The time I almost got detained by immigration

18 Nov

Generally when travelling I have had a fair bit of luck with the authorities and have never had any real major issues. I mean apart from one immigration official referring to me as Sir (short hair in Asian countries is sometimes deceiving) and somehow getting into another country with a visa that didn’t start for another 2 days yet Air Asia were still more than happy to let me onto the flight, I’ve had pretty smooth transitions through Customs and Immigration.

However there is one exception where I had to endure possibly the worst, most nerve wracking 20 minutes of my life. For the sake of the story I’ll keep the name of the Southeast Asian country involved anonymous (although those who know me will have either heard this story before or figure it out straight away).

It was 6am which really isn’t a good way to start a day and I’d just left a few friends on our last night in said country where we had decided to spend the night in the luxury of a 5 star hotel. I was sick- I had been sick for about a week and lost 5 kilos having survived off flavoured water and Pocari Sweat and was completely wiped after trying to enjoy my last day in country despite feeling somewhat delicate. Check In was surprisingly good and I was ushered straight up to the counter so I bought a bottle of water and decided to head on through immigration. As I approached the counter I smiled and handed over my passport. It should be noted that this is a fairly small airport with probably only 3-4 international flights a day if that. The immigration officer looked at my passport then sternly looked back and said,

“You’ve overstayed your visa.”

Whaaaaaaat? I had a 60 day visa for the country and had only been there for 4 weeks there was no way in hell I could have overstayed. I looked at the stamp and saw it. I’d arrived on New Years Day and they had forgotten to change the year on the stamp so it was still the day before. My visa clearly showed that I had got it after the date on the stamp so I was rather confused as to why this was an issue. I started worrying about how much I was going to have to pay to get out of this mess when the officer made the mistake of turning to his colleague and saying in his language (that I just so happen to understand quite well) “We stamped her passport wrong,” before turning back to me and reiterating his point that I’d overstayed my visa. I turned back to him and pointed out what he’d said to his mate only to be led off to the side to another officer who said,

“This passport is stolen. That’s not you.”

Bloooody hell. I was sick, tired and really just wanting to get on the plane and sleep rather than go through this mess. Now I had all kinds of pictures going through my head of me ending up in an immigration facility or worse jail and having to deal with a ridiculous amount of bureaucracy in order to get home. Realistically the passport was a bit old and I looked at the time nothing like I did at 15 when I got the passport. It took some explaining that this was clearly me in the passport, I had not overstayed a visa and providing them a heap of details about what I’d been up to during my stay there before they finally relented and let me pass through immigration. Only to get to the security screening and have to drink my bottle of water which I’d foolishly left in my bag. Sure it’s quite possible that a bribe could have got me out of the issue but I wouldn’t really want to risk bribing airport security!

Thankfully this is something I can look back on and laugh despite how horrible it was at the time. Also I can say that I’ve left the country a number of times since through the same airport and not had any issues. In fact the immigration officers have generally been more than helpful when I’ve passed through so I have no criticisms against that country or their immigration authorities; in fact generally speaking they are some of the best. Most importantly I learnt the hard way that you should probably check your entry stamps when you enter the country.

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