Jeeze, where do I start? I guess I’ll begin by saying my 2016 trip to Caracas is one of the trips I’ve been most excited about in a long time, and for all the wrong reasons. Apparently, Venezuela is pretty dangerous. How dangerous, you ask? Well, let me put it to you this way:
Often many countries get a bad rap right? For instance, people will go around telling others how “dangerous” countries like Brazil and Colombia are. However, when you actually meet a real person from said country, they are quick to tell you it’s never “as bad as it sounds,” and come to the defense of their beloved country, encouraging you to visit and adamantly denying the “rumors,” as blown out of proportion. “It’s not that bad,” they insist, and “Just don’t walk around with flashy jewelry,” are the common answers.
Venezuela, however, is different.
Every time I’ve told a Venezuelan that I am visiting their country, they give me a confused look and ask “why?” Then they warn me about going and ask me “why” again. This is just a little concerning. Kind of exciting at the same time though, to me at least.
But I’ve got to do it. My first travel goal was to see all of the Americas by the time I turn 40, and it’s a race against the clock. I’m 39 and have yet to set foot in: Ecuador, Colombia, Jamaica, Bahamas, St. Vincent…and the big V! Venezuela! I have no other options. It’s time to go.
Getting into Venezuela, as an American, is tougher than even Brasil: who requires you get a visa in advance, in person, from the Brasilian Consulate. Nope, to get a Venezuelan visa you must not only show up at your local Venezuelan Consulate with your passport, application and a $30 money order; but you must also provide: a passport photo, proof of employment (letter from employer), bank records (statement or letter from the bank), copies of booked airline itineraries and a prepaid shipping envelope so they can send everything back to you after they process your visa. Yes, they keep your passport while they process your visa, it’s not done in person, “while you wait!”
To make it worse, there are only nine Venezuelan consulates in the U.S., and you have to physically come to the consulate in person; and unlike the application Brasil process, you cannot send anyone else to apply on your behalf. (There are companies that specialize in getting these visas for customers, but can’t be used in this case). I live in San Diego, which means I had to make the trek all the way up to San Francisco. Most people would say, “F that!, too much trouble,” but I’m different. I live for challenges like these. Happy to make the trip up to the Bay.
I flew in to Sacramento on a Sunday morning because I needed to drive up to Redding (2 hours north of Sacramento) for a business lunch. By 8PM I was chillin’ in my hotel room in downtown San Francisco, giving my papers one final look-over to make sure everything was good to go. From my experience, they don’t mess around at consulates–you better make sure you’re on top of your stuff. One thing missing and you’re shown the door, forced to get whatever is missing and make a trip back. I only had a two-hour window in the morning, before I had to catch my plane and get back to work. I could spare no errors.
Ironically, in the morning I awoke to the sound of protestors. They were marching below my 11th floor hotel room with signs and a very obnoxious bull horn. I couldn’t place the shouter’s accent, but it was assertive and kinda scary, straight out of a weird dream. They were picketing the hotel I was staying in; the signs complained of lack of contracts. The protesters chanted, “It’s check out time!” For whatever reason they were marching, I felt it ironic because protesting (both peaceful and violent) are reported to be a common occurrence in the very country I am here in San Francisco to ask permission to visit. This just made me more excited. What a weirdo, I know.
I pulled up to the consulate at 8:13AM and found primo metered parking directly across the street. There seemed to be ample street parking at this hour, on both sides of the street, and a public parking garage if all else failed. I could see there were already four or five people inside the glass lobby of 1161 Mission Street, that looked like they were waiting to do business when the office opened at 9. I grabbed a quick breakfast at The Honey Bistro, just a few doors down at Mission and 7th, before arriving back at the consulate by 8:40AM.
I stood silently in the lobby, with seven others waiting outside the doors of the office. Silently, until they found out I was a traveling to Venezuela for tourism! Funny how that all of a sudden opened up the conversation! Here comes a steady onslaught of questions leading with the ever-popular “Why?” and then “For what?!” and “Have you researched Venezuela???” “Do you know what you’re getting into???” All attention was on me as they poked and prodded this Gringo as to why in the world he was venturing to Venezuela.
They were actually very nice people–all Venezuelans–and we all had a fun conversation as we waited for the doors to open. One group of young ladies who lived in Bakersfield were there to renew their Venezuelan passports. Another lady was there from Denver. We chatted and their friendly interrogation continued–they asked what I did for a living and what I wanted to see in Venezuela. Funny thing was, I was just as curious as they were, and prodded back with inquiries about their lives, their country, how long they have lived in the US, etc. We touched on Venezuelan politics just for a moment, before we all agreed that discussing such topics at a Venezuelan government office may not be such a great idea.
One of the ladies mentioned that I’d have to bring my own toilet paper. She wasn’t joking! The economic crisis in Venezuela is real. More on that HERE.
Soon the door opened, and we filed in, taking our place behind a desk stationed in the middle of the room.
The inside of the consulate was very interesting: one big open room, separated in half by a row of file cabinets and bookshelves. Tall ceilings and yellow walls. It almost resembled a classroom or activity center; it was nothing like your standard DMV-type “service” center. No glass partitions or counters, no stanchions or “numbers” to take; just a big yellow room with historic paintings on the wall and nationalistic trinkets on every shelf. A big knitted blanket with the colors of the Venezuelan flag adorned a big chair in the corner, a few framed pictures of Hugo Chavez were scattered about the shelves and a giant 3D black and gold Consulate “seal” was mounted on the back wall. The one thing I would’ve loved to take home was the Hugo Chavez bobble head, sitting on one of the bookshelves. I eyed it several times—what a cool souvenir that would have been to take home!
We signed in, one by one, and I took a seat and hung out with my new Venezuelan-Bakersfield friends. There was a little waiting area in the corner with two couches and some chairs, next to a small entertainment system that was playing some great Venezuelan music. I caught myself bobbing my head a couple times.
I was called up back to the desk not more than ten minutes later, where I presented by documents to two female officials. My heart almost sank after I mentioned that I wasn’t traveling until July and one of the ladies replied with, “That’s too early (to apply for a visa).” Fortunately it wasn’t that I couldn’t “apply” this much in advance of my travel—she just meant that the visa would only be valid for a year after it was issued; so since I would be getting the visa in December, and my travel wasn’t until July, that meant I’d only have less than six months left on the visa, which made no difference to me. I was then told to have a seat and wait to be called back.
Not ten minutes later I was called back up and told I was all set and that’s all they needed from me. I was all done. Gladys was the lady who assisted me and she was very pleasant. Not gonna lie, I was hoping for a little more: some questions, or anything else that would cause me to hang out for a little bit longer and experience this small piece of Venezuela here in the states, but no such luck. I asked Gladys how long it would take to get my visa back and she told me five days. It was back to my car and off to the airport to get back into the office.
Visiting the Consulado General de la Republica Bolivariana de Venezuela was a really cool experience that just got me more jazzed about visiting this interesting and troubled country.
You have to leave all your documents with the consulate–including your passport–that’s always kind of nerve-wracking. You also must leave them a pre-paid USPS or UPS envelope with tracking. I applied for my visa on a Monday and I am pleased to report that everything arrived to my office on Thursday. Four days, not bad!
Read some of the comments below for the latest updates and experiences, and please leave your own comment if you’ve been to the consulate recently!
Well, I made it to Caracas…amazing trip, but very scary! READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE!
UPDATE 4: Well friends, it looks like in just a few short months, the entire visa process has been turned upside down. Please read the comments below from updates from readers who’ve went to the embassy for their visas–some successful, some unsuccessful. Please read the updates, and leave your own if you have an experience.