“All visa services suspended”
On October 8, 2017, the US and Turkey mutually banned tourist visas for each other’s citizens. Just a few days before, my husband had gotten two weeks of vacation from his job for December, which meant we were finally going to be able to travel back to his home country (Turkey) and have a wedding celebration with his family. The Turkey visa ban made it seem like it would be impossible for me to travel there, as the US visa ban did the same to any friends and family members of his trying to do likewise.
The next two months trying to navigate the visa ban unfolded in a way that was almost too farfetched to be non-fiction.
At first, it seemed hopeless that I’d get a visa at all. We told my husband’s parents that he’d definitely be coming for two weeks in December, but whether or not the wedding celebration would happen was left up in the air. (Of course, it is not totally ideal to plan a wedding reception when the bride isn’t able to confidently RSVP “yes.”)
Traveling through a third country?
A few days later, I saw some tweets stating that Americans had, in fact, been able to enter Turkey during those early days after the visa ban. Turkish Airlines’ customer service Twitter account was tweeting that it was possible, but I couldn’t find any official statements outside of the Twitterverse. Naturally, I was looking for some solid evidence that dropping serious cash on a plane ticket wouldn’t end with me stranded at Atatürk airport, booking a last-minute seat on the next flight back to Michigan.
Every day, I was Googling “Turkey visa ban” and reading every new article that popped up. As the days wore on, my daily search was increasing full of purple text, headlines I’d already read. Regardless, I read them again and combed through the comments section of each one. One day, I found a comment suggesting that spending three days in a third country was the magic amount of time for an American to be able to successfully enter Turkey. Arbitrary as it was, I clung to the little logic that I could find — “Well sure, three days makes it clear that you’re not just transiting through!”
Thus began the next bout of research to find a country that we could transit through, problem-free. My first thought was Greece, because of its proximity. In Kaş, the seaside town where we began our relationship and got engaged (those were two different trips), we could see the Greek island Kastellorizo (Meis in Turkish) from the balcony of our Airbnb. Surely it would be easier to enter at a small seaside port than at a massive airport.
Alas, getting Huseyin a visa to visit Greece, even for a day or three, would be expensive, require a trip to a consulate, and wasn’t a sure thing.
Getting a visa in Canada?
At some point, someone suggested getting my visa in Canada. That seemed easy enough — one perk of living in Michigan is proximity to the Canadian border, after all. I began the pre-application process online, only to be ground to a halt at the last requirement. “Proof of your legal status in Canada.” Well, surely “none” wasn’t a good enough answer to that…back to the drawing board!
After that, we compared lists of countries that we could each visit visa-free according to our respective citizenships. The first one that caught our eyes was Georgia. Neither of us had been there, and we’d heard only good things about it. I searched for flights, and the only ones I could find went right through Istanbul. That was a dealbreaker for me. Hanging out for a 9-hour layover in the country that I’m trying to travel to but weirdly not able to enter just didn’t make sense.
Ultimately, we settled on a trip to Belgrade, Serbia. It looked pretty online, the tickets weren’t too pricey, and miraculously, neither one of us needed a visa to enter. We still didn’t have anything concrete to hold on to regarding my ability to enter Turkey from Serbia, but at least we were reducing the miles between us and our destination.
Visas issued on a “limited” basis
On November 7, almost a full month after it began, my daily search revealed that the visa issue was resolved (somewhat). Both the US and Turkey were granting visas to the other’s citizens on a limited basis. In an effort to find out what that “limited basis” was, my husband called the consulate in Chicago. He reported back that it sounded very positive that if I filled out an online application and we went to the consulate for an interview, they would give me a visa. Terrific!
I began the online application, and the first roadblock I hit was the news that I would need to bring proof of my flight reservation to my interview. Naturally, it was uncomfortable to think about purchasing a ticket without having a visa in hand, but after some soul searching we decided it was worth it to schedule the interview and then purchase the ticket. I continued to click through the application pages, which were incredibly thorough. I had to find my old passport to see the dates I had previously entered Turkey, and we had to wait for my sister-in-law to wake up to fill in some of her details since she would need to serve as my “sponsor.”
Which comes first, the interview or the flight?
Finally, we reached the last page of the application, the part where you upload your documents. To my disbelief, on that page I had to upload my flight reservation information before I could even click through to see when the next available interview date was. This took the uncertainty and risk to a level we weren’t comfortable with. After some nail biting and intensely staring at each other hoping a solution would magically appear, I had the idea to go back to our original plan of flying through Serbia. That way, if I didn’t get the visa, in theory I’d still be able to enter after spending a day in Serbia, and if I did get the visa, then we’d be able to enjoy a day in Belgrade stress-free. We purchased the tickets, flying out of Detroit on December 16th, and then uploaded them on the visa application site, finally able to see when the next appointment was.
There was one appointment available. December 15th at 9:00 am. In Chicago. We quickly took it, not knowing what would be available if we missed it.
Happily, the visa interview process was quick and painless. Our respective employers were supportive and graciously gave us the time off to travel to the appointment. The consulate employee who met with us was kind and encouraging. She told me that I’d brought a great deal more paperwork than I needed, and that being married to a Turkish citizen was enough, and I was glad that I’d brought too much rather than too little. She suggested that I pay a little extra for a multiple entry visa, valid for a year, rather than a single entry visa. After about 30 minutes and $200, I had my passport back, with the freedom to travel to Turkey multiple times in the next year, for 30 days each time.
Our actual trip to Turkey is a story for another time. We had our final wedding celebration, and celebrated the first anniversary of our original wedding ceremony the very next day. For this story, though, the closure came on December 28, two days before we were due to leave Turkey and make our journey back to the US. After spending a couple days with my sister-in-law, we returned to my husband’s parents’ house. My father-in-law told me (in very simple, clear language, which we were both pleased I understood) that the visa problem was finished.
You’re kidding, right?
I immediately pulled out my phone, and went to the E-visa website. During the visa ban, this site hadn’t worked. As soon as I entered my nationality, it would display an error message that e-visas were currently not being granted. On that day, for the first time, that didn’t happen, and I finally got to see the elusive second page of the e-visa application.
The only required information? Date of arrival. The site makes it clear that you can stay for 90 days, and the visa will cost you 20 dollars.