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Airports, Passport, Travel

Why I Got Global Entry

October 7, 2015

Why I Got Global Entry

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Before I moved abroad, it would have never occurred to me to get Global Entry. I couldn’t afford to travel and the $100 fee was too much for me to consider, since I had only traveled outside the country three times in the last five years (all to the same place!) So it didn’t occur to me at first to get it. It was at the urging of my Mom that I decided to get it.

The appeal wasn’t just the promise of short lines a U.S. Immigration and Customs, but also the ability to save passport pages. You may not think this is a big deal if you only travel overseas once a year, but when you live in another country, the entry and visa stamps add up fast. Every time I was coming back to the U.S., I was getting two stamps. Fortunately, Qatar has a similar system called e-gate and I wasn’t getting stamps in Qatar. Since I have moved to Qatar, I have been on 12 trips to other countries and I have been back to the U.S. four times. Plus, my residence permit takes up a whole page in my passport. My passport was rapidly filling up. This alone was reason enough for me to get Global Entry. I am saving pages in my passport! Of course, now I have the passport with extra pages already built it.

Of course, the faster entry into the U.S. is also helpful. The line in Dallas, where I normally fly into, isn’t too bad because they have installed electronic immigration stations for U.S. citizens. Where it is nice, is waiting to clear customs as you have your own line. I haven’t gotten to test the TSA Pre-Check feature because your airline has to participate and Qatar Airways does not. The TSA Pre-Check security gate is also nowhere near the Qatar Airways check-in counters at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and I am not walking down to another line for it since I am Gold with Qatar Airways and usually get to go through the First/Business security line.

Should you get Global Entry? If you travel internationally at least once a year, every year for the five years the membership is good for, I say yes. Some other travel experts disagree saying that if you check a bag then you are stuck waiting for the bag but do still have to go through customs. Having Global Entry could save you time there. As I mentioned, you still save all those U.S. stamps in your passport and that is worth a lot if your passport is low on pages and not expiring any time soon. Ultimately, you have to weigh the costs and benefits for yourself. The application is long and you will have to wait a few months to get an appointment, but then it is very easy to use.

Do you have Global Entry? What do you think?

India, Passport, Prep, Travel

India e-Visa

September 24, 2015

India e-Visa

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Did you know that most people need a visa to go to India? It used to be that you had to get to an Indian Embassy to apply for an Indian visa, but now you can apply online for a visa on arrival if you hold a passport from one of 113 countries. This includes the U.S., Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany, UAE, and the Philippines. However, it does not include Qatar. Click here to get to the website. This is a great option for so many people. Getting a visa at an Indian Embassy can be done, but can be a hassle if you don’t have the time, aren’t near an embassy or just want an easier way to apply.

Before booking my trip to India, I almost hesitated to go to India because I thought you had to go to the Indian Embassy to get the visa and I had no idea where that was in Qatar. When I lived in New York, I had applied for Indian visas for my boss and the process was long and you had to go two days in a row. I have no idea where the India Embassy is located in Qatar. I only found out there was an e-visa process when I googled India visa to see where the embassy was located.  The process was very straightforward once I found it.

You need a few things before you get started. You need a passport sized photo that you can scan in, your passport, and a credit card. The application form is long and requires you to recall where you have traveled for the past 10 years! My travel for the past two years wouldn’t even fit in the space they allotted. They also wanted to know the names and places of birth for my parents. You should also have reserved your hotel or have an address to give in India. You also need to know which airport you are flying into as that will be the only place you can enter to get the visa on arrival. You should only apply 30 days in advance, as you have to arrive between the time given to you on the approval form. I applied in the afternoon and by the next morning, I had approval.

There was some slight confusion when I arrived at the Goa airport. There were no signs for people with e-visas or signs at all! Once I got to the immigration counter, I could tell he was looking for my visa and I said I had an e-visa. He told me I had to go to another room. The other room was to the left of the entrance to the immigration hall arrival area. There were about 15 other people in there, but no staff. Someone when out and asked how long it would be till someone arrived and they said five minutes. Not a long wait, but it was about 3 am at that point and we were all very tired. Slowly staff came in to get us sorted. Print out your visa approval as they will ask you for this. I also had printed out my application just in case. You had to have your photo and fingerprints taken. It took some time as the fingerprint machines were not liking the sweaty hands. They stamp your passport and you are on your way! Once I arrived at baggage claim, my bag was already there. It might be easier if you did go to the India Embassy in your country if you don’t want to wait at the airport, but it might depend on the process at the India Embassy in your country too. I was glad I had it already, but might try getting at the embassy next time to see which process is easier!

