Have you ever booked an international trip only 8 hours in advance? I have! It’s kind of a funny story.
I’m currently sitting in an apartment in Dublin. Rob and I hastily left New York a few days ago as we had to renew our US visa.
We’re currently living in the US on an E3 visa (which is a working visa for Australians working in specialty occupations). Rob is the only one of us that qualifies, but as we’re married, I’m able to be a dependent on his visa so we can both live in the US.
The visa lasts 2 years and is sponsored by Rob’s employer, which is currently Yahoo. Sometime last year, Yahoo announced that it would be bought out by Verizon. All very boring stuff, I know, but what it meant for us is that we would need to get a new visa to reflect the new company. Nobody knew when the official company handover would take place, except that it would probably be Q2 of 2017.
Getting a new visa is a unique process. Most US working visas, like the common H1B visa, can be renewed without having to leave the country. Our visa is slightly different. As it’s a non-immigrant visa (which means it can’t ever lead to a green card) we are required to go to a US embassy every time we have to renew it.
We’ve actually gotten the E3 visa twice before (also a funny story, which you can read about here) but this time it was a little different.
Last Tuesday, Yahoo’s immigration lawyers finally advised us that we needed to get a new visa ASAP (they literally told Rob to “book a visa appointment this week if possible!”). It turns out that the company had finally settled on the handover date, so we needed to get our new visa urgently.
As you can imagine, we spent a few hours freaking out then hastily started figuring out what we had to do for our visa trip.
The lawyers gave us our choice of US embassy, so we used this site to compare a few of the closest embassies with the shortest visa processing times and landed on Dublin. We’d both never been to Ireland before and it was only a 6 hour flight from New York. Why not use this opportunity to explore a new country?
By Tuesday night, we’d filled out our visa paperwork and booked an appointment at the US embassy for later in the week. On Wednesday morning, we booked our international flights, and on Wednesday evening we jumped on the overnight flight to Dublin.
I’d never flown with Aer Lingus before, but they turned out to be a decent airline. We were seated behind the bulkhead, which was both a good and bad thing – good because we got extra legroom, and bad because we had an infant seated beside us who managed to throw her teddy, shoes, and pacifier on top of me during the first 2 hours of the flight. I was grateful that she fell asleep for the remainder.
On arrival, we took a taxi to our hotel only to discover that the booking had been cancelled without my knowing. This was the last thing I wanted to deal with after only 2 hours sleep on the red-eye from New York. After a few minutes of angry conversation with the receptionist, I gave up and managed to find a different, though slightly more expensive apartment hotel nearby which would take us for the next 8 nights.
On Friday morning we made our way to the US embassy in Dublin for our visa appointment, which is always an odd experience. We weren’t overly nervous about it being the third time that we’d gone through the process, but anyone who is doing it for the first time might find it intimidating.
First we had go through rigorous security to get inside the embassy, much like in any US airport. Once inside, we lined up in a queue for foreigners (non-Americans) who were there to acquire a US visa.
We waited around half an hour in this line. Once it was our turn at the window, we handed over our large stack of visa documents and our passports, answered a few questions, and then waited in yet another line for our official “visa interview”.
This line was shorter as some of the people from the first line were denied their visas and so didn’t line up for an interview. In some embassies, you can actually overhear the reasons they are getting rejected (usually because they’re applying for a tourist or student visa and they’ve admitted that they’ll be working while they’re in the US, which is a big no-no).
Our interview was fairly straightforward as we weren’t applying for a new visa, just renewing our current one. We didn’t even have to present our marriage certificate this time around, just had our fingerprints scanned and that was pretty much it.
After recovering our possessions from security and departing the embassy, all we had to do was wait a few business days for our visas to be processed.
Now came the fun part. We’re both working remotely from Dublin during the week (this is a business trip, after all) but as our visa appointment was on a Friday, we had the whole weekend to enjoy our trip to Ireland.
Dublin has turned out to be lovely, despite the weather! Our weekend included copious tastings of Guinness and Irish Whiskey, as well as some sightseeing activities around the city. It’s unfortunate that we won’t be exploring any other parts of Ireland while we’re here, but that can be saved for another trip.
Last minute trips are certainly not my cup of tea, usually I’m a stickler for booking travel in advance. In the past, I’ve been known to book flights 8 months ahead (for our 3 month backpacking trip through Europe in 2013) so you can imagine that I found it rather stressful to book international flights literally the same day as we were travelling.
Was it expensive to book those flights so close to our travel time? Hell, yes. It cost probably twice as much as it normally would to find last-minute flights and accommodation, but luckily Yahoo is funding those for us and it’s honestly their fault that it was so last-minute (they could have been more organised and told us that we needed to do this a few months/weeks ahead).
While it’s been a pretty crazy week, I’m actually rather proud that Rob and I were able to confidently handle this last-minute trip. It’s impressive that we were able to fill out visa paperwork, book international flights, book accommodation, change hotel when the first one fell through, and attend a visa interview all within the space of 4 days. And of course, it’s been a great opportunity to take a spontaneous trip to Ireland!