Sans visa, no entry to Syria

This item appears on page 26 of the September 2011 issue.
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From the Editor — Suzanne M. Stein of Chesterfield, Missouri, was partway through an Adventures Abroad tour of Iran, Syria and Jordan, Sept. 30-Oct. 31, 2010, when a paperwork problem forced her to leave the group. What travelers can do so the same thing never happens on any tour they’re taking is part of what I’ll cover here.

Ms. Stein wrote to ITN, “The morning of the group’s flight from Tehran, Iran, to Damascus, Syria, several of us with no Syrian visas in our passports became aware that we needed them. We were told to fly to Damascus anyway. Upon our arrival, two Canadians without visas were permitted to buy theirs at the airport. As an American, I was not allowed to do so and therefore was denied entry into the country.”

She continued: “While the group proceeded on their tour of Syria, the next morning on Oct. 14 I flew to Amman by myself. A car and driver met me at the airport, and from then on I traveled from place to place with a driver who spoke very limited English.

“In two places I was given a local guide — for 1½ hours in Jerash and 1½ hours in Petra. Every other place, the driver dropped me off, paid my entrance fee and left. Three hours with a guide in nine days is not what I paid for. In Aqaba, the driver did not even remain in the city for the two days I was there; I was truly alone.

“I feel that Adventures Abroad owes me some refund for the missed travel days in Syria. So far, they have been unwilling to issue any sort of refund on a $9,536 trip (including all airfare, starting in Missouri).”

I e-mailed copies of Ms. Stein’s letters to Adventures Abroad (1124 Fir Ave., Ste. 101, Blaine, WA 98230), received a reply from Assistant Manager Martin Charlton and continued to correspond with both Ms. Stein and Mr. Charlton. Before I get into the matter of her not having a visa for Syria, it would be appropriate for Adventures Abroad to address what Ms. Stein wrote about her time in Jordan.

Mr. Charlton wrote, “As soon as we became aware that Ms. Stein did not have a visa for Syria, we put every action in place to assist and take care of her. I assured her that we would do our best to put together a Jordan itinerary that, as closely as possible, matched the itinerary that she was booked to travel on with Adventures Abroad.

“Her tour in Jordan was 100% private, and it was put together at an amazingly quick pace over a matter of approximately 36 hours. Our local partners in Jordan were ‘on the ball’ and really stepped in to assist.

“A car and driver were arranged. Hotels were secured. English-speaking guides were arranged at short notice, where possible. Breakfasts and dinners were provided. The international flights back to North America were adjusted to reflect her new tour dates.

“The Syria portion of this tour was nine days in length, and Ms. Stein’s Jordan tour ended just prior to the group’s arrival into that country, so she could not rejoin the group.

“Ms. Stein was never abandoned, in the true sense of the word. We were in regular contact with her by phone during this period. I personally spoke with her several times when she was in the Damascus airport ‘in transit’ to Jordan; she was using the phone at the tourist info desk.

“I assured her that upon her arrival in Jordan we would have someone meet her and take her to a hotel. I contacted her daughter in North America to advise her of her mother’s situation and new flight back to North America.

“I spoke with Ms. Stein upon her arrival at the hotel in Amman as well as several times during her first two days of touring that city. We had our local partners in Amman meet her on several occasions at the hotel to ensure that all was okay. We fully understand how she must have been feeling.”

Mr. Charlton continued: “Ms. Stein was advised several times that we would not be able to provide a refund for the missed Syria portion of her tour, as the cancellation of all services was being made at the last minute. As we feel that the error made was at her end, and as no refund was procured by Adventures Abroad for these missed services, we cannot pass along any refund.

“Ms. Stein must also appreciate that she was lucky to be able to apply to her private tour the funds from her canceled group tour to Jordan. This was solely due to the fact that we have an excellent working relationship with our partners there… . The funds that she had paid for her original tour were barely sufficient to cover these expenses, not including the new flight that had to be purchased. We covered any extra costs incurred. We feel as though we handled all matters in a most professional manner.