Have you gone to India? What was your visa process like?

Passport, Qatar, Travel

Renewing My Passport Abroad

March 19, 2015

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Recently, I decided to renew my U.S. passport in Qatar. Many countries will not let you in or give you a visa without six months of validity left on your passport. While mine wasn’t near that, I knew I was going to be traveling during that time period and didn’t want to get stuck somewhere. I knew one person at work who had already done it and I asked her some questions, but the U.S. Embassy Doha’s website had good information and it seemed simple.

First, I needed to get new passport photos taken! Ugh! I am not a fan of having my photo taken because I never look like me. I had them taken three times at two different places and cancelled my first appointment because of the bad photos. Of course, then my next appointment was late in February and I am traveling today and I was worried I would be cutting it close. However, it turns out that in Qatar, you don’t have to give up your current passport to renew it, so I was as concerned. I finally got a photo I was okay with (and no I am not sharing!) and went to the appointment.

Making the appointment is easy because in Qatar, you can do it online. My appointment was for February 22 at 1:00pm.  I was told to arrive early so that you can go through the security screening and be on time for your appointment. You are also not allowed to bring in your phone, cameras, or any electronics. I found out later this included my Fitbit! I arrived at 12:15. You are directed to a port-a-cabin outside the embassy. Inside the port-a-cabin, you take a number depending on your appointment. I took a number for U.S. Citizen Services. There were a few other people inside when I arrived.

I thought that they would start calling numbers before 1:00pm since that is when all the appointments are given, but no! They didn’t start calling numbers till 1:00pm. You leave the port-a-cabin and go to the window at the embassy gate. They ask you some questions and then you get in line to be security screened. You then go to another area where they send you through a metal detector, but not before they take away your keys and your Fitbit! They also took my ID to match me up with my stuff later.  Then you walk to the embassy, which is about a quarter of mile from the gate. Okay, it might not be that long, but it was long. Then you go through security screening again! Yes, this it the third one.

Again, you take a number. It should of been as simple as taking my application and then I go pay, but I had made a mistake. I had filled out the application by hand because I wanted the extra pages passport and the online application wouldn’t let me choose it. They made me go to their very slow and old computer to refill it out and print it. Then they took the application and sent me to pay. You pay and then they call your name again and tell you when to pick it up. They tell everyone 2 weeks in Qatar. It was 402QR or $110, which you can pay in cash or by credit card. Not sure if they take U.S. cash though.

I was told to expect an email telling me to pick up my new passport, but they said come in two weeks even if you don’t get it. I never got an email from the embassy, however I had signed up for passport tracking from the state department’s website, so I knew it was on its way back to Qatar. You take your receipt and your old passport back to the embassy two weeks later. Again, you have to take a number and wait, but you only have to go to the window at the gate. I verified everything was correct and they cancelled my old passport and I was done.  This seemed much easier than it is in the U.S., as you have to send that in by mail with your old passport and it takes 6 weeks. Also, I was told the extra pages passport was automatically given to people renewing abroad. My suggestion, if you are traveling for a long time, is to renew it abroad. It seemed easier and faster.

Each U.S. Embassy is different and you need to check their rules on renewals. In London, you have to send it in by courier and in Bangkok you have to make an appointment to come in.  You also have to be in a country that has a U.S. Embassy.  However you do it, make sure you don’t get stuck not being able to travel because you don’t have enough time left on your passport!

What about you? Have you ever renewed your passport abroad? Tell us below.

 

Passport, Qatar

My passport goes on adventure

September 8, 2013

 

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My passport has been on its own adventure since about the second week I arrived.  The first day of orientation, HR took it to start processing our Resident’s Permits.  I know many people would hesitate to let their passport go, but there isn’t another way here.  It was an odd feeling to let it go, like it was a part of me somehow.  The next week, I did see it when I had to go get my medical screening.  (The medical and fingerprinting is a whole other post).  It had stuff stapled to it and sticker had been attached, but otherwise seemed in good shape.  I had it for almost 24 hours before I had to give it back up.  This time the feeling was even more strange as I gave it to a stranger that HR had told me to give it to when I was done.  This week was the fingerprinting portion of getting my RP.  I got to have again for a couple of hours.  Again, I handed it off to another stranger, but I felt more confident since it all worked out the first time.  I will get it back permanently soon.  Too bad I couldn’t have attached a camera to it to see where it had been, although I think it spent a lot of time in desk drawers!