In my short career as a globetrotter I’ve learned something valuable: it sucks being Indonesian. As a country we only have dual agreements with 11 countries which allow Indonesian citizens to enter those 11 countries without having to applied for a visa. That means for the rest of countries in the world, we have to go through a tiring process of applying visa with supporting documents from family card, bank statement, proof of evidence that we have friends/family in the destined country, until the assurance from our office that we, indeed, are coming back to work for them, but wait, they don’t pay for our holiday (hence bank statement). But funnily enough Indonesia allows 63 other countries’ citizens to apply visa on arrival, (click here for a complete list) which doesn’t apply to Indonesians who travel to those 63 countries. So Stuart can apply his visa when he lands in Jakarta, in between his toilet visit and luggage collection, but I couldn’t dream the same thing for UK. It’s not fair, isn’t it??
My first traumatic encounter with the embassy and immigration was when I was applying for a student visa in Australian consulate in Bali. I was a bit lucky that I didn’t have to be present when submitting the application, as the education agent did everything for me. However, they managed to scare me by telling me horrible stories about people whose application weren’t approved and the embassy entitles of giving no reason at all, or who were caught lying, that even though everything seems ok on paper there will be no guarantee that my visa will be approved (it didn’t help even though I’ve paid for tuition fee already, so I was so stressed out to think about a lot of money I’ve already spent), that the embassy will probably call you and interview you in person just to make sure you’re genuine (which means I had to polish my voice to sound like a young, enthusiastic, Australian-loving, pro-democracy, educated lady), etc. So even I didn’t do anything wrong and did everything by the book, I was really scared I couldn’t make it through I had recurring nightmares for weeks.
After waiting for a very long time I got my student visa without any sweat. All the horrible stories didn’t happen. But the experience has left a tiny scar on my head and since then I’ve developed a habit of submitting more, if not everything, than what the embassy asks for. I put myself into their shoes, thinking that dirty papers, unreadable writing, or messy documents in application will lessen my chance to get the visa asap. So I always treat my application with a great respect, putting all necessary documents in order (either based on what the embassy asks, or by alphabetical order), provide minimum 2 copies, provide everything that is not in English translated by certified translator, have everything stamped by the highest authority possible, and so on. No wonder that on every visa process I’ve done, I’ve always felt tired afterwards. It felt like I was preparing a research paper to be presented before the Noble committee! It didn’t help that most of, if not all, embassies treat the applicants with a suspicious eyes, and most of the local staffs have the superior auras under their noses so they either 1) flirt with you or 2) despise you because you will be going abroad and hence 3) ask you to bring souvenirs for them. I’m not kidding, it happened to me! Why do you think I insist to look gorgeous in my passport? haha!
I accept this difficulty as one of the process of having fun later on (when the visa’s approved). No matter how irritated I am (and God knows how easy to make me feeling annoyed!), I always project the complete fake version of myself: nice, smiley, approachable, presentable (nice clothes but never flash money), a little bit flirty if required but not too much as I don’t want to be tick under the box ‘hooker’, all those necessary positive attitudes, no matter how grudging the officer in front of me is. I should consider myself lucky, I never went through an experience like Jenny who had to go through the interview process when she’s visiting me here, and the visa officer asked her endless, unbelievably irritating questions and she could maintain her composure. Not to mention that every time I passed the US embassy I saw the long line of people standing in queue, some were from 5.00 AM just to be able to get an entry permit (can you imagine Americans standing in queue in Indonesian embassy in Washington DC? They’d probably shout at the staff to get served faster). I guess I was so used to being treated like no-one, I’ve always believed that everything is never easy if it’s regarding a visa process. That’s why I couldn’t believe that UK embassy actually approved my visa in 48 hours (that included 1 day transport between the collection and the embassy points, and it’s not a tourist visa, which required at least a hundred documents to prove that I was a fiancée of a British national). And of course, since it’s your passport, your travel, your journey, your documents, the embassy wouldn’t bother to tell you whether it’s done or not. UK embassy has a system that posts the information on the website, and it will tell us that the passport is ready to be collected. Another embassy just gives us a piece of receipt and tells us to come back on certain date, but ho-ho-ho, no guarantee amigo. You can come, but you might not collect your passport back. However, in my experience, they’re never late (if they can actually keep their promise, why not tell us upfront rather than give ambiguous hints?).
When I decided to join Stuart for a trip to the Netherlands on this upcoming weekend, I know that at least I will need 2 weeks for my visa process (and oh, Stuart doesn’t need a visa dong! Huh! I don’t understand. Why Malaysian and Singaporean don’t need a visa, while we, the country which was occupied by Dutch for 350 years and have made them prosperous, are not on the list?). Even though the Netherlands website states that the visa process will take up to 48 hours, again, because I am Indonesian, I am immune to that luxury. How do I know that? Of course I had no proof, but bear with me and you’d see that I’m right. Anyway, we couldn’t confirm whether I could/couldn’t go before October 5, and when finally confirmed that I could go, I got confused with 2 slightly different documents required by the consular, so I decided, as usual, to provide everything. The latest document, travel insurance, took 3 days to proceed and I only got it last Friday.
That means today’s the day I must apply the Schengen visa. 1 week left. I knew I will have a small chance, but I decided to go with it anyway.
This is what happened two hours ago.
The lady who assisted me glanced at Stuart’s passport and smiled. She said, “Oh, you’re married to a British! This will make your life easier!”. Wow, suddenly I’m not a no-one from a country which is famous for terrorism and jihad. And from then on, the slightly different rules applied to me. As an Indonesian, I had to prove that I’m not a beggar and could provide for myself during my visit, therefore they ask either bank statements or traveller’s cheque. But since I’ve got Stuart’s passport, hey no need lah. She gently gave back my cheque copies and didn’t even look at my original cheques (I was so disappointed! I was running to the post office this morning to buy the cheques, went back home to make copies – as stated in the website that they require everything to be copied – then went to the consular, only to find out that because I’m married to a British, I don’t have to prove that I do have money!). Then in the website they ask for a travel insurance, but she obviously thinks I don’t need it. My life is indeed easier.
But hold on! She looked at my passport, found out that I’m an Indonesian, and without a word provided a terrifying black book on the desk, open some page which consists of a loooong list, and eventually found out, err.. Indonesia in the list. “I’m sorry,” she said with a smile, “I think it will take 3 weeks to proceed your visa. Because your husband is British, you will get a spouse visa that allows you multiply entries to all Schengen countries for, I don’t know, perhaps 3 months. But because you’re from Indonesia, we have to correspond with other Schengen countries to clear your multiple entry visa.”She went to a great detail to explain to me everything more than I necessary need to know.
I smiled back. Why am I not surprised?
After all, I’m an Indonesian. Nothing’s ever easy to us.