Entering Through the GateLast Thursday I wrote about how I met my wife and my first real adventure overseas.  Looking back I sometimes have to laugh at how green and naïve I was when it came to international travel.  I really had no idea what I was doing.

Today I’m going to tell you about our experience working with the US Embassy in Jakarta to get my wife a spousal (K3) visa to travel back to the US after we were married.

We were married in April of 2001 and soon after started the process of getting the appropriate visa so that my new bride could come back with me and live in the US.  We were both really clueless on how the whole process would work although I had done a bit of research online and had even talked with an immigration attorney in the US before I departed.  The attorney was useless and I ended up spending $50 for the exact same information that I had been able to get for free online.

I had read horror stories about people waiting years before visas were approved and having to make multiple trips between countries before finally being granted entry and a permanent resident card.  Why we make it so difficult for families to be together is something I don’t quite understand.  The general advice that I received was to apply for a spousal visa directly at the US embassy in Indonesia.

Meanwhile my wife (fiancée at the time) had solicited the help of an “agency” in Jakarta to assist with the process.  I had my doubts from the start about using an outside source to initiate official visa paperwork but I went with it as who was I to say this wasn’t the usual process in Indonesia.  However, my skepticism grew as the agent we worked with wanted to keep all passports and identification at their office.  A representative of the agency would meet us at the gates of the embassy, hand off the papers and documents and wait until we were done and then collect all the papers outside the gates.  My innate scam sensors were going off but I still went along with it because I was in a country I was totally unfamiliar with and my wife indicated this was the way things were done.

Just Get in Line and Do Some Sweating

As it turned out the advice we were getting from this agency was totally wrong.  But first let me back track a bit.  After getting officially married we took a trip to Jakarta where we planned out first foray to the US embassy.  My wife said we needed to get up early because people start lining up outside the gates hours before the embassy officially opens.  So we woke up early, ate a quick breakfast and took a taxi to the embassy where we discovered there was already a really long line outside the gates.

We got in line and waited in the morning heat with hundreds of other people.  Hours went by and it seemed like the line wasn’t moving at all.  It was also getting progressively hotter.  It felt so hot that the beads of sweat on my forehead had their own beads of sweat.  I was slowly melting in the hot Indonesian sun and humidity.  Finally after several hours of waiting we neared the pearly gates of the embassy.  Yes!!  Salvation was in sight.  There were a few embassy staff that were checking documents and when they reached us they asked for our passports.  When they saw that I had a US passport they looked at me like I was an idiot and said “You know since you are a US citizen you don’t have to wait in line.  Just show your passport at the gate and they will let you in.”  Great!!  It would have been nice to have known that 3 hours ago before I lost 10 pounds in sweat weight.

US Citizen Coming Through!

After that I was like the big man on campus, flashing my passport at the gates like I was royalty.  “Make way…US citizen coming through!!”  But I did feel bad for everyone who had to wait in that long line.  I think they have a different system these days where you have to make an appointment to be seen.  No more long lines.  Either way it is good to know that your US passport gains you immediate entry into the embassy.

So at this point we were inside the embassy.  Our agent had told us that we needed to apply for a tourist visa and then once we were in the US apply for a marriage or spousal visa.  After talking with embassy personnel it turns out this was completely false.  In fact because we were married we couldn’t apply for the tourist visa.  I had already suspected this based on the research I had already done online but I went with it out of respect for my wife who still trusted the agent.  After getting the correct information from embassy staff we proceeded to apply for a spousal visa (this turned out to be quite an involved process with several trips having to be made to the embassy).  Because we were married in Indonesia we had to apply for the spousal or fiancé(e) (K3) visa. (Believe me when I say there is a lot of paperwork involved).

Standing Our Ground

As we left the embassy we were once again greeted by a staff member of the agency who demanded our documents.  I refused and he out of desperation he tried to grab them from my wife.  I quickly blocked him and let him know that their services were no longer needed.  But that wasn’t the end of it.  It took me personally answering several calls to my wife’s cell phone and being very forceful in letting them know that we were terminating all services before they got the message and left us alone.  It was actually pretty tense as neither of us knew what they might do or even what they were capable of doing.

Based on our personal experience I don’t recommend using an agent for embassy matters.  I know that plenty of people do and there is a thriving market for such services and maybe at times they can be useful but in our experience embassy staff are the most knowledgeable about what is required when applying for a visa.  Why go to a third party when you can go to the source and the people that ultimately make the decisions?

So after firing our agent and going it solo we finally started making some headway in the process.  We only had about a week left before I needed to get back to the US for my job and it seemed like everything was on track to get the visa.  But then we hit a snag and it all came crashing down.

Check out Part 2 here to see how it all turns out and learn how we were able to get a document from the Indonesian government in one day that usually takes weeks to get.

If you missed the earlier post on how I met my wife, you can check it out right here.  Love Conquers Fear.

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