x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Passports cause visa stress

How you will be treated by embassy officials and visa processing agents and border security all depends on the name of the country emblazoned on the front cover of your passport.

Mr T and I are of different nationalities. Our passports (his Pakistani, mine Canadian) have nothing in common, save for the entry stamps to the countries we've been to together. Whenever Mr T and I make travel plans, I am sorely reminded of the fact that like it or not, passports have a hierarchical rating system.

How you will be treated by embassy officials and visa processing agents and border security and even the attendant at your hotel's check-in desk all depends on the name of the country emblazoned in gold lettering on the front cover of your passport.

There have been very few instances when I had to bother applying for a visa ahead of time to a country I was planning to visit for either business or pleasure. If a visa is required, it is often a matter of getting a stamp at an airport and paying a token fee.

For Mr T, the situation could not be more different. When he decided to make the obligatory trip to Jordan to ask for my hand in marriage, he had to start planning well in advance to get a visa for him and his family.

When he had to apply for a visa to Jordan a second time, to attend his own engagement party and take part in his civil wedding ceremony, he was turned away, his application declined. Many tears, pleas and sleepless nights later, and after quite a few strings were pulled, his visa was granted at the last minute, and I was able to have my fiancé at my side.

We picked the Maldives for our honeymoon because it is one of the few countries in the world that does not require a visa for almost all nationalities of the world. In hindsight, it may have been our most expensive trip, but it was certainly our most stress-free one.

A summer vacation to Istanbul demanded that I head to the embassy and apply on his behalf. Our second honeymoon to Paris was almost cancelled when we realised that we might not receive Mr T's Schengen visa in time, and on our first anniversary trip to Venice we fared no better; we picked up his passport mere hours before heading to the airport.

When we planned a weekend to Damascus to visit my grandparents, we did not realise Mr T would require a visa until exactly 48 hours before we were due to depart. Breaking down in front of a kind embassy official meant we got away with our absent-mindedness that one time. You would think we'd learn from our mistakes.

Unfortunately, absent-mindedness prevailed. I could never remember ahead of a trip that my husband would need to apply for a visa, because I never had to keep that in mind for myself. And for some reason, despite him always needing a visa regardless of where we planned to jet off to, he never seemed to remember to apply for one in time.

Last week, after a long and convoluted process, Mr T was issued his third Schengen, this time to visit Prague. That particular visa application was a stress-inducing, seemingly endless nuisance, and I almost broke down. Too many of our trips begin as an anxiety-ridden hassle, rather than as an exciting prospect.

Cultural differences add spice and flavour to a relationship. But in order to become a stronger family unit, I am convinced that sharing passports issued by the same country has become a necessity. Once we are on board our flight to Prague later tonight, I will be broaching with Mr T what I think will be one of the most important discussions of our married life thus far.