“The events that transpired were extremely unfortunate, and we do regret that Ms. Stein was not able to enjoy her full tour with us as planned.”

 

So how is it that Ms. Stein did not have a Syrian visa?

Shortly after she paid the deposit for the tour, back in May 2010, Ms. Stein received a packet in the mail from Adventures Abroad. It included the pamphlet “TOURGUIDE Booking and Pre Departure Information,” and within that was a sheet titled “Important Visa Information for Your Tour of Iran.”

Near the bottom of side one of that sheet was a paragraph in bold, underlined CAPITAL letters: “Deadline: We must receive the above documents in our office no later than six weeks before tour start date. Do not plan any travel that requires a passport for this timeframe. If you are booked on our tour of Iran & Syria (IR6), you must apply for your Syrian visa first.” The rest of the page as well as the other side continued to be only about Iran, and Ms. Stein did fill out the form and send it to Adventures Abroad.

Some members of the ITN staff read the (above) line about the Syrian visa and took it to mean that Adventures Abroad would handle that for each tour member, arranging for the Syrian visa before getting the Iranian visa for the traveler.

Other members felt that the statement was straightforward, plus since there was a form enclosed to fill out for the Iranian visa (photo required) but no form enclosed for the Syrian visa, then the traveler could assume that he had to get the Syrian visa on his own.

Perhaps Ms. Stein simply overlooked the line. Two Canadian members of the group arrived without visas for Syria, too, but it’s possible they figured they could get theirs at the border.

Ms. Stein wrote that fewer than two weeks before departure, she asked to be sent “cultural information” about the countries to be visited. She then was sent another collection of pages also titled “Adventures Abroad TOURGUIDE Booking and Pre Departure Information,” only (and this is something that I noticed while poring over all of the material) the contents of this packet, which was stamped, “Arrival date: 30 Sep 10 Tehran,” were much different than those of the previously sent packet, which was stamped “Arrival Date: 31 Dec 69.”

In the newer packet, there were sections on each country to be visited, with, at the top of each, any visa requirement prominently shown. The words “SYRIA: VISA REQUIRED” were followed by detailed instructions, Syrian Embassy contact info, etc. There was information on each country’s geography, food, electricity, etc. Much of this information was not in the first, similarly titled packet.

Ms. Stein received the second packet two days before departure, but, she admitted, she “gave no credence to any of the other visa information” since the trip was imminent. Obviously, that was a mistake, on her part. It would have been better if she had noticed the visa requirement before leaving the United States.

I asked Mr. Charlton about the differently dated info packets and he replied, “Yes, Suzanne Stein did receive two different sets of documents from Adventures Abroad. The first set… was not as detailed as the second one, though both noted that an entry visa was required for Syria.”

A month and a half before departure, tour members had to send their passports to Adventures Abroad so the company could get the Iranian visas. Wondering how it could be that each tour member’s passport was not checked to be sure it contained a visa for Syria, I wrote to Adventures Abroad asking, “Could this happen again?”

Mr. Charlton replied, “In the future, we will, of course, now make a habit of checking for the Syrian visa should we receive the clients’ passports for Iran visa processing. It just had never happened before.”

Mr. Charlton subsequently wrote, “I would like to assure ITN readers that in the days immediately following these events, several of our staff members went through all of the predeparture literature for all of our Syria (and Iran/Jordan) departures… Our documents are now explicitly clear re exactly which visas the travelers are responsible for obtaining and which visas (if any) will be obtained by Adventures Abroad.”

Mr. Charlton added, “Ms. Stein has been traveling with Adventures Abroad for over 10 years, and we highly value such loyalty… . We would love to see her on board another tour with us in the future and would be more than happy to discuss future travel possibilities with her directly.”

 

With this example and that described in the preceding letter from another ITN subscriber, Ms. Powell, certain lessons should be apparent.

Each tour member or cruise ship passenger should take the time to read every word of all of the literature sent by the tour or cruise company (paying special attention to any contract). Try to read between the lines of subtle warnings and statements, and question the company about any possibly ambiguous statements. Make no assumptions.

