Moshi sat across the desk and seemed more like a new friend than a consulate worker, asking me why I’d only be in Bangladesh for a night. He was clearly disappointed, and mentioned to me all the things I’d miss, asking me if I’d consider staying longer. He was proud of his country, seemed happy I was going for a visit, but sincerely saddened I’d only be there for such a short stop.
Unless you’re planning a trip to Bangladesh, or are super interested in the very inconsistent processes of obtaining foreign visas for travel, you may wanna just skip right past this blog. You won’t hurt my feelings, I promise. But I notice there is often great mystery surrounding the goings-on at consulates and usually very little information online about what it’s actually like applying for a visa at these places: wait times, customer service, tips and tricks, etc. So I wanted to offer some in-depth details for future travelers to Bangladesh; a play-by-play of what you might expect when you arrive at the consulate to ask for a visa. If Bangladesh isn’t in your immediate future, then you might just want to check out this article: a general overview of the different kinds of visas you’ll need for various nations.
Facebook Check In
Oh, you’re still here? Okay, on with the show…
Seconds after posting on Facebook that I was at the Bangladesh Consulate to apply for a tourist visa, I got flooded with comments from fellow travelers advising me that visa on arrival was available, as if I had made a terrible mistake by wasting my time traveling all the way to the consulate. After all, Americans were given the privilege of just “showing up” and getting their visa right there at the airport, upon arrival in Dhaka. I was grateful to have so many travel-savvy and thoughtful friends, but there was a reason I was going to all this extra trouble to get a visa that most people just obtain upon arrival: time.
If I had planned a week in Bangladesh, I could spare the time it would take to wait in line for my VOA at the airport, but in true Ramblin’ Randy fashion, I didn’t have a week. I didn’t even have two days. I had less than 24-hours in Dhaka, and that meant I had to make sure every second counted. That means no checked bag (I never check a bag anyway), I’d arrive prepared with taxi information and currency exchange rates in my notes, and I’d already (hopefully) have my visa, securely stuck to a page in my passport. Maybe a visa on arrival would only take a few minutes, but what if it took hours? I flashed back to arriving in Nairobi last month (terminal two), where the visa on arrival line was backed up for a mile–easily a 90-minute wait to get into the country…and how thankful I was that I had ordered the eVisa in advance. Ain’t nobody got time fo’ dat! And while Bangladesh does not yet offer the easy and convenient eVisa, I’d rather put my time in now, while I can spare it, than give up precious minutes, or even hours, from my actual time on the ground in Dhaka. So I was heading to Los Angeles to ask for a visa in advance.
The Early Bird Gets the Visa
I live in San Diego and had to be in L.A. for business on Friday anyway, so the timing was perfect. Technically I was on company time, so even better! I’d arrived the night before and would head to the consulate first thing in the morning to drop off my documents. I had to pick up some co-workers arriving at the train station in downtown Los Angeles at 10:00AM, and the consular section of the office wouldn’t open until 9:30AM, so I was pressed for time. I knew it wouldn’t be a good idea to leave my boss waiting long at the train station, so I did everything in my power to get in and get out. Many things would be out of my control–like the number of other people waiting, speed of the consulate workers, etc.–but anything I could do on my end to ensure a speedy and efficient visit, you better believe I did.
It started by just getting their early. L.A. traffic is notoriously awful, so I planned on arriving super early to find a parking spot, and then grab breakfast if I had a surplus of time. The drive from Pasadena to Wilshire Blvd. in Los Angeles wasn’t bad and I indeed arrived with plenty of time to spare: time to find free street parking and even grab a bite at the nearby Café Americano, which was a nice surprise to find in a nearby strip mall. 20 minutes later, documents in hand and food in my belly, I was ready to head over to the consulate, with plenty of time to spare. I learned it’s best to arrive far in advance of the doors opening, to secure your place in line. For example, when I visited the Iraq consulate, there were at least a dozen people waiting in line before the office even opened–this could easily add an hour or more to your wait. I would show up as early as a fan girl trying to sit front row at a general admission Backstreet Boys concert.
