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When Your Passport is Worth It

Traveling - Petra Schmidt  / 
Last week I wrote about what can happen when your passport isn't worth much and how as owners of privileged passports - one that lets you travel to lots of countries visa free - we are often blissfully unaware of the troubles people with less travel privileges go through. Today, I want to share a personal story about the other side, about what can happen when your passport is truly worth it. 

Traveling Without a Visa

This happened when I was on my way back to Peru from a trip to Switzerland. In fact, it was the very same trip for which my boyfriend was denied a visa. I was 6 months pregnant and traveling was a bit more strenuous than usual. My AVIANCA flight route led me first from Zurich to London (Heathrow, not a good choice!), from London to Bogota and then onwards to Lima. This is a long journey and can be tough to deal with even when you're not pregnant.

Everything seemed to go well. I checked in in Zurich, boarded my plane, got to Heathrow Airport, found the correct shuttle to get to my terminal (it's a huge airport) and found the correct transfer desk. And then things started to get interesting.

The lady at the counter asked for my return or onward ticket - which I didn't have. So she asked for a proof of my residency in Peru - which I didn't have either. Then she told me that in that case she couldn't check me in for my flights to Colombia and Peru. Not good news, especially when it's late at night and you're anyways almost late for your next flight plus you're pregnant.

Now, I knew that theoretically I needed to provide either proof of residency or proof of a return or onward flight in order to board a flight to Peru. Airlines are required to carry passengers who are denied entry into a country back to where they started their journey. However, the last two times I traveled to Lima nobody asked for such proof - not the airline nor the immigration officer! So, I didn't think there would be too much troubles.

I was at fault and I knew it. Still, it wasn't a pleasant situation to be in. I was already thinking about having to find a hotel to spend the night and then re-organize my onward journey so they'd let me board the next plane. However, the lady at the counter saw my distress and told me to go on to the gate quickly and that she'd phone the gate attendants to update them on my situation. Maybe they'd be able to help me.

As fast as my pregnant self would allow it, I walked to the gate. The attendants were already informed of the situation and explained me that they were already trying to get in touch with the head of the Peruvian immigration at Lima airport to get me special clearance to enter the country and, thus, to board the plane. I remember sitting at the gate, waiting for my clearance while watching everyone else board the plane. They simply couldn't get ahold of the immigration supervisor, they told me. Be patient, they told me. We'll get you on that plane, they told me. Don't worry!

Everyone had already boarded the plane and I was still sitting there at the now empty gate. Then, suddenly the gate manager approached me and told me to quickly board the plane. Everything was fine, I was allowed to travel. I got special permission from immigration in Lima to enter the country without a proof I was going to leave. Only drawback: my luggage wouldn't make the flight and be delivered a bit later to Lima. That was fine be me!

I got to Lima without much troubles and was reunited with my boyfriend. Not much later I regularized my status in Peru and became a legal permanent residence - also to avoid troubles like this in the future!

When I told my husband the whole story he asked me: "Do you think the same thing would have happened to a Peruvian who wanted to travel to Switzerland without a return ticket? Would they have made the effort to get the special permission? Would Swiss immigration have given it?". I didn't know how to respond.

Maybe yes. Probably no.



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