03 September 2012

At the US Embassy

While visiting friends in Bogota in August, another friend who was coming from Medellin for a long weekend said she was going to the U.S. Embassy while in Bogota to renew her visa. That triggered me to think about my situation & the close proximity to the US Embassy and its services. 

My US passport was due to expire in June 2013, which, yes, was nearly a year away, but I was also living in Cartagena. I was planning to leave Colombia for the December holidays and return via Peru; I would need to have a passport that was valid for at least 6 months upon entering Peru and I would not have that. Yes, I'd be in the U.S., near the nation's capital, for Christmas, but you need 8 weeks to get a passport processed; 2 weeks if you pay the expedited fee. I wasn't sure I was going to have that much time!

So...I went to the US Embassy in Bogota with Martha. For the past I don't know how many years, Colombians have needed tourist visas to travel to almost every country in the world (from what I understand it's because of the history of drug lords, etc; Colombians need special vetting as I'm sure other countries do too for other reasons). A lot of countries require visas, but few require them of U.S. citizens who are coming as tourists. We are lucky. For Colombians going to the U.S., they have to apply in person for their visa at the Embassy in Bogota (no matter where they live) and pay about $200 just for the application. If they are denied, they don't get that money back (& of course have already spent money to travel to Bogota if they don't live there). This is similar for people from other countries who have to apply for a U.S. tourist visa. For Colombians, the visas used to be valid for 5 years, but with the passage of the US-Colombian Free Trade Agreement in May, the tourist visas are now valid for 10 years (multiple entries allowed). A big boon for a lot of Colombians! 
Got myself a new one, with extra pages even!

At the embassy, Martha and I each went our separate ways, to different entrances of the complex. I had a 10:30 appt & was out by 11:15. When I finished, I asked for the rest room, and was led through a secured area and then out to the waiting area where the Colombians are waiting to talk to someone about their tourist visa. Wow, the U.S. citizens don't even have direct access to bathrooms at the U.S. Embassy while Colombians do? I thought we were so inconvenienced! And look, the Colombians get a nice cafe, a little restaurant, ice cream shop (Crepes & Waffles!). Nice! Little did I know....

Martha had an 11:00 appointment, for which she was told to get there by 10:30. When I finished, I went to find her and she hadn't even entered the security gate. I was in & out (& used the bathroom!! :) before she even got in. The Colombians were all lined up outside waiting ("Wait by the black fence")--had it been raining, which happens a lot in Bogota, they would have been soaked. Martha was finally done at 1 pm, 2.5 hours later. They all deserve that cafe and ice cream shop, and more!!

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