But right before I decided to head into the office, I realized that I may indeed need a money order. While the consulate’s website instructed to pay a USD $160 fee, with no mention of a money order, I’ve been to this rodeo before. It would be just my luck if they didn’t accept cash. Luckily, there was a 7-11 next door, so I ran in for a money order. I needed to be prepared for anything.
The Eagle has Landed
Unlike the similar big office building where the Turkish Consulate was located, just up the street, I didn’t need to sign in with security on my visit here. I recalled that there were at least a dozen people in line to sign in when I arrived at the Turkish office last year–and that was just for permission to enter the main building, just to ride the elevator up to the consulate. But here, at least today, it was a ghost town. The lone security guard simply directed me to the third floor. No sign in, no ID check, and no one else in sight.
The Lights are on, but Nobody’s Home
I was standing next to the front door of the consulate by 8:30AM, and thankfully, I was the first to arrive: goal #1, accomplished! For at this very moment, there was a train from San Diego speeding towards Los Angeles, on time, with my boss inside. I was hoping my stop here would be quick. The main office would open at 9AM, with the consular section opening at 9:30AM. But by 9:05 the doors were still locked and I still hadn’t seen a soul: no other customers nor staff. Uh oh. Was this a special Bangladeshi holiday, or did these workers just roll in whenever they wanted to? 10, 11AM, noon? I feared the worst.
Open for Business
Just when I was starting to feel defeated–that I’d wasted my time on a trip to Los Angeles and money on the hotel–I heard music to my ears. It was a man singing down the hall, heading in my direction to open the doors of the consulate. We exchanged “good mornings” and he invited me right in. It was 9:07.
To my surprise, the man assisted me immediately. The consular section wasn’t scheduled to open until 9:30AM, but by 9:12 I was sitting at a big desk, handing over my documents to Moshi. A few interesting notes: instead of passing my application through a glass window, I was seated at a big desk in the middle of the waiting room, surrounded by couches. The standard Plexiglas windows did indeed exist here, but nowhere near where we were sitting. I was treated more like a guest than a visa applicant, which was nice. Moshi sat across the desk and seemed more like a new friend than a consulate worker, asking me why I’d only be in Bangladesh for a night. He was clearly disappointed, and mentioned to me all the things I’d miss, asking me if I’d consider staying longer. He was proud of his country, seemed happy I was going for a visit, but sincerely saddened I’d only be there for such a short stop. Honestly, if he would have offered me bread and coffee at this point, I wouldn’t have been surprised.
Sure enough, they do not accept cash, so grabbing that money order last minute proved to be my hail Mary. I handed over my documents, one by one, as Moshi dropped some more small talk, then told me to have seat on the couch while he took my documents to the back. Could I be getting a visa right now, on the spot? Their website said six weeks, but maybe I’d gotten lucky?
By now there was just one other customer in the lobby, a nice Bangladeshi lady who was curious about my trip. She was very pleasant, adding to my positive opinion of the country–an opinion that was already forming before I’d even arrived. So far, every Bangladeshi I met was just super pleasant, positive and welcoming.
Soon, Moshi appeared again, this time with a receipt for my passport and payment. He informed me that the man who’s in charge of approving these visas wasn’t in today, but my application would be processed next week. They would use the postage-paid next-day express envelope that I’d submitted, to return my passport. I thanked Moshi, shook his hand, and was out the door before 9:40AM, beating my boss to the train station and arriving minutes before he was out on the curb. We had a productive weekend in L.A. and I was so happy to be able to fit the consulate in without having to take a day off.
And it got better: I’d applied for my visa on a Friday and had it in my hand, surprisingly, on the following Wednesday. I hadn’t even began to check the USPS tracking on it. They’d processed and approved my visa in less than two business days, wow!
Bottom line, a very positive experience at the Consulate General of Bangladesh Los Angeles. As always, your experience may vary, but I found that with a little planning and having all of my documents ready (which included photos, money order, itinerary, etc.), the whole thing was a breeze and kudos to Moshi for the pleasantries and great service. Now I’m even more disappointed that I’m not staying longer. I did notice that I was granted a five-year visa with multiple entries. Maybe this was Moshi’s way of encouraging me to come back again and stay longer.