I-visa almost done

Finally, I’m almost there with the i-visa.

Yesterday, I made a brief trip to Passport Photo Service to get the much fabled 2“x2” photos of myself sorted out. The hardest part of that was finding the place: it’s nestled opposite Selfridge’s on Oxford Street, next door to Phones4u, I think.

You have to climb up 17 flights of stairs to get there, but once you’re in, everything’s very simple. You go in, say you’d like a US i-visa photo, they stick you on a chair, give you a minute and a mirror to prepare yourself, then take the photo. If you like it, they print out a couple (for £5.95; it’s £11.95 for four) and off you go. I reckon the whole process took about five minutes, including getting a receipt.

Today, though, was the date of the interview down at the US embassy. I set that up last week, so there’s clearly not much of a backlog.

At current exchange rates, the $100 fee for the visa interview will cost you £57 or so, but it’ll soon be heading towards a straight 1-1 $ to £ conversion by the time you’ve finished your premium rate call to set up the interview: looking at my recent Onetel bill, the call lasted seven minutes, for which I was charged £9.24.

The interview itself was remarkably easy. The hardest part was getting to Grosvenor Square by 8am. Read on for details of the interview itself.

Firstly, don’t laden yourself down with things that might make time go by more quickly. No electronic items are allowed in the embassy, not even an iPod or a mobile phone; you can’t take liquids in with you, either, so take a book and some money so you can buy £1.50 self-service coffee while you’re waiting.

I got there at 7.45. I wasn’t the first there and I wasn’t the last. After half an hour of queuing, you get through to security, for which you have to remove all metal items, including watches and belts, and hand over your keys to the security people for collection later. Once out of security, you can merrily wander past machine-gun toting police officers as you try to put your belt back on.

The reception is on the other side of the building. After the receptionist has checked all your letters and application forms, you’re given a number and told to wait in a lounge area upstairs decorated with posters boasting of the spread of democracy to Chile. I recommend reading that book you brought with you instead.

It took about five minutes for my number to be called out. You go see a man at a window. He takes all your documentation and then electronically fingerprints you. When that’s done, you get a blue form and you have to sit down again.

Don’t be a spanner (like me) and read just one side

Read the blue form. Both sides. Don’t be a spanner (like me) and read just one side, only to discover later while you’re queuing that there’s something very vital on the reverse. You have to fill in your personal details on the back of the form, so that the courier company, SMS, can deliver you back your passport when the embassy’s done with it. Take a pen with you, too: apparently, it doesn’t count as a stabbing weapon or a liquid.

It takes about 20 minutes before you’re called for your interview. If that’s too long for you, buy one of those cups of coffee, since that will make them call out your number just as you sit down again.

The interview was ridiculously easy. I think the nice man behind the stab-proof window asked three questions in total, although given this was to renew my i-visa, not to obtain a completely new one, maybe that shouldn’t be surprising. Then, the nice gentleman promised me my visa might be ready by tomorrow or Friday, even, and sent me on my way. Efficient, huh?

Once done, you take your blue form to the courier counter, hand over £13.50 (cash, credit or debit card, etc accepted) and off you go. I left at 9.30, I think, making it less than two hours from start to finish.

I’m not sure exactly when they’re going to deliver my passport yet: five working days is the promise. Showing a real degree of sophistication and irony, SMS asked for my mobile number so they can SMS me when they know when they’re going to deliver it; I then have the option to upgrade to a more flexible, more expensive delivery option, such as a Saturday or pre-8am (£20 extra). Whether I’ll need to speak to a human or simply text “Saturday” to a premium rate number, I don’t know. Whenever you decide you’d like it delivered, you’ll need to be in to sign for the passport and have some form of ID with you, or else you can’t have it.

In retrospect, most of the effort is in getting all the forms filled out and getting all the raw materials. But it’s done. Yet another mandatory requirement for the job sorted for another five years.

Hope I haven’t just hexed things.

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