If you have been following my journey in Cameroon outside of just on this blog, you would know that I have been plagued by VISA issues since the very beginning. There have been two major issues in the last four months regarding my VISA and I wanted to share them with you in hopes that you don’t come across the same problems; or, if you do, maybe this will help you navigate them or at least know you aren’t alone.
PROBLEM #1: I only started preparing to come to Cameroon in June, with an expected arrival date in August. This was not a lot of time to get together all of the materials I needed to go and there were many various pieces needed in order to secure my VISA. I would say that we moved through the process as quickly as possible and sent in the application about three weeks before I was supposed to leave. We received a letter back from the Consulate a week later, but found out the application was denied. Actually, there was a sticky note written in French telling us what was wrong; luckily, we were at church where we have a friend who speaks and reads French. So, we fixed the problem (a missing phone number) and resubmitted the VISA application. We should have had enough time to get it back and it was approved in time; but the Consulate decided to send the VISA from Washington, DC to Nashville, TN instead of through Harrisburg, PA or somewhere else closer to us in New Jersey. Because of that, we ended up delaying my flight a of couple days.
PROBLEM #2: About a month ago, I was driving into the nearby city to do some shopping when a teammate asked me when my VISA expired. I pulled out my passport to look…November 18th. Wait a second; that wasn’t right. I looked again to make sure my eyes weren’t deceiving me. Nope, clear as day, November 18th. We went into the immigration office in the city and they told us they couldn’t do anything and we needed to go to the capital. I lost a week of time from being in the rainforest to go into the capital and get everything sorted out. It ended up just being a typo made by the Consulate, but it was a very unfortunate, expensive, and stressful typo for me!
TIP #1: Make the best of a tough situation. When my VISA denied the first time, it could have been very easy to become upset. Instead, I used the extra days in the United States to spend time with my parents and go visit my grandmother. When I had to spend the week in the capital city, Yaoundé, I could have just moped around for the week, but instead I was able to see a new ministry and volunteer at one of the local high schools in the library! It’s all about making sure you make the best of the situation and take advantage of the extra time or new location where you get to spend unexpected time!
TIP #2: Check, check, and check again. Double-check, even triple-check your VISA at all stages of the process. Yes, the Consulate could have moved faster or issued me the correct length VISA, but I also could have caught the problems sooner and prevented a lot of stress. It’s important to be extra careful at all stages of the VISA process and if anything looks even slightly strange, make sure to ask somebody and address the situation.
TIP #3: Expect the worst, but hope for the best. In both situations, when I first heard there was a problem, I took a little bit of time to process all the possible outcomes and make sure I was prepared. When my VISA was about to expire, I booked a flight home just in case (the ticket are to be cancelled and the fee refunded), so I wouldn’t end up getting stuck in the country with an expired VISA. It also helps emotionally to go through each situation, so nothing comes as too big of a shock. All that said, don’t fixate on the worst possible scenario, but try to see the best in each situation so that you can be at peace no matter what happens.
TIP #4: Take deep breaths, it will all be okay. This is the main piece of advice we had to keep giving to my dad throughout both situations. If you make a mistake—it’s in the past; there’s nothing you can do about it now. If you did everything you could do and there’s still a problem—then it’s out of your hands. Ultimately, it will all be okay even if it doesn’t necessarily feel that way at the time. I still made it to Cameroon and I’ve still managed to stay for four months; that’s my proof that it all works out!
Hopefully this post shows you that you aren’t alone with VISA issues and gives you some practical tips on how to avoid VISA issues and how to cope if something does go awry!