How to almost NOT be allowed entry into South Africa

Having worked for over 5 months back in Berkeley, we were all super excited to head to South Africa, a place which none of us had previously visited. The entire journey to JoBurg was fairly good, except for the Delta flight from Minneapolis to Amsterdam. (try and fly another airline, if you have a choice!) Well, you may think we got into the country and all was well. Nah, that wouldn’t really justify a blog post. It wasn’t that easy. We had a bit of an adventure at the airport.

When I was about to exit immigration and basically enter SA, the immigration lady opened my passport and when she did, the lamination on my front page came off. It had been loose since a few days (12 year old passport; won’t be in the best condition, right?), but I never imagined it to come off entirely. Basically, when the lamination came off, it had my photo and signature stuck to it and other details below. This was, what the immigration officials termed “a case of a damaged passport” and this meant that I could not enter the country. I was pretty shocked to see that and explained that it had been perfectly fine until then and it came off when she opened it. But they wouldn’t listen. The official gave my passport to some other authorities and while the rest of the team were waiting at the other side of the counter, I was soon escorted to the “immigration chamber.”

Next thing I know, I’m in a room with few other (pretty shady) people who had various issues with entering the country. It was super late (10:15 pm), I was completely exhausted and jet lagged and the whole environment seemed very very sketchy. The person in-charge there was some lady, who probably had a fight with her spouse half an hour ago and was super unresponsive and for no logical reason annoyed at everyone and everything. She just said in her broken english “go and sit there and wait”. I waited for almost 35 minutes after which she said, this passport won’t work and just left. I said to myself, “Great, what now?” Then some men from the immigration department came and said that they’ll look into it. Through out this, barring a few moments where i was shocked and concerned what my next steps would be, I was pretty calm (a little bit surprising!) and thought rationally about it. Then Philip arrived there (to my great relief) with another officer who was a bit friendly. After some thinking, he told me that he wouldn’t be able to allow me to enter the country. I said, that’s fine, just tell me what my options are. Should I go back to India or to SFO; can I visit an Indian Embassy in SA? And in my mind I was thinking “No! I’ll miss Cape Town! The Shark Diving. Please let me in.” (Oh yeah the project was definitely important too, but was surprisingly the last thing on my mind then) He didn’t know what the protocol was, so he said, “let me talk to main supervisor and get back”.

After about 20 min (it’s been more than 2 hours now) his junior comes and says, “You. Come.” I was wondering what the next steps were and imagined catching a flight back home or to India. And this guy tells me “It’s all fine, you can enter the country.”

I was a bit surprised and felt it was pretty miraculous! No reason given at all for it. He said, make sure you go to an Indian embassy ASAP and get it fixed. So in a few minutes my passport was stamped and I was allowed to enter SA!

Whew! Strange start huh?

Next day I went to the Indian embassy and it was the most chilled out and laid back embassy I had ever been to. (Not that I’ve been to lot) They had a look at my passport and re-laminated the first page right away. And it was like a brand new one. Problem solved. Whew! I was free to travel across South Africa now!

So that’s my little adventure getting into South Africa. Of course, besides this one single little hiccup, the experience here has been AMAZING.


- Archit Bhargava