Having a Bangladeshi passport (despite being born & raised in Malaysia – long story short: Malaysia is not a jus soli country and I am a Permanent Resident in Malaysia) means that I need to get a visa for about 90% of the world.

Bangladesh Passport Cover by Russell John
Bangladesh Passport Cover by Russell John

The Netherlands is one of those countries. As The Netherlands is part of the Schengen agreement, this makes my Dutch visa applicable to many other European countries, which is great – I took advantage of the Schengen benefit to visit both Sweden and Denmark on my last Euro trip. (The annoying thing about Schengen is that, despite the UK being in the European Union, it’s not a Schengen country – I’ll need a separate visa, and I can’t visit my sister in Bristol this time round. boo.)

The thing with Bangladesh passports is that many countries make it a high-risk passport, which means it normally takes longer than usual for me to get a visa. It doesn’t matter that I’ve spent my whole life in Malaysia, that I’ve been travelling since I was a baby, that I have been in Australia for two years. Because my passport is green and comes from a Third-World country, I’m somehow a travel risk.

When I asked KP NL to fax over an invite letter to the Netherlands Embassy in Malaysia, the staff member asked (paraphrased): “can’t you just apply for a tourist visa? I’m sure our country isn’t that xenophobic!”. I am applying for a tourist (short-stay) visa – that’s why I need the invite letter! I don’t know if xenophobia has a part in it, but it’s more bureaucracy than anything else.

The naivety of people who’ve never had to deal with visas can be really cute sometimes. Though it does mean that KP NL will have to be prepared for dealing with student visas.

So anyway. I found out about my invite when I was in Brisbane, but I was flying to Malaysia on the 8th. I contacted both the Brisbane and Kuala Lumpur consulates asking what to do. I found out that all visa applications had to go through the Netherlands anyway, so I figured – couldn’t I just send the application in Brisbane and get the visa in Kuala Lumpur?

No go, says KL. They need to know that I’m legit.

Brisbane isn’t a go anyway; they’ll have to send it to Sydney, and by the time my passport gets there, I have to go to Malaysia.

I arrived in KL on Sunday night and on Monday morning my dad and I went to the Netherlands embassy to hand in my application. The form, two photos, Dad’s bank statements (since he bought my plane tickets), the letters from KP NL, a letter from my university stating I was a student in Brisbane, and copies of IDs and insurance and such. They’re sending it to The Netherlands (it should be there now), and hopefully I’ll get it back in time.

Dad had just come back from Amsterdam, though it did take a little while for the clerk at the embassy to recognize him. Hopefully this would be a plus in our favour.

Getting the Swedish visa last year for the KP workshop in Stockholm was an adventure all to itself. I had less than a week, and I knew that trying to get my parents’ approval would delay the process.

I went to the Swedish Embassy in Brisbane first thing in the morning, and explained my predicament. The lady took a look at the papers and told me that chances were low because even Australians needed a month for visas. She called up the Sydney office for me – then looked at me in surprise as she explained my luck.

If I could get all the papers in order within two hours, the visa is mine.

This meant that I had to buy my plane tickets on my own. I definitely wasn’t going to inform the parents yet, and looking for funds won’t work. I had money in my account set aside for uni fees, which was enough to cover my airfare.

I went to the Flight Centre office in Brisbane and went through the cheapest airfares. The main complication was that return seats were filled up, and in one case a return via Bangkok was not viable because the layover would have been 14 hours and I needed a visa for anything above 12 hours. Eventually we worked out a flight plan that went Brisbane – Singapore – Amsterdam – Stockholm – Amsterdam – Tokyo – Sydney – Brisbane. Over $2000 gone in an instant.

With my tickets, insurance, letters, and passport, I handed over my application. The chances were good but still super risky. I decided not to tell my family about it until I had the visa in my hands.

In the meantime I arranged my own accommodation. Couchsurfing and the Hospitality Club wasn’t working out for me, so I had to find a hostel. I found The Red Boat, a youth hostel that was actually a pair of moored boats on the Stockholm river. I placed a long distance call and had my room.

Three days later, my visa arrived. I was shaking; this is the first time I’d applied for a visa on my own, and I did it. My dad kept telling me that I’ll never be successful at visas with my Bangladesh passport unless I had him and his job to support me, but I did it. I didn’t need my parents’ status. I just had me.

My parents didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when they heard the news.

I eventually made it to Stockholm (and a side trip to Copenhagen and Aarhus) on my own. It was very challenging, especially since I was jetlagged, a bit culture-shocked, and was recovering from massive uni assignments. I was extremely exhausted and battered on the way home – especially when I had to go through 10-hour layours in both Tokyo and Sydney, find out that I was rejected from KP Stockholm while in Tokyo with no one to console me, and had to fight for a new flight when my Sydney-Brisbane flight was cancelled and no one was helping me get onto a new one (except for the lovely Flight Centre lady – thank you!!).

Despite all that though, the trip was absolutely worth it. I proved that I could apply for a visa on my own merit. I did a solo international trip and didn’t get into trouble. I could take care of myself. I could survive massive challenges. I did feel that I didn’t want to look at planes for a while (not possible, since I flew home a week later!) but I survived.

At least this time round it’ll be easier flight-wise. Accommodation’s been taken care of, and it’s just JB-KL-Amsterdam; no crazy stopovers. Rotterdam is just 50 minutes away by train. All I have to worry about is whether someone will try to feed me hash brownies (eww pot).

Now all I have to wait for is my visa.

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