Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Joys of Traveling on a Green Passport

South Africans are a proud lot.  We love our country.  Yes, it's a mess and horribly dysfunctional, but it's our mess and dysfunction.  We can talk bad about it all day long, and we do, but don't let anybody else say anything mean about the place.  Them is fighting words!  We love our flag.  We may not pledge allegiance to it, but we like that we have all the colors of the rainbow in ours.  Okay, I exaggerate, we don't have ALL the colors of the rainbow, but we do have most of the colors of every other flag known to mankind all collated in our little flag.  Our national colors, when competing internationally is green and gold, not to be confused with Australia's gold and green.  And man!!  Are we ever proud of those colors!  Springboks, Proteas, BafanaBafana, it doesn't matter what name you call us, we are proud.  Even when we don't do too well.  We are still proud.  The only time the Green and Gold becomes a real pain in the ... bottom, is when it relates to our passports.  Yes, our passports are dark green with gold emblazed coat of arms.  It actually looks super stylish, however, no one else seems to think so.  Or at least, when traveling, you don't get credit for having a stylish looking passport.  When folks from other countries see our beautiful green and gold passport they immediately tell us to get visas.  It doesn't matter where you might want to travel as a South African, you WILL need a visa.  It started in the Apartheid years as a form of sanctions.  Post apartheid, it hasn't be lifted.  It would appear that we are still not trustworthy.  What I find ironic is that our passports have this little blurb in the front which basically says that the bearer of the passport is granted free travel anywhere and that our passports should be accepted as proof that we are free to travel.  I think an amended blurb needs to be written which says, "Dear Citizen, Yes you have a passport which should enable you to travel, but unless you are traveling on the continent of Africa (and even then), expect to have to get Visas for every place you wish to visit."  I know most Americans and British folk have no idea what the big deal is, because they have passports (albeit slightly less stylish) which truly DO grant them entry into any country they wish to visit.  The exceptions to that rule, are so few, and usually include places that most tourists would rarely want to visit anyway, that they hardly bare mentioning.  However, on a South African passport, I have to buy a visa every time I wish to travel to ANY where.  Yes, I did say buy.  You fill out a long application form and then you have to send in a "processing fee."  These can run the gamut of $80 to a whopping $141 for my recent UK tourist visa application.  Yes, that's $141 for a visa for a visit that is only going to last 7 hours.  Did I mention that South African passports are also subject to the latest fad in travel documentation:  The Transit Visa.  Yes, now even if you are merely traveling through a place, you need a visa.  No, you will not be leaving the airport, merely landing at a place that would normally want you to have a visa if you were going to visit.  However, you won't be visiting because you will be going from one gate to the next to continue on your journey, but you still have to fork out the bucks for a transit visa for the privilege (or inconvenience) of doing this.

I also find it rather interesting that most countries that are subjected to Visa requirements are poor.  Some are also the "black sheep" in the international community.  Although,  I had hoped that South Africa would have made it off the international black list by now, but apparently not.  So no matter how proud I may be of the Green and Gold, when it comes to my passport, it's a drag.  An expensive drag.  And an insulting drag:  I mean, I need a visa to visit Mexico, for Pete's sake!  Really?!

Countries can have whatever excuse they want for requiring visas:  security being the biggest argument.  Another one being trying to deter folks from illegally immigrating.  You know, overstay your visa.  Problem is, desperate folks still do that.  I know that is one of the reasons why Britain insists on South Africans having visas. Why not have a rigorous passport application processes that guarantees that people that are issued with passports are "good" citizens and trustworthy and therefore can be trusted to travel abroad to any country they want without requiring the extra expense and stress of visas.  What I find ridiculous about the whole process at the moment is that at some point I will be applying for American Citizenship.  At that point I get issued with a Navy blue passport, and "poof" suddenly I go from being untrustworthy and suspicious to being completely trustworthy.  I haven't changed.  I am the same person.  Just the travel document I use is different.  That's how ridiculous the whole thing is!  There has got to be a better way to do these things that isn't financially crippling, ridiculously invasive (I had to send in copies of pay stubs for my UK visitor's visa) and time consuming (processing times can be ridiculous depending on where you are applying from and where you want to go).  I understand countries want to make a little bit of money off of tourists, but then be honest about it and charge a entry tax and levy it on EVERYONE.  That seems more fair.  

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