I had planned to be heading to Bangalore, India tomorrow afternoon. While there I was going to spend some quality time with the folks at the Yahoo! Software Development Center, the FOSS.in conference, and other friends.

This is the story of how my Visa (and passport, of course) ended up sitting in a FedEx building somewhere in the Bay Area on the night before I'm supposedly heading out.

I originally thought to title this post something like "When 'ovenight' really means 'in five days'" but decided that setting up a joke wasn't worth the effort.

On Monday the 14th, I finished up all the paperwork needed for my Indian Visa. I'd been through this exercise a couple years ago, so it wasn't a big deal. It requires a two-page form, a pair of photographs, and a letter from a company official who promises to cover your butt if something goes horribly wrong.

I waited until the 14th because I was in Taiwan the week before, and a Visa application requires giving up your passport while they consider your request. And since I was heading to Las Vegas the next day, Monday was my only option. That also gave us about six business days for the gears to turn. The travel folks assured me that six was more than enough.

I got all the paperwork done, took it to the travel office, and asked them to look it over one last time before sending it off. They realized I hadn't included a flight itinerary, so I emailed that over as soon as I got back to my desk. (I knew I should have taken my notebook to Sunnyvale with me.)

They shipped it off and I headed to Webmaster World the next day.

On Monday the 21st (6 days before departure and 7 days after sending the paperwork off), I got a call from the travel folks. They called to notify me that the folks at the Visa Network found a problem with my paperwork. Apparently, if one is going to a foreign country with the intent of speaking at a conference, they require a letter from the conference (as proof) inviting you to speak.

Despite the fact that I'd been advertised as a speaker on the official conference site for a couple months, I couldn't just print that out and turn it in.

So I had two options. The first was to get a letter from the conference folks inviting me to speak. That might have worked, but given the 12 hour time difference I opted for the other option: drop everything to redo the second page of the Visa application, redo the letter from a company official, find someone to sign the letter (again), and get it all to the travel folks in Sunnyvale before the end of the day so they could get a courier to run it up to San Francisco.

As you might imagine, a fair chunk of my morning was devoted to redoing paperwork. I, once again, hopped on the shuttle to the Sunnyvale campus (I actually work in Santa Clara now, which I guess has been only mentioned photographically thus far) and paid a visit to the travel office.

By the afternoon of Wednesday the 23rd (also known as the day before Thanksgiving), I hadn't heard anything back. So I emailed my contact in the travel office and asked what she knew. I got a phone call a few hours later saying that the Visa was all set (but still in San Francisco) and they could FedEx it to my house for arrival on Friday.

Not a problem. I provided my home address and they waived the signature requirement, since I had plans to be away from the house for about 3 hours on Friday.

A couple hours ago today (Saturday), I realized that Friday (yesterday) had come and gone and my passport had not arrived.


[This is the part of the soundtrack where the foreboding music plays.]

I hopped on to the FedEx website and plugged in the tracking number I'd been given on Wednesday, only to see this.

Apparently, we were not the only company that had Friday off!

Part of me was amused by the phrase "delivery exception" because it felt as if a Java programmer had invented it. But another part of me also thought "uh oh."

Then I figured that the travel folks and the visa folks actually knew about the no-delivery Friday thing and meant to say it'd arrive on Saturday. That led me to see if FedEx delivers on Saturdays. A quick web search revealed that FedEx has a FedEx Saturday Services page and a good FAQ which tells me that Saturday delivery is possible on some packages, assuming the shipper pays the extra charge.

I have no idea if the shipper paid that charge. But I'm beginning to suspect that they did not. I've further begun to suspect that neither the travel folks nor the visa folks realized that FedEx would be delivering on Friday. Those two suspicions combine to mean that I'm not heading to India as planned.


Now, in theory my stuff will arrive sometime on Monday. That means I could get on a plane Tuesday and be in Bangalore on Thursday. But I will have missed at least half the conference and most of the work week. Plus, I have things scheduled for the first full week of December that would make it difficult to extend the trip.

