No matter how tempting it may seem, never let your visa expire. I repeat: Don’t. Do. It.
You’ll just feel like doing a lot of this:
And end up doing more of this:
I watched the expiration date stamped in my passport barrel closer like growing wave, and for the past two (plus…) weeks I managed to push any concern to the back corners of my mind in hopes everything would just be o.k. Isn’t there a phrase: Everything is O.K. until it isn’t. This past week I figured out what “isn’t” is all about.
Having missed my first appointment at the airport a new one was finally scheduled for last Friday. With the instructions: Go to the airport and show them your paper, it was basically up to me to figure out what to do.
I knew I needed to get to the visa desk, a simple enough task except the visa desk is located at the arrivals gate and I wasn’t really “arriving”. Sreyneang, who graciously drove me to the airport, chatted with a security guard who then ushered me (and me alone) through a back door telling me to, “Go straight.” I weaved between travelers, fresh off the plane, quickly slid backwards through the passport control checkpoint, and got in line behind the visa desk.
What little confidence I had mustered shattered when I realized the immigration officer had no idea what I was talking about. He kept pushing back my paper and pointing at my expired stamp.
“You overstay!” He yelled at me.
“I know,” I tried to stay calm. “That’s why I’m here, to pick up my new visa.” I pushed my photocopied attestation paper back at him.
“No,” he stated, “The date is wrong. Your visa is expired.”
“Can I pay the fine and get a new tourist visa?” I asked, my voice starting to shake a bit. If I couldn’t get my business visa, maybe I could at least buy another 30 days.
“No. You have to go to the border.”
At this point, I just stared at him. “Can I call my boss and have him talk to you?” The officer nodded, but pushed me aside in the line.
As they say, if anything can go wrong it will. I think it’s a law or something… My phone was out of minutes. Just the other day I purchased more but hadn’t yet figured out how to reload them onto my phone. Let’s just say I was forced to figure it out really quickly…
The officer and Seak, the PEPY HR manager had a heated discussion for several minutes. Even though I couldn’t understand I knew it wasn’t going to be good.
“You’re going to have to go to the border.” Seak told me over the phone.
“Awesome.” I could feel the tears building up, an unfortunate knee-jerk reaction to situations in which I have absolutely no control. “But how am I going to get out of the airport?”
Surprisingly, no one seemed too concerned with this little detail.
“Can I get out of the airport?” I asked the (very) frustrated officer.
“But my visa is expired… Will they let me into the country?”
I took his word for it and cautiously approached the immigration officer working the passport check line. Handing over my passport I watched him flip to the telltale page stating I have been illegally living in his country for the past two weeks. He looked confused.
“I already stamp this.” He stated matter-of-factly. “You’re visa is expired.”
I was getting really tired of having that thrown in my face. “I know. That guy,” I pointed toward the visa desk, “Told me I could leave.”
“But your visa is expired. Which flight you come in on?”
“I didn’t come on a plane, someone let me in so I could get a new visa but they didn’t have it. I have to go to the border to get a new visa, but to go to the border I have to leave the airport.” Living the rest of my life like Tom Hanks in The Terminal was becoming an all-too-real possibility.
By this point another officer, this one in a more official looking uniform, had joined the discussion, snatching my passport from the man at the desk. After what felt like an eternity Mr. Snazzy Uniform added up the number of days I overstayed and told me how much I owed in fines. “You pay at the border.” He handed over my passport.
“So… I can leave…?”
I think I literally bolted towards the door, determined to make it out before they changed their minds.
Stay tuned for Part Two: The Wanderer’s First Border Run!
P.S. For the record, I didn’t cry (at the airport…)