Dear Melbourne…

October 7, 2009

I you, really, I do. You are one of the most beautiful cities this world has to offer (Bias? Who, Me? Never!). You will always be home… BUT… and Melbourne, promise you wont hate on me, buttttt…

… I want to move to the U.S.A. on an E3 visa after my J1 visa expires and I’m done with the Disney International College Program.

Anyone know of any U.S. companies that sponsor E3 visas? Better yet… anyone want to employ me when I’m done? *cough* Marketing Travel/Tourism position *cough*

Pretty please?

LOVE this country

HOME: Melbourne, Australia

HOME: Melbourne, Australia

Two Year Rule – 212(E)

April 24, 2009

Yesterday when I got home from work I was pleased to see an express post satchel waiting for me on my bed. I ripped it open and inside was my passport with my DS-2019 form folded up and stapled to one of the pages. I flipped to the page it was stapled on, and there it was… a whole passport page dedicated to my J1 U.S. Visa. Awww, it’s so pretty. Actually, no, not really. The photo of me on it is really quite disturbing. The dude at the post office didn’t tell me when he was going to take my photo so my left eyebrow is raised and then to make matters worse, he told me to look into the wrong section of the camera, so although I am facing it front on, I am not directly looking into it. It’s definately nothing to gloat about but I love it none the less. EEEEEE!

So whilst getting so caught up in the beauty that is my U.S. visa, I failed to notice the text on my visa which read…

“Bearer is not subject to section 212(e). Two year rule does not apply.”

I originally thought the two year rule was going to apply because while filling out my DS-2019 form, I had to sign that I had read and understood the two year home country physical presence requirement rule. This rule states that “exchange residents are required to reside in their home-country for 2 years following completion of their program before they are eligible for immigrant status, temporary worker status or intracompany transferee status.” After returning home to Australia, I want to try for another visa which will allow me longer residency and entitle me to seek professional employment within the U.S., so this rule kinda made me a little upset, but in order to obtain my J1 visa, I had no choice but to agree to it.

When I eventually noticed this exemption I may have squealed just a tad. Lie. I squealed A LOT. I was beside myself with excitement and joy that the two year rule did not apply so much so that I did a little happy dance right in front of my bedroom mirror haha. I am such a loser, but an ecstatically happy loser none the less.


April 22, 2009

This morning I woke at the unGodly hour of 6am in order to catch the 6.50am train into the city. I had an 8.15am appointment at the U.S. Consulate General on St. Kilda Rd in Melbourne and was advised to get there a half an hour before my appointment time. I managed to find my way to the Consulate and upon entry into the building, I noticed a queue had already formed. I was maybe the tenth person down the line. They took us in five people at a time. We entered our passport numbers into the computer systems and were issued a sticker with a barcode to wear on our shirts before our belongs were scanned through the x-ray machine and we had to walk through the metal detectors. Our bags had to remain at the security desk and we were only allowed to take out paperwork and our wallets in.

We were all told to take a seat and just wait until our number was called. In the mean time, we watched a security measures video and a montage of immigrants who had set up home in the U.S. and looked all happy and pleased with their new lives… it was on replay so I watched it no less than 15 times. Number 12 was called to window one so I made my way over. The old man behind the window asked for all my documents and my passport. He then took electronic fingerprints from both my hands and told me to sit back down. That was easy enough. Another hour or so passed before my number was called up again; this time to window two. The American lady behind the window asked a what reason I had to return home, asked to see financial proof of how I would support myself and then asked to see a copy of my University degree. She also asked if my previous trips to the U.S. were just for pleasure to which I nodded. I was rather nervous but that was soon forgotten when I saw her look up and smile at me… “Congratulations, I see no reason to not give you a visa. Everything is in good order.” To which I responded SWEET! Thank you! I left with the biggest smile ever plastered across my face!

I caught the train back home and headed straight over to STA Travel to purchase my airfares. At this point, I was still feeling a tad iffy about the response I had received from U.S. Customs and Border Protection last week. I didn’t want to risk flying into Los Angeles Airport then have the Customs Officer try to enter me on my J1 visa (even though I had been advised that I could enter on a Visa Waiver), so I decided to not take any chances and purchase a direct flight to Canada without any stop overs in the U.S. It was a tad more expensive than flying into L.A., but at least this way I know it will be hassle free and I get to fly my favourite airline, Air New Zealand! Yay to having a personal entertainment unit and movies and TV on demand the entire way!

Departure is June 28 flying from Melbourne > Auckland > Vancouver > Montreal… woah, what a mouthful!

I have my return flight booked in also flying Air New Zealand from Los Angeles to Melbourne however, I have to call closer to my return date (which, at this point is August 15, 2010) and push the date back further as they couldn’t issue the ticket that far ahead of time yet.