There are many lessons here:

  • Always assume the worst.
  • Be skeptical and ask "what happens if..."
  • Allow many weeks for paperwork.

I probably should have asked multiple folks in the travel office if my paperwork was okay the first time. This special invite for a conference certainly isn't new. Someone there has surely dealt with it before.

I probably should have offered to drive to San Francisco myself on Wednesday and pick it up in person.

Now I'm hoping I can convince Rasmus to give my talk for me.

The real kicker is that I had this trip in mind when I bough the iPod that led to the massive waste of time over Thanksgiving.

Murphy is quite a guy, isn't he?

Posted by jzawodn at November 26, 2005 09:45 PM

Reader Comments
# Joe Hunkins said:

Wow, major problem. You seem to be handling it well and fatalistically as you should. Not a good time to be travelling sans Passport.

on November 26, 2005 09:57 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

Yeah, witout a passport and visa, I'm pretty much not gonna be leaving the country.

on November 26, 2005 10:09 PM
# Krish said:

Atleast you have to wait for just one week due to a Fedex issue. There are many folks from different parts of the world who had to wait for month(s) at a time because US embassy wants to do a background check. I am not even including the hassles of multi paged forms you need to fill for visa application. A background check by the US embassy and/or Homeland security to determine whether you are a terrorist or not takes anything from 1-3 months. You have a better scenario here.

on November 26, 2005 10:17 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

Good point. But in my case, if I don't have the visa for the conference, I might as well not get it at all.

It's too bad I can't give the 6 month visa to someone who can use it.

on November 26, 2005 10:31 PM
# Abhi said:

Just wondering, I had this happen when I was in the US. Was expecting a package from Detroit and it was delayed a day due to the snow. I had to get that package that day or the next(the day after that was sunday). So I did the next best thing and went down to the UPS warehouse with my passport and printout of the invoice and picked it up in person from UPS's loading docks. I don't remember if I had to pay extra..

I had completely forgotten that foss was round the corner. Would have been interesting to meet you since I'm in blr now.

on November 26, 2005 10:31 PM
# Joe Hunkins said:

Did you call the expedite division? Seems they could pick up at their the Santa Clara office and deliver to you tomorrow morning?

# Rush delivery service
for your most urgent shipments
# Service within US only, all 50 states: call

on November 26, 2005 10:57 PM
# Rasmus said:

/me smacks Jeremy!

on November 26, 2005 11:54 PM
# Jacques Marneweck said:

Rasmus you definately want to do the talk *hint* *hint*

on November 27, 2005 12:39 AM
# ravi said:


foss.in, this time has decent bandwidth for a change... why not a tele-conferene, then?

on November 27, 2005 07:06 AM
# Sheeri Kritzer said:

Stinks that you have to learn those lessons the hard way. Is there any way to get a duplicate passport for these situations? It seems to me that this is a common problem -- folks who need visas are likely to be folks who travel a lot. How have other people solved this problem?

PS -- I sincerely hope you keep a copy of your passport in each of the following locations: at home, at work -- in your desk or somewhere a person could access it if need be AND in the travel office, and in a safe deposit box (or some other non-home, non-work safe location like at a friend's or relative's house). Don't learn the lesson of getting your passport stolen the hard way.

(also, I photocopy both sides of my ID and credit cards and leave them at my desk at work and at home, shredding them when I get back).

on November 27, 2005 07:42 AM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

I actually have copies of my passport, birth certificate, and social security card in safe places. I have one set with me when I travel.

However, without an Indian Visa, I don't think I'd be able to enter their country.

on November 27, 2005 07:44 AM
# Atul Chitnis said:

> However, without an Indian Visa, I don't think I'd be able to enter their country.

Not quite true - when John Perry Barlow came to India a few years ago, he waltzed in without a visa. He got arrested, and his hosts excreted building material, but did manage a standby visa. Legend has it that when they finally got him out and were leaving for the hotel, he turned around and said "Oh BTW - my daughter is coming in tomorrow, and I dont think she has a visa, either".

I suggest that Yahoo FedEX you to Bangalore.

