The Freedom to Travel the World

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One of the freedoms we Americans forget about is our freedom to travel just about anywhere in the world. All we need is our American passport and a ticket, and we’re off. 


In contrast, much of the world has to get permission every time they want to enter another country. Here’s what my husband, a Sri Lankan passport holder, has to do just to TRANSIT for ONE NIGHT in Japan, though he’s gotten the same visa twice a year for the past 3 years (by the way– pretty much every embassy has the same procedure). And remember, this is the “easy” process, since he’s already been given the visa before.


  • Get a letter from his company stating that he is indeed employed and does have vacation time coming to him, along with his company ID. (So they know he’ll come back from their country and won’t migrate illegally.)


  • In addition to the form, he needs to attach a letter asking for one day processing, because as an airline pilot, he kinda needs his passport every day and can’t let them have it for a week.


  • He has to bring his tickets and confirmation from a hotel to prove to them exactly what he’ll be doing and when. The magic of this is that if they refuse the visa, the tickets have to be cancelled and may not be refundable.


  • His current and previous passports.


  • Stand in line in front of the Japanese embassy from 7am, because they only let a certain number of people in each day at 9am, and they don’t care if you only have one day off to take care of this (or if you’ve traveled from out of town, as many do). If you don’t get in, you’ll have to come another day.


  • When his number is called, he presents all of his documents to a Sri Lankan who has been employed to keep out the riff-raff and is on a major power trip. (Because these people are so evil, they are hidden behind reflective glass so no one recognizes them and takes out their aggressions on them after they get off work).


  • This person ignores all the evidence and demands paperwork that he doesn’t have with him and that are not asked for in any documentation from their embassy—a faxed confirmation from the hotel, a copy of his work schedule, his bank details, his birth certificate.


  • Then he has to argue with them, reason with them, and demand that they look at the stuff he’s brought that proves he’s done this many times before and they have always given it to him.


  • Then they usually say okay, come back in one week and he has to argue with them to pick it up later in the day or the next day.


For many people who are not airline captains and have not done this before, they need to show proof of all of their assets to prove they’ll come back. A divorced friend was a concern to the US embassy because they feared he had no reason to return and would lose himself in the underground. (Read “The Inheritance of Loss” by Kiran Desai to get a sense of what the underground life is like. It’s not very appealing.)

And all I have to do is arrive in Japan and show my U.S. passport. That’s freedom!

God bless America!

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