I have a little known passport from little known Trinidad & Tobago (T&T). I have survived years of travel with it, but that does not mean it has always been smooth travel.
Bhutan Immigration Officer: “This is the first time I’m seeing this passport. (looks up at me) So that’s what your people look like?”
Singapore Immigration Officer: “I know Dwight York who plays for Manchester United. So your country close to Africa, how come you not African like him?”
Yemen Embassy Officer in Paris: “Your country has a really long name. Where is it, show me on a map.”
Malaysian Immigration Officer: “I know T&T, your country close to Jamaica. Can you speak Jamaican like Bob Marley?”
Turkish Immigration Officer: “I don’t know this country. What is Caribbean Community? Do you need a visa to come here?”
I’ll keep stressing that it is little known around the world! And although T&T has visa free entry/visa on arrival agreements with 103 countries, I swear it feels like much less in reality! At least when you travel and live around the globe like me.
Sometimes I wonder why I never seized the opportunity to live longer in the US, UK, Singapore or even Australia to change citizenship, but then I remember that my travelling hotfoot refused to stay put for so long. So here I am planning 2015 travels and wishing again I had an American or European passport to just book a one way flight and not worry about planning where exactly I want to go and forward plan visas for the next few months.
Thinking back though, life with a little known passport has made travel extra interesting. It has also made me tolerant to some of the stupid questions I have been asked. Stories my American, European, Asian, heck almost everybody else do not seem to understand but enjoy vicariously through me. Most of my international friends had never heard off, much less know where T&T was located, before they met me…so that’s a plus right? And lucky for them, they were forced to plan their trips in advance because their popular first question quickly became “does Marissa need a visa to go there?” I kid you not.
When the Thai Consulate opened in Trinidad, I almost hugged the visa officer for saving me from having to FedEx my passport to their Embassy in Canada. When T&T opened a real embassy and not an “honorary consulate” in China in 2014, all I could think was “freaking finally, we’re moving up!”
I even had an American colleague who would joke that I have a fake passport from a fake country so maybe I have a fake identity too. He’s lucky I liked him!
So what is it really like traveling with a little known passport? Here are some of my favourites over the years:
THAI EMBASSY IN SINGAPORE
We “killed” off my Thai friend’s grandfather in order to get me a Thai visa. Naive me thought I would be able to get it in Singapore (like I did when I worked in Singapore). Turns out I could only apply in Canada since I was no longer a working resident in Singapore. Lesson learnt! But not giving up, a trek to the T&T Honorary Consulate in Singapore (me surprised they even had one there in 2004!) for help turned out to be fruitless so what did we conspire? My Thai friend wrote a letter to her High Commission and faxed it to the Embassy in Singapore to practically beg for my visa. Her grandfather had just “died” and she needed me there. She called up crying too. Full drama works to get this visa (sorry Thai Embassy!). On a happier note, I did spend quality time with her ailing grandfather when I got to Bangkok.
TRANSITING IN SWITZERLAND WITHOUT A SWISS VISA
Friends will never let you live it down for favours like this. Travelling at the time of no liquids in August 2007 confused not only passengers but duty free staff too. Some just never got the memo. The staff in Madrid swore (after I asked three times) that I could take my new Spanish perfume through Zurich and onto Boston where I was based. Turns out security staff in Zurich did not agree. I had to dispose of my new perfume even though we were only connecting in the Zurich airport. I refused to give up so easily. The Swiss lounge offered two options: (1) I could mail it to myself in Boston or (2) exit and check in a piece of luggage with it. Three problems with these (1) there was only a postcard mailbox in the airport (yes I did try stuffing the bottle in to see if it would fit and was caught on camera too), (2) we were transiting, our luggage was checked all the way through and (3) I had no Swiss visa to exit past immigration (Switzerland joined the Schengen zone only after this incident, just my luck!). So my dear American friend, excited she would get a stamp in her passport, offered to exit and check her computer bag with my lone perfume in it. Now I will never look at a small bag on the luggage carousel ever again wondering “who the heck checks such a small bag?” I’ll also forever be grateful to my American friend who is still upset she never got a stamp by Swiss immigration.
FRENCH EMBASSY IN TRINIDAD
The French Embassy has noted on their system from two prior Schengen visa applications that I previously lived and worked in Paris. So much so the visa officer recognized me. Yet on the third application, I had to go in for a special interview. Why? They thought I was a potential drug trafficker for leaving my job and just travelling. I know it’s rare, but it’s not totally unheard off. Suddenly I was a suspect and I had to explain every single visa and stamp in my two attached passports – from Nepal to Singapore, Australia to Bhutan. Damn you Amsterdam for being in my passport! I did get the visa though and avoid as much as possible applying with the French.
MOROCCAN EMBASSY IN PARIS
Have you ever had to beg and bargain for a visa? Seems to be the story of my life. It took three visits to the Moroccan Embassy in Paris to finally get the visa…literally a stamp they put in my passport. Why? They had to “investigate” if they can give me a visa nevermind I was a legal resident in France and living there at the time. I had to go sit in the supervisor’s office while she fiddled her thumb thinking whether she should or shouldn’t grant my T&T passport a visa. She made me give her reasons why she should grant me one. I only wanted to go for a birthday trip…my birthday!
IMMIGRATION IN JORDAN
I was stoked to find out I could get visa on arrival. I printed the Embassy’s website info just in case the officer rejected me on arrival (yes experience with that too but that’s another Thai story). He looked at my passport and read out loud “Tree-nee-dad and Too-bahhh-goo” then looked up and asked me “You from Togo?” If only we were allowed to say WTF to these officers whose lives we depend on to let us into their country. Really? It took some consultation with two other officers to finally realise T&T IS on their visa on arrival list and IS a real country before letting me through to join my friends who had all gone through without problems.
IMMIGRATION IN BOSTON, MA, USA
This is one of my favourites considering the system showed I was a student in Boston a few years earlier and I worked too for a company in Boston holding a US work permit.
Officer: “So why is a young lady with a Trinidad and Tobago passport living in Paris, coming via London (British Airways flight) to Boston?”
Me wanting to respond: “so why can’t a young lady have a T&T passport, live in Paris and travel via London to Boston?”
They really made me explain how an islander holding a T&T passport and so young could have such a jet setting job. Was it really that hard to believe people can leave the island and travel as much as me? Or was it because I was a ” young girl” doing it? I often wonder.
So as I plan my 2015 travels and dread visa applications or consult with Embassies on if and when I can apply at other embassies while I’m on the road instead of only the ones with jurisdiction for T&T (good thing I’m a logistics expert by trade right?), I may wish to have a more popular passport but deep down I know my travels won’t be as interesting without my T&T passport and educating people around the world on where it is located.
Afterall, when everyone else learns the basic “hello” and “thank you” in foreign languages, I’m also quickly learning this too – “it’s a small island, the last one in the Caribbean. You know the Caribbean? It’s next to the top of Venezuela, you know Venezuela right? South America?”