Uh, wait...

on November 27, 2005 08:06 AM
# Thaths said:

You definitely cannot enter India without your passport with a valid visa stamped. Sorry that you won't be at FOSS.in. I too will be missing the usual beer-at-Windsor-pub-in-the-evening this year.

on November 27, 2005 08:40 AM
# Pat said:

Obviously a personal apology from the CEO of FedEx is in order ;-)

on November 27, 2005 08:50 AM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:


Clearly. :-)

on November 27, 2005 08:56 AM
# Will Hayworth said:

Forgive me for kidding around (I "em"do"/em" [I had to get across the styling somehow] feel sorry for you), but:

}catch(DeliveryException dex){

on November 27, 2005 10:01 AM
# Georgy Todorov said:

Sorry to hear about your problems... one thing I wonder is why wouldn't the consulate (or whoever approves visa applications) just issue you a visa without the letter from the conference guys? I mean rules are rules, but this is ridiculous. If you can redo the paper work, they can just as well assume that and issue the visa anyways, can't they?

on November 27, 2005 07:23 PM
# R. Rajesh Jeba Anbiah said:

Really sorry to know.

on November 28, 2005 03:39 AM
# Atul Chitnis said:

Georgy: It wasnt actually an issue the conference guys (i.e. me) issuing a letter - we issued them to all our speakers who needed them (and some who didn't, just in case). However, Jeremy's problem was related to his not being informed by the travel people about the fact that he *needed* that letter. Since we issue letters in PDF (signed, to boot), it was a matter of seconds to get the letter there. This was probably one of those "fated" things - had to happen.

Also FYI - Jeremy wasn't the only one: Dave Phillips (Linux Audio) ran into identical issues and missed the trip. :(

on November 29, 2005 03:40 AM
# Anjana said:

I had the same issue when I applied for a passport to Israel. Except I sent it ONE month earlier and they simply sat on the application without calling me to tell me about extra info they needed.

My husband was travelling on work and I was going to tour the country with him. It didn't seem to matter that my intent was tourism. It mattered that I would be meeting up with him there, that he was American, and that he was on a work visa.

It mattered, despite their telling me that it didn't. When I had explained my tourist intent was independent of my husband's work, they expressly told me that my application was fine and nothing further was necessary. They changed their minds. Fortunately, I had already arranged for his company to write a letter and send it to them, suspecting that they would indeed change their minds.

However, they didn't pay attention to the incoming letter, as they had already written off my application as something to sit on.

After some repeated frantic calls from me, all the way to the Consul general (which I pretended was an accident, and then proceeded to use my connection to complain about the visa dept), they finally fed-exed it on Wed to reach me on Fri. My expensive, no refund flight was booked for Sat morning.

On Wed, fed ex forgot to do "pick ups" at the Consular building. So it was in the truck on Thu evening. On Fri, the truck was late and the truck driver decided not to ring the bell, having not liked the building very much. I had been monitoring the schedule constantly by phone and as soon as I heard this nonsense, I jumped in my car to try to search for the darned truck on the road.

I aimlessly wandered around looking for the truck and called again. They told me that the truck was pulling back in to the fed ex office in a nearby township, and I just drove all the way out there (40 miles), staying on the phone with them to make sure that they don't close.

Once I got there, turned out the truck wasn't quite there yet, and I had to wait for it. After an hour, the truck arrived, and I jumped in the back to search for my passport by myself. Fortunately, the kindness of the personnell at the small town office overrode the general Fed Ex incompentence.

And I had a fabulous 5 days in Israel & Palestine. No thanx for the Israeli authorities either.

on November 29, 2005 08:28 AM
# Anjana said:

The post should be called "What does next day delivery REALLY mean ?"

on November 29, 2005 08:32 AM
# Jon Oropeza said:

Wow, that sucks. My first thought is - too bad India isn't a business. Then they'd have partnered with Expedia and Travelocity and you'd be able to purchase your visa, at an additional Convenience Cost of course, when you bought your ticket.

on November 29, 2005 05:39 PM
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