While pondering on how to successfully poach an egg – while eating one – in the canteen at work in the Wastelands this morning, I started eavesdropping on the conversation beside me. A colleague was describing her son’s summer working holiday in Canada, and about how he has just started work in a distribution centre in Vancouver. How sweet, I thought, to be nineteen years old and traveling for the first time. I inquired whether or not he’d need a visa to work there. Unsurprisingly the answer was yes. Of course a visa is required to work on another continent. I mentioned my impending holiday to the Maritimes, and announced smugly that I wouldn’t need a visa.
‘Do you have a Canadian passport?’ asked my colleague.
‘Oh no’ I replied.
‘I’d check that out then if I was you. You can’t just waltz in to another country like the Queen of England,’ came her response.
Back at my high-powered cubicle I googled visa entry requirements for Canada. Lo and behold, if one is travelling to Canada from a country with a visa exemption for entry, one must still apply for Electronic Travel Authorisation. Hurriedly I filled out the application, paid the $7 fee. Now I will hope for the best
I felt a churning sense of deja-vu. I have been in this situation before. Only this time I hope I have planned in time.
In 2002 I visited Australia for the first time. All those decades ago, the holder of an Irish passport could rock up to an immigration desk in Sydney and be waved through. Ireland was visa exempt when travelling on holiday Down Under.
Ten years later on my next visit, I assumed the entry situation was the same. I presented my flight details at the check in desk at Schiphol Airport.
‘Where is your visa?’ asked the stony faced ground attendant.
I chuckled to myself.
‘Oh I don’t need one, my good woman. I have an Irish rather than a Dutch passport. Irish citizens are visa exempt for entry into Australia.’
‘That is not true – you will not be allowed to enter as a tourist without pre-approval. You can apply at the desk over there’.
Feeling slightly miffed I made my way to the indicated desk and filled out the form and paid the fee. Things had changed in the intervening decade.
I spent two days in Kyoto en route to Sydney which was most enjoyable. It was my first – and to date, my only visit to Japan.
At Kyoto Airport on the final leg of my journey, the ground attendant told me solemnly that I was not pre-authorised to enter Australia and therefore could not board the plane.
‘Say what,’ I asked with trepidation. My brother would be waiting at Sydney Airport the next morning. ‘I filled in the application in Amsterdam two days ago’.
‘I have no record of that. You can apply again online,’ said she pointing at a bank of computer terminals.
So it began. I applied again, but when she tried to scan my passport it was rejected. And another time, the same story.
I was starting to panic. Much as I liked Japan, this was not my final destination. I had plans to visit my brother in Sydney and then my friend Maureen on her sheep farm in Western Australia. I couldn’t spend the next three weeks ordering food only from places with picture menus because I couldn’t read Japanese.
On it went. Eventually with just over an hour to take-off, the endlessly patient ground-hostess decided to place an international telephone call. To immigration services in Sydney. She passed me the receiver.
‘Hello,’ I whispered into the phone. ‘This is Midnight Murphy.’
‘G’day mate,’ came the reply. ‘This is Wendy from Australian immigration, what can I do you for today?’
I explained my predicament. As if waving a magic wand, the sainted Wendy was able to solve my problem, grant me pre-authorisation and I was finally checked in. I never saw her, but I still imagine Wendy to be an eminently practical lesbian with neat hair and canvas Bermuda shorts and sandals, helping dizzy, distressed travellers like myself.
My holiday was marvellous. I wonder what was meant by the email from Immigration received several days after my arrival, asking me to get in touch to discuss some irregularities with my entrance into the land. I never rang to find out. I was on holiday. It was probably nothing. No need to worry.
I suspect with my laser like forward planning for my holiday, that this looming trip will be far less complicated. In any case I am sure there is a Wendy in Canadian immigration also.