I’m so excited! Not long to go now! EEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

Visa update Part I – Visa Waiver ESTA and J1 Visa dilemma

April 17, 2009

For the last week I have been racking my brain and emailing every U.S. visa and immigration contact I could find an email address for online. It was driving me insane that everywhere I searched online, I could not find the answer to my one very important question. This question was the difference between a $1600 (inc tax) airfare or a $4000 airfare so receiving a response was imperative to me financial wellbeing.

The issue at hand…

Granted I pass my visa interview next week, before heading to Disney, I want to swing by Montreal, Quebec to visit some friends I made last summer on Contiki through Europe. Pretty much every airline except for Air Canada have a stop over in Los Angeles, meaning I would have to clear immigration at LA airport. I had been advised by Disney that I was not allowed to enter the U.S. on my J1 visa then fly to Canada as it would cause issues for me in regard to the Disney College Program. So the question I was desperately seeking an answer to was…

“Can I clear immigration at LAX on a Visa Waiver (ESTA) in transit to Montreal, Quebec, despite having the J1 visa in my passport? (I wouldn’t be leaving LAX, I’d just need to change flights there). Then, when I fly from Montreal back into the U.S. at this point I will enter the U.S. on my J1 visa to avoid interference with the Disney Program.”

If the answer was going to be a no, then my only option would be to purchase a ticket with Air Canada as they fly direct from Australia to Vancouver which means I would be able to by-pass U.S. immigration. The only problem with this is a one-way ticket from Melbourne – Vancouver flying Air Canada is $3000 AU! And that is only one-way, I would still need a return airfare which would more than likely be another $1000 AU! Ridiculous. On the contrary, however, if the answer is a yes and I can transit through LA on a Visa Waiver ESTA, then I could purchase a return Melbourne – Los Angeles airfare for $1600 AU including taxes!!! $4000 and $1600… BIG difference!

The solution…

On my quest to find a response to this question, I was kindly directed to the (U.S. Customs and Border Protection) website. I searched every inch of pixel on that website trying to find the answer to my question, but no such success. However, what I did find was a nifty little section where you could ‘Find an Answer, Ask a Question‘. I searched through the question and answer database but still had no luck with an accurate response. After several search attempts, I noticed a new tab had become available which allowed me to submit my own question… PERFECT!

I submitted my question last night and was extremely impressed to see a response waiting for me in my email inbox today… less than 24 hours, amazing! The best part is, it was the response I wanted to hear!!!

“What your immigration “intent” is to do, is to make entry at LAX as a traveler for business / pleasure for which as an Australian citizen, if eligible, you may use the Visa Waiver Program and ESTA. You may do this because your “intent” is not to go to work at this time. Then after your holiday, it will be your “intent” to make entry as a J1 in Orlando.

With this scenario having the J1 visa in your possession is not a problem.

So, may you do this, yes.”

Problem solved. I am, however, going to print this response out and carry it with me through immigration in case I am given any hassles. I applaud the speed in which my submission was attended to, it was amazing, especially given the fact that they must receive a plethora of questions on a daily basis.

Five more days until my visa interview! Excitedness! Once I get the all clear, I’m off to STA Travel to purchase my airfares! YAY! I can’t wait to be done with all this paperwork…

Visa papers taking up my bedroom floor space!

Disney International College Program – Visa Interview

April 9, 2009

Today all my Disney International College Program visa papers arrived! So excited but also very stressed. There are so many papers to read through, fill out and sign. I’m worried that if I mess one thing up the whole visa opportunity will backfire and I will be denied a J1 visa.

I booked my visa interview for April 22 at 8:15am. I have to be at the U.S. Consulate in Melbourne at 7:45am however I can be waiting there for up to four hours before it’s my turn. At first I thought I’d kill the waiting time with mobile Facebook and Twitter, but they take your phones away from you before you enter! AHHH! I guess I will have to make do with some Kelly Clarkson and Taylor Swift on my iPod. Fun.

For the next few days I will be pulling out my hair trying to figure out how to correctly fill out all these papers and pay all these fees. I hope I don’t make any mistakes. Granted I get my visa, then comes the fun part… airfare shopping! YAY!

Wish me luck 🙂

My Top 10 International Travel Tips

January 12, 2009

1. No matter where you are traveling, be sure to take out suitable travel insurance. No one plans for things to go wrong while traveling, but unfortunately sometimes they do. Travel insurance is a great way to be prepared for such problems by providing you with security and protection whilst you are traveling domestically or internationally. Its major advantage is that it covers for hospital and medical treatments overseas. Without insurance, especially in the USA, medical bills can tally hundreds of thousands of dollars. Make sure you understand the wording of your insurance policy and what it covers.

2. Do not wait until the last minute to see if you require a visa to enter into the country you are traveling to. A visa is a means of permission in the form of a special stamp in your passport that allows non-citizens to enter, transit or remain in a particular country. You must investigate visa requirements of the country you intend to visit well in advance of travel or face being rejected entry into that county upon arrival. Your travel agent should be able to inform you if you require a visa. You can verify this by contacting the nearest consulate or embassy of the country you intend to visit. (Recent visa changes have been made for Australians entering into the USA after January 12, 2009).

