As I mentioned in my volcanic post the other day, I’ve accepted a full time job teaching English for six months at a reputable and excellent language school here in Heredia. While I’m extremely excited about this new direction, there is one part I’m not particularly thrilled about: the slew of documents and information I’m required to provide in the process of obtaining a work visa.
I’ve been through this process many times, in several different countries. There’s no way around it; jumping through hoops is something that comes with the territory of traveling and working around the globe.And although, I’ve gotten pretty used to it, this doesn’t mean it’s gotten easier.
As I put together the paperwork yet again, I realize just how complex (and rather remarkable) my background is. Among other things, my file consists of the following:
- my birth certificate from the Philippines (my country of birth);
- a background check from South Carolina in the United States (where I lived the last two years before giving up my paralegal career to travel);
- another background check from Palau (where I grew up and the last place I worked before moving to South Carolina);
- employment verification from my job on Saipan, CNMI (where I worked before moving back to Palau);
- my transcript from the University of Auckland in New Zealand (where I studied law for two years); and
- my transcripts from college in Boston, Massachusetts, and high school in Guam (a U.S. territory in Micronesia and neighboring island to Palau)
Getting these documents together is tedious, but the real challenge is explaining my particular circumstance to people (especially bureaucratic immigration officials). You see, I was born in the Philippines and still hold a Filipino passport although I left the country when I was but two years old. Except for a couple of visits and layovers, I have never lived there since. I grew up on the Micronesian island of Palau, which at the time was a U.S. Trust Territory, and was educated by American missionary teachers. At thirteen, I moved to Guam (also and still a U.S. territory) for high school and then was lucky enough to get a full scholarship to attend college in Boston in the United States.
My American education and experiences have influenced my accent as well as my mannerism, but I am not a U.S. citizen. Still, I am often mistaken for a Gringa, especially here in Latin America. But only after I open my mouth because apparently, based on my looks, I could pass for a Latina (thanks to the one-sixteenth drop of Spanish blood I inherited from the Philippines’ colonial legacy).
In addition to my accent and my background, I also have to explain the colorful mosaic of stamps in my passport. I am a traveler doesn’t suffice as an answer to immigration, labor, or government officials who pretty much dictate whether I can experience a country or not. Despite the expansion of globalization, a lifestyle of pure travel or nomadicism isn’t fully accepted yet, nor is it the norm. And while I do understand each country’s need to protect it’s borders, it’s citizens, and it’s culture, I’m so grateful for the hundreds, if not thousands, of travelers, adventurers, nomads, and wanderlusters out there helping to expand minds and attitudes towards our chosen lifestyle.
I also have to explain the colorful mosaic of stamps in my passport.
I used to think I was the only one who had such a complicated history, and at one point even hated that I didn’t have a normal life. That drifting around the world was shameful and that following my wanderlust was non commital and reckless. Now I embrace and celebrate it along with everything else about myself.
Everyone is on their own unique and personal path. Mine involves painstaking, irksome paperwork and hoop jumping in order to see and experience different parts of the world. But it is also colored by breathtaking moments, unparalleled experiences, serendipitous encounters, a kaleidoscope of cultures, food, and people, and adventures beyond my wildest dreams.
Everyone is on their own unique and personal path.
So while the mundane administrative humdrum doesn’t fall into the rainbows-and-unicorns facet of the travel life, it is a very necessary part of the journey. It isn’t glamorous or fun, but each time I go through the process, it reminds me of how far I’ve come and how divinely fortunate I am.
What are your experiences with visa processes (visitor, student, work, or otherwise)? Do you have any tips or hacks to share? I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments below.