Islam El-Ghazouly

Founder & Managing Partner @Laissez-Passer

Invited to a conference but your passport sucks? read this. 

You hold a low ranking passport? It means that the passport you hold does not enable you to travel to a lot of other countries on visa-free or visa upon arrival condition, which limits your mobility freedoms and the ability to freely visit other countries than yours. This could be due to your country's economic performance, current political conflict, international sanctions, or simply that your country’s government is lacking foreign policy orientation that focuses on bilateral visa liberation agreements with other state countries. This also means that obtaining a visa to travel abroad is considerably a labor-intensive process for you and also it means that even when you have the required visa, you are still running the risk of being denied access prior to your departure or upon your arrival to your destination and this article is precisely about this.    

1- Make sure your invitation letter is authentic 

The invitation letter is sent by the inviting agency/company/organizer, it must fulfill a number of criteria to be legitimate, especially that you are using this document to apply for a visa and as a reference/supporting document at passport control authority when asked to demonstrate the purpose of your visit.

In addition to the invitation highlighting (1) the purpose of your visit and (2) dates of your stay, the invitation must inform the following: (3) your legal full name as in passport, (4) your passport number, (5) your passport start and expiry date, (6) your nationality, (7) inviting organization full legal name, (8) office address, registration number in the country of destination, and (9) contact details of an official employee from the inviting entity with their working email address and their mobile phone number. Invitation letter should as well be (10) stamped and has a (11) footer for other public contacts for the inviting entity. 

Note: If the inviting entity is covering your (12) traveling expenses they must have this detail mentioned in your invitation letter. 

2- Get your dates straight

You have a number of documents that indicate trip dates, the dates on these documents should be consistent. Travel insurance, invitation letter, visa validity date (start date & end date), round flight ticket and hotel booking should be consistent. often when you are invited to a conference you may want to extend your stay to see the city you are visiting. for passport control when they demand to check your supporting documents, they might detect this as a discrepancy. To prevent this situation, make sure you have supporting documents that cover all the duration of your stay not only the conference you are attending.  

3- Book a round ticket not two separate one way tickets

The organizers of a conference are not necessarily visa experts and may end up providing you with documents that jeopardize your chances of entering your destination country. One of these documents is your flight tickets, not all airlines collaborate and an airline company officer in your departure country who checks in your luggage and issues you the boarding pass needs to see on their screen that you have a round ticket. They are the accountable personnel if you will be denied access upon your arrival. If you have two separate tickets they may have no access to validate your return flight ticket if it is booked through another airline, so make sure your flight ticket is a round ticket.  

4- Do not confuse visa validity & duration of stay

This is a classic mistake many people fall into. when you are granted a visa, the visa is issued with a validity date, which means this visa is valid to be used with a start date and an end date (expiry date). That doesn’t mean you can arrive at the country on the start date and stay in the country until the end/expiry date of the visa. Validity and expiry date means this is the period of time in which you can use the visa for your entry but visa duration of stay is what determines how long you can stay after your entry. 

Example: A visa is valid for 3 months and the duration of stay is two weeks. This means that within the dates given of these three months you can visit this country for a maximum period of two weeks. Got it? 

5- Have your supporting documents printed and in your cabin bag

Unfortunately, if you hold a low ranking passport, your passport alone won’t get you to your destination without a dozen supporting documents – even if you have obtained the required visa – therefore, make sure you have printed out all your supporting documents and packed them in your cabin bag and be ready to display them at the occasion of checking in and the passport control authority for visa admission. In the case of traveling for a business trip or a conference/training, these are typically the supporting documents (1) Proof of return (Return flight ticket) (2) Proof of stay (Hotel booking) (3) Invitation letter (4) Travel Insurance (depending on the destination), additional supporting documents that might be useful include (5) proof of residency in a third country if the traveler doesn’t live in their country of origin (6) proof of income (bank statement signed and stamped from your bank) this document might only be necessary if the inviting entity is not covering your expenses, however it is unlikely to be asked to provide income statement at this point giving it was most likely validated during the visa obtaining process. It is also advisable to have on your phone and/or notes the following (7) Name of the organizer (8) local mobile number in your country of destination for one of the organizers as you might be asked to provide that.  

Have your birth certificate with you

I know this one sound is odd, and as if all the above documents were not enough. Your birth certificate is really a document to consider depending on the country of destination, if you are traveling to a country where your full name might be a suspicious name for any reason or matches on the records a similar name of a wanted individual, and they still follow manual vetting procedures in your country of destination, your only way out of this situation is to demonstrate you are not that person they are searching for. sometimes in that situation, your best shot is your original birth certificate. In many countries, the authorities validate your identity through your monther's name which will be displayed in your birth certificate.  

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Needs assistance? 

These were only some advice for travelers with low ranking passports who are invited to attend a conference or a seminar and who happen to need advice regarding their traveling preparations. In Laissez-Passer we offer training and consultation to organizations and companies that are regularly inviting individuals and groups who hold passports that require extensive work to lift the mobility barriers. Get in touch to learn more.

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