much for that plan.  At least they refunded the passport fee that I had paid.  Now I have to figure out something else.  I probably have enough passport pages to get to Russia once, but probably not after that; I'd have to get the visa transferred in the US to visit further.  So after I got back to the hostel, I went to look up the rules in the FAM online to see what they had to say...and the cites they gave me had no text at all, just said, “Unavailable”.  WTF? The rules they used to turn me down were unavailable for me to read?  What does that mean? Are they classified?  Or just not available for some other reason? It was getting obvious that getting a second passport was just not going to happen, at least not in Saigon, maybe I can convince someone at another embassy to do it.  But it looks like the second passport thing is just not going to happen, and I'll have to figure out some other workaround.  More than likely, I'll just visit Russia once on my current passport, and then apply for a new passport at some point after that, and then any other Russia visits will have to happen after I get the visa transferred via the Houston Russian Consulate, but until then, my Russian visa will be temporarily invalid.  This kind of has a snowball effect that changes around all the plans I had for travel, but I really don't know yet the extent to which my plans will be affected.  But it was my own country that messed up my travel plans, not any of the countries I wanted to visit.  And now I am hearing that Europe may start requiring US citizens to get visas to visit there.  If they go through with that, it will add some additional hassle once I want to visit Europe, but at least that is manageable with planning.  And, likely, it will require a visa sticker that will take up more valuable space in my passport.


  1. Hmm, last time my passport got full I went to the local embassy I (I forget which country I was in) and they slapped a couple dozen new pages in there.