Thursday, September 26, 2013

Rock, Hard Place & Arctic Tundra

We got on the road on Monday morning heading towards Toronto, thrilled to be moving in the direction of the next stage of our travels in North America: South and West towards California. It was so cold that morning that my gloves, which had gotten wet in the rainstorm we rode through the night before, had partially frozen overnight. Which I didn't realize until I had to stop a few miles after we got started because even with my grip heating, I couldn't feel my fingers well enough to operate the clutch and hand brake. As you can imagine, this poses a bit of a problem. But even that couldn’t get me down.... Soon, we would be heading South into the warmth of the sun and more temperate days and nights.

And then we got to Toronto and hit a brick wall.

Roel had entered the US on the Visa Waiver Program, which gives travelers from several countries the US is friendly with, a visa-free 90 days to visit the States. At the end of the 90 days, you must leave the country, but you can re-enter as many times as you like for the next two years... Or so we thought...

Our flights back to Australia are scheduled for the end of December, and to avoid the hassle of getting out of the US again in 90 days, just before that flight, we decided to cough up the fee for a 6-month tourist visa. So we cheerfully headed to the US Consulate in Toronto. Figuring I would save Roel the annoyance of standing in the 100+ person non-US Citizen line, I approached the US entrance, explained what I was there for, and asked for the application for a tourist visa. Instead, the guard handed me a document with several numbers and email addresses and advised me that we would need to request an expedited appointment at the Consulate (current wait time for an appointment was 2 weeks) because not only could Roel not apply for a tourist visa through normal channels because he is not applying for said visa while in his home country, but also because when the Visa Waiver (VW) program says that you must leave the US after 90 days, Canada and Mexico are apparently not foreign enough to count. Really?

As dazed as you would expect one to be after colliding with a wall at full speed, we walked away from the US consulate and began the process of calling Immigration, Customs and Border Protection and visiting the Dutch Consulate and the US Consulate, again. In addition to all of the other distressing information we had learned, we found out that US CBP ideally likes if you return to your home country (not just any other country aside from Canada or Mexico) for a month between VW entries and when applying for a tourist visa from your home country, they need you to show strong ties to your home country (i.e., a job, children, a house, business, etc.), none of which Roel has since he's been traveling for the past four years.

The other aspect of this situation is that even if the Dutch Consulate has never heard of any Dutch people having trouble getting into the US from Canada, it is up to the discretion of the Customs and Border Protection agent you get when you go to cross the border. Cross your fingers, toes, etc. that they woke up on the right side of the bed that morning. 

You might be thinking: So what? Roel has to go back to The Netherlands for a bit, cuddle his new nephew, drink some good beer and nosh on yummy Dutch cheese – not so bad!

Well, until you consider what the airfare would do to our travel budget AND the fact that it’s probably not legal for Roel to leave Canada while his bike is here.

I think this is what is meant by being stuck “between a rock and a hard place.” Oh, and don’t forget the quickly descending arctic tundra. : (

No, thank you.

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