3. Be sure to make multiple copies of your passport details, your travel insurance policy, credit/debit card numbers and details and any travelers’ cheques you are taking with you. This is something I am always sure to do. Leave a copy of everything at home with family and also carry a copy with you, in a separate place from the original copies. I usually carry two copies with me and leave one in my suitcase in a hidden compartment and another in my carry on luggage. If you have the unfortunate experience of being robbed while away, you will always have a spare copy of the details handy or you can make contact with your family back home that will also have your details on hand. Having copies of such information makes getting replacements or canceling accounts that little bit easier.

4. Ensure that your passport has, minimum, six months validity remaining on it. The standard requirement of countries around the world is for travelers to have at least six months validity remaining on their passport after departing the country being visit. If you are departing Australia and planning to remain in the USA until the end of March 2009, your passport must not expire any time before the beginning of October, 2009. If they allowed you to travel with a nearing expiration date and perhaps something happened to cause a delay to your return home, then your passport may possibly expire while you are still overseas. An excellent example of a recent delay was the Bangkok Airport protest late last year which left thousands of travelers stranded in Thailand.

5. Make a travel itinerary that says what city and country you will be in for every day of your travels. I have always done this for every trip I have taken. I begin with writing up the dates of my trip in one column followed by which city and country I will be in for each date. If I know who I will be with, I include this on there too. Leave a copy of this with family or friends back home and make sure you are in regular contact with them while traveling. If they have not heard from you in a while and become worried, at least they know where you have been from time frame A to time frame B and possibly who you are with.

6. Check to see if you require any vaccinations. Some countries, especially those of a third world nature, encourage you to receive a vaccination before traveling to them. This is not a legal requirement but it is highly recommended for your own safety. Before traveling to Thailand, I had a shot for Hepatitis and Typhoid one month in advance of my departure. My friends also had this particular shot and during our trip, we all remained healthy. You can often find out if you require vaccines for your desired destination via your travel agent or doctor.

7. Register your travel plans and contact details online with the Australian Government – Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. All Australians traveling overseas, whether for tourism or business or for short or long stays are encouraged to register with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade before travel. The registration information provided by you will help the Australian Government find you in an emergency – whether it is a natural disaster, civil disturbance or a family emergency. The information you provide here is strictly protected by the Privacy Act 1988

8. Familiarize yourself with the local laws in the country you are traveling to. When you are in a foreign country, you are expected to obey their laws. Just because it is legal back in your home country, does not necessarily make it legal in another. As ridiculous as it may seem, something as simple as spitting your gum out onto the pavement is illegal in Prague, Czech Republic and can incur a fine of up to 1300 €. That is a hell-of-a hefty fine for something so minimal which comes as second nature to so many people.

9. Do not leave your luggage unattended in public areas and use a TSA approved lock to lock up your luggage. Self explanatory, really. Although in few numbers, drug smugglers are known to lurk airports. That one second you take your eyes off your luggage could be a second too long. Those few seconds are all they need to plant drugs or anything suspicious inside your luggage. When I was departing Phuket Airport in Thailand, they were really enforcing this rule and offered luggage-wrapping services to ensure it was impossible to break into your luggage and plant something in it. A TSA approved lock provides security officers with universal ‘master’ keys so that if your luggage requires physical inspection, the locks may not have to be cut. These locks are available at airports and travel stores worldwide.

10. Utilize a checklist to ensure everything is in order and nothing is forgotten before you leave home. Mum got me started on this tip. She wrote out an enormous list before my first international trip to the USA. It included everything from clothing, cameras, chargers, travel adaptors and first aid accessories to reminders to pack my toothbrush the morning of my departure. It pays to build up this list gradually before you start packing in order to help you not forget anything essential to your travels. I now do this for every trip and have never forgotten anything. While on topic, if taking any electronic goods, make sure you purchase the correct travel adaptors to ensure you are still able to use your camera charges, hair straighteners, laptops etc while abroad.

Changes for Aussies entering the USA from January 12, 2009

January 11, 2009

From January 12, 2009 Australians (as well as visitors from 34 other countries) using the Visa Waiver Programme to travel to the United States of America will have to submit their travel information three days in advance of their departure to receive authorization to enter into the USA. This authorization may be obtained online through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).

This new scheme which has been on trial since August of 2008 and is referred to as an ‘electronic visa’ will replace the I-94W forms which, in the past, passengers have been prompted to fill out while on board their flight. No longer will passengers have to scurry through their bags in search of a pen to fill out the I-94W forms. Passengers will have up to 72 hours before boarding a US-bound plane or cruise ship to complete their electronic visa or risk being declined at their departure gate. There is no charge to complete the application and once approved, it is valid for two years.

Speaking from prior experiences, the queues for entering into the USA have never been painfully long or daunting, but this new paper-free process promises to deliver shorter queues and quicker processing times when passengers disembark their flight and reach the USA.