Penny wise pound foolish

I have been waiting for quite some time now to blog about this, but I didn’t want to jinx myself by saying something before I had my passport back in my safe hands.

Some of you might have read before (over here) about how much of a pain it was to get my tickets booked to go to India. Obviously I did not know at that time, what the “real” definition of travel-pain was. Happy to have gotten a good deal on my tickets to Bangalore from Chicago for $1100 on British Airways via London, I whiled away some time before I started working on putting together my papers for the U.K. transit visa.

So the British consulate has this esteemed opinion, that if you are an American citizen or permanent resident, or a person on a valid American visa, you can be considered safe to roam the waiting areas of Heathrow airport. However if you are one of those sorry souls, who lurk in between those two statuses, and are on your way from becoming a visa holder to a permanent resident, then somehow you are automatically not considered allowable on airport premises unless you hold this farce that is called a transit visa.

I started with googling (wow, that’s not a word yet?) the local British consulate, to see what I needed to do. After linking me to another site and another and another, I got to the site where I could start filling out my 8 page application. That used to be the first step, before getting an appointment with the UK consulate in Chicago. So, I started filling it up on weekday morning while at work. Then, it started asking me questions I had no answer for. So, I gave up, saved it and went back to work. Once my husband got me the answers to those questions, I went back to finish it. Of course, I didn’t finish it because, then they started asking me for my entire history, my families’ history, geography etc etc. So I gave up again and decided this was not something I could finish during lunch. So, I finally waited until the end of the day before I could complete answering all the questions they had for me and I clicked ‘Next’. So, it asked me to get an appointment, and gave me the option of picking a place that was much closer to home, not to get my visa, but to get my biometrics taken. Not knowing what to do, I picked the option. The next screen asked me if I wanted to mail my documents or take them over to the Chicago British consulate. Again, because that’s what we used to do, I chose the second option, and then that’s it, it gave me the links to download the application, the appointment letter for the biometrics and then said I should mail my documents to the British consulate general in Chicago. I was totally confused. So, I looked up the phone number for the British consulate in Chicago and called them. The message for those who are looking for information on visas was “go to the website”. After scanning the website from top to bottom, I found that the only number one could call to get any information was a 1-900 number that apparently went to the UK, and was charged at $3 a minute. My dear friend Fa, who was also in the same predicament as me, and who could no longer take this uncertainty, decided to make a trip to the British consulate where she was stopped by security who she confused into putting her on the phone with another guy inside the consulate. She was then told, that we needed to get our biometrics taken if the website asked us to, and drop off the application and the original passport, EAD, advance parole, photograph and itinerary at the drop-box outside the consulate. They would then process it in about 5 to 10 working days and send us an email once it was ready. We could then come back to pick it up. All originals! What were they thinking? No option now, because it was too late to cancel tickets and re-route. So we had to go through the torture.

I telecommuted one day and got my fingerprints taken. I wasted another half day driving to Chicago and dropping off my papers (they only accept them between 9 and 10 in the morning). After about 6 days, I got an email that said my visa was approved and my papers were ready to picked up any weekday between 3 and 4 p.m. Last Friday, my husband wasted 2 and half hours on I-90 trying to get into Chicago, while the clock ticked past 4 and took a U-turn back home. Yesterday, I wasted half a day taking a train to Chicago and picking up my papers. In all, I’ve lost about a day’s worth of billing at work, 86$ for the visa, and another 50 something on travel expenses etc. That money would have spared me the pain and torture of the process had I spent it on a more comfortable ticket on some other airline.

I’ve absolutely been “penny wise pound foolish” like the British say!

21 thoughts on “Penny wise pound foolish

  1. desi_hypocrite

    yes. you are a ‘Penny wise pound foolish’ person. You should have booked Lufthansa airways. Only ‘Fresh off the Boat’ desi book British airways because they want to feel ‘British Legacy in India’ by flying British airways.

    Rekha: Don’t know about the other desi hypocrites out there, but I got BA tickets because they were at least $300 cheper than the others.

  2. Srikanth

    UK is one of the biggest jokes. I don’t know how they expect people to travel to or transit through thier country with requirements like this.

    Rekha: After all that, they gave me a 3 month visa. If I travelled again next year, I’d have to go through all this pain all over again! I don’t know what they were thinking!

  3. Been there done that. 4 yrs back. It sure is a pain. I still fly BA though for the convenience of boarding at phili.

    Rekha: Hmm.. I had other options, and I took this one like an idiot.

  4. jo bhi hotha hai, acche ke liyehi hotha hai. so once you are done with the whole trip, search for that accha and be happy about it.

    Rekha: Of course India trips are eventually worth it anyway.. but so far not much “accha”.

  5. guess what? I called up yor agent and that very (sweet)lady told me not to fly BA. She insisted I fly lufthansa or jet even if BA had a lower quote! I wonder why she didn’t tell you though?

    I guess she liked my baritone voice!

    i’m not gonna talk about the fare, coz it’s no where near yours!

    Rekha: You sure you spoke to the same agent? Mine was a guy! and he never said anything about the complexity of this process. If you have a H1 though, you shouldn’t have so much trouble. When are you going to India?

  6. We are planning a trip to NZ and battling with the NZ consulate. I used to bash US consulate and their visa procedures / document requirements. After my experiences with non-US consulates, I have revised my opinion of the US consulate…

    Have a good trip!

    Rekha: Thanks and good luck for NZ! I await the day when Indian citizens will be considered first-grade citizens in other countries, and visa regulations would be relaxed. We need a visa to go to even Timbucktoo.

