So first, it’s been a minute since I updated anything here. That’s my fault, and I promise it won’t happen again. It’s been a busy two weeks. But during those two weeks, my current visa expired and I had to go renew it — another fun bureaucratic experience.
I arrived at the Office of Immigration in downtown Kathmandu, prepared for a multi-hour endeavor. This particular government office is only open from 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM, which makes it a relatively difficult window to make. It’s especially difficult because renewing a visa can take several hours here. Luckily, mine didn’t take quite that long, though it was not a seamless experience.
When renewing a visa in Kathmandu, the first thing you need to do is get a ticket. There’s a machine by the door labeled, “Advanced Information Technology” or some shit like that. There’s three big red buttons that allegedly have different functions, but pressing any of them produces a numbered ticket for your spot in line. Or rather, that’s what’s supposed to happen. I, and dozens of other foreigners, pressed the button only for nothing to happen. A crowd began to form around the Advanced Machine, growing increasingly agitated as each forceful button press yielded no results save a harsh beep and sad rattling from within the machine.
Eventually, I joined an angry Australian and an amused Polish guy in line sans ticket. Normally, after getting a ticket, you enter your information into a kiosk and then give your numbered ticket to the person at the desk when it’s your turn in line. Without a ticket, we became resigned to the fact that, after an hour in line, we might be sent to the back. But as we waited, there was a development at the Advanced Machine.
A woman came from behind the desk with a roll of paper to be inserted into the machine. As soon as she refilled the paper and took count of the number of people in line, she started pressing the buttons at lightning speed until she had produced dozens of tickets. With fistfuls of tickets, comically streaming behind her, she came and handed them out to those of us lacking them. I was number 78. The number on the board was 45.
After an extra wait, I was at the front of the line, though the number on the board was 72. I approached the desk, but the woman pointed away. “No, no. Wait your turn.” I stepped back, and the two of us held eye contact as the numbers ticked away with no one to claim them.
After the grand pause, I re-approached the desk. She took my ticket, passport, and visa information printed from the kiosk I had used earlier. A quick once-over was enough, and then she directed me to desk 2, the bank desk where I’d actually pay for my visa. I approached and put my passport through the hole in the window. The man behind the glass looked up from a heaping plate of chowmein.
“Come back…we eat lunch now.” ALRIGHT.
I sat down for 20 minutes until a line formed at the window, and I figured that they had finished. Once it was my turn, I gave him my passport, which he took in chowmein-greased hands. He looked it over and saw that I was renewing my visa for three months.
“$200.00. 20,000 rupees.” Greeeaaaaat.
I forked over the money and my passport reluctantly. I hate giving away my passport, even to the immigration office. It makes me feel vulnerable. Still, I gave it to him and sat in a row of chairs alongside my new Australian and Polish friends.
First, A Tea
After some 20-30 minutes waiting, we started to get restless. The closing time of the office was approaching, so we wanted to be out of there before then lest we be forced to come back the next day. I stood and glanced through the window to the back office. An older Nepali man in a floppy topi hat sat in a large swivel chair, mulling over a cup of tea. A stack of passports 8 inches high sat on his desk, untouched.
We sat back in our chairs, resigned to our fates to stay in that office forever. But not all was lost — after another 30 minutes, a different man came from the office with a small number of passports in his hands. None were ours; they belonged to the large Pakistani group that occupied most of the waiting space. Slowly, more and more passports made their way out of the office. The man would check only the nationality and, without verifying identity, hand the passports to his best guesses. Several people had to wave him down to avoid their passports being given away. Each time he came from the office, we all sat up happily only to be disappointed, in the same way that a waiter walks past your table with someone else’s food.
A relatively short time later, a blue US passport was thrust into my face, and a red Polish passport to my Polish acquaintance. The angry Australian had been lucky and was long gone. We left together, I 20,000 rupees lighter.
It was the second time I’ve renewed my visa. The first time was in December, when I had to extend it by a month to reach 2019. Nepal’s tourist visas are strange — they allow a maximum of 150 days (roughly 5 months) per calendar year. I was unaware of this rule when I came here, so luckily by arriving in September, I’ve been allowed a continuous nine months — almost the longest possible amount of time one can stay in Nepal on a tourist visa. The first renewal was $60 USD for the month of December — a 30 day extension. Now I’ve paid $200 USD for a 90-day visa. I’ll get one more 60-day extension, and then I’ll have exhausted my permitted time in Nepal.
Little tip for my fellow Americans — when paying for visa extensions, pay in rupees. For a 90-day visa, it’s either $200 USD or 20,000 NRS. The exchange rate makes 20,000 NRS the cheaper option by nearly 3,000 NRS.
Here’s to dropping one more absurd sum on a visa!