  7. Someone once told me what a nightmare British red-tape can be. Here, I’m reading it first-hand! They just have to make everyone’s life miserable, don’t they! baaaah!!
    God damn the Queen! The old hag already has a foot in the grave, who are these guys protecting anyway! hmmpf! Naansense, I tell you!

    Rekha: Haha.. the queen!

  8. peepy

    I am on the same boat. Consulate got my passport and all the documents. I have not heard back from them yet and it has been 5 business days already. I have a about a week before my trip. Should I wait and see or can I do any thing at all?

    Rekha: I heard back in about 6 days. From what I read on forums, it seems they usually have it ready before your travel date. See if you can get somone on the phone at the local British consulate or try sending them a fax.

  9. Reading others stories reminds me of my own!
    My husband went through something like this for AirFrance maybe 5 years ago…It was wild…just for sitting in the plane! He would not even exit the plane and get into another! Unbelievable! And for that paying for flights, hotels and documention to NYC.
    Then, my experience dealing with consulates in US to be a first American admitted into a college in Chennai. Imagine when I go to the NYC Indian consulate and be told Madras Christian College doesn’t exist, no visa granted! Classes started already, my plane leaves in a few days!!
    The fun of government offices, same no matter where on the globe you are!!

    Rekha: France too? I didn’t know that. Lol @ the Indian consulate. My experience with them deserves a post by itself.

  10. peepy


    I just received an email saying that it will take 3 business days for a straight forward application. Did you receive email saying so, before you got your approval?

    Thank you.

    Rekha: Nope.. the only email I received said it had been processed and was ready for pickup.

  11. AnotherIdiot

    Rekha: Thanks for sharing the experience. I need to go through this even though I have been a permanent resident of the U.S.A. for 20 years. Those who got their green cards before 1998 has to get a transit visa.

    I am now cursing myself for booking my flight to India on BA.

    Do you happen to have the link you used to fill out the forms etc.

    Rekha: I found some information on the worldbridge site today while trying to find your link. Pick the country on the top and select “How do I apply” on the left menu. I wish I had seen this before.

  12. Aiyo paavam. Anyway it’s behind you now and get busy packing bags. Yes I’d like a small potlam of kunkuma poo please.

    Rekha: Kunkuma poo.. on it’s way maami.

  13. anotheridiot

    Thanks Rekha for that link. Reading through all this make me even more mad at myself for having booked the ticket for transit through U.K. What a pain.

    One question. Where did you have to do to give the biometric information? In one place it said that in U.S.A. I will asked to go to the local police station. Is that what you did or you went to the British consulate visa processing center?


    Rekha: I picked a USCIS application support centre (ASC) for fingerprinting. I am not sure if all ASCs do it for UK visas. This place showed up as an option when I filled my application, and so I picked the one closest to home. You might want to try the same.

  14. vk

    Thanks again Rekha. I am just filling out the online application. OMG, what set of intrusive questions for a Direct Airside Transit Visa. This is really rediculous. Now I know what you were feeling when you put up this blog. I do not really know my father and mother’s date and place of birth. That was all long time back and I do not even have that info now. I have to figure out a way.

    Also, in one place, it asked for if I have the visa for the country I am visiting. I am a citizen of India but first I said yes and then it asks for the visa number…What did you put in? Your passport number? I for now changed the answer to ‘I do not have a visa for that country’, then it let me go forward without any further questions.. What a joke!!

    Rekha: You’ve probably sent your papers by now, but I said I didn’t have a visa. Good luck with the visa!

  15. Ayyo, so much trouble aah? India liye irindirukanum!

    Rekha: Aama aama.. don’t ask! My friends are still stuck now. They got their visas, but have not got back anything on their 6 yr old daughter’s visa. They are totally fed up!

  16. I am here from Laksh’s blog. I had to comment on this post. I also think the whole process very very annoying. Also the transit visa applies only to citizens of some countries like India, Pakistan, somalia and so forth. I think we are being radically discriminated. I will never fly BA. My brother recently did and he had to go through this process almost in the last minute, since nobody informs you (it is not also not in the BA website) that you a transit visa.

    Rekha: The worst part of it was.. I asked the lady at Heathrow airport who went through my passport, if I really needed a transit visa, and she said no. I explained about how much trouble I went through for this and then she went back on her answer and said that perhaps I needed it then. Even they don’t know if I needed that visa or not!

  17. da kashtame, and I thought I had seen the worst of bureaucracy in this country!
    BTW, that mami thing, did it work out?

    Rekha: We’ve learnt our bureaucracy from somewhere.. haven’t we?

  18. Aarti


    Funny how a person in the US talks about the perils of getting a UK visa. I have personally been in the UK 3 years and have no problems getting the visa renewed. However, if I applied for an US visa in the UK it would definitely get rejected as I am not British or European. Similar to the policy u’ve stated! What do u have to say for that?

    Rekha: Oh ya.. US Immigration is the biggest pain of all!

  19. Karthik

    hey, i am leaving to india via london. ditto situation. have gone through all that you have mentioned. (since i am a student in a university town called gainesville, it was too much of a pain than you have described for me to commute). anyways, all i wanted to ask is : I need to change airports in london(from Gatwick to Heathrow on my way to India and then from Heathrow to Gatwick on my way back). I have a Direct Airside Transit Visa. I am not sure how to commute between the airports. If you have been there and done that, can you give any info. any help will be appreciated. (I have 12 more days only 😐 looks like its gonna be another adventure in london)

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