But it really comes down to this: do not rely on the tour or cruise company for visa information. Ultimately, it is up to each tour member or ship’s passenger to determine whether or not a visa is needed for any country that is being visited — or which MIGHT be visited (see below). This applies even if the company is arranging for visas for other countries on the tour.

One example of possibly needing a visa for a country that might be visited — in a caveat about Uzbekistan released on April 25, the US Department of State stated, “Travel within Uzbekistan by rail or land sometimes requires brief exit into neighboring countries. Travelers should have multiple-entry Uzbek visas and a proper visa for the neighboring country in order to avoid delays in travel.”

—David Tykol, Editor, ITN

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

From the Editor — Suzanne M. Stein of Chesterfield, Missouri, was partway through an Adventures Abroad tour of Iran, Syria and Jordan, Sept. 30-Oct. 31, 2010, when a paperwork problem forced her to leave the group. What travelers can do so the same thing never happens on any tour they’re taking is part of what I’ll cover here.

Ms. Stein wrote to ITN, “The morning of the group’s flight from Tehran, Iran, to Damascus, Syria, several of us with no Syrian visas in our passports became aware that we needed them. We were told to fly to Damascus anyway. Upon our arrival, two Canadians without visas were permitted to buy theirs at the airport. As an American, I was not allowed to do so and therefore was denied entry into the country.”

She continued: “While the group proceeded on their tour of Syria, the next morning on Oct. 14 I flew to Amman by myself. A car and driver met me at the airport, and from then on I traveled from place to place with a driver who spoke very limited English.

“In two places I was given a local guide — for 1½ hours in Jerash and 1½ hours in Petra. Every other place, the driver dropped me off, paid my entrance fee and left. Three hours with a guide in nine days is not what I paid for. In Aqaba, the driver did not even remain in the city for the two days I was there; I was truly alone.

“I feel that Adventures Abroad owes me some refund for the missed travel days in Syria. So far, they have been unwilling to issue any sort of refund on a $9,536 trip (including all airfare, starting in Missouri).”

I e-mailed copies of Ms. Stein’s letters to Adventures Abroad (1124 Fir Ave., Ste. 101, Blaine, WA 98230), received a reply from Assistant Manager Martin Charlton and continued to correspond with both Ms. Stein and Mr. Charlton. Before I get into the matter of her not having a visa for Syria, it would be appropriate for Adventures Abroad to address what Ms. Stein wrote about her time in Jordan.

Mr. Charlton wrote, “As soon as we became aware that Ms. Stein did not have a visa for Syria, we put every action in place to assist and take care of her. I assured her that we would do our best to put together a Jordan itinerary that, as closely as possible, matched the itinerary that she was booked to travel on with Adventures Abroad.

“Her tour in Jordan was 100% private, and it was put together at an amazingly quick pace over a matter of approximately 36 hours. Our local partners in Jordan were ‘on the ball’ and really stepped in to assist.

“A car and driver were arranged. Hotels were secured. English-speaking guides were arranged at short notice, where possible. Breakfasts and dinners were provided. The international flights back to North America were adjusted to reflect her new tour dates.

“The Syria portion of this tour was nine days in length, and Ms. Stein’s Jordan tour ended just prior to the group’s arrival into that country, so she could not rejoin the group.

“Ms. Stein was never abandoned, in the true sense of the word. We were in regular contact with her by phone during this period. I personally spoke with her several times when she was in the Damascus airport ‘in transit’ to Jordan; she was using the phone at the tourist info desk.

“I assured her that upon her arrival in Jordan we would have someone meet her and take her to a hotel. I contacted her daughter in North America to advise her of her mother’s situation and new flight back to North America.

“I spoke with Ms. Stein upon her arrival at the hotel in Amman as well as several times during her first two days of touring that city. We had our local partners in Amman meet her on several occasions at the hotel to ensure that all was okay. We fully understand how she must have been feeling.”

Mr. Charlton continued: “Ms. Stein was advised several times that we would not be able to provide a refund for the missed Syria portion of her tour, as the cancellation of all services was being made at the last minute. As we feel that the error made was at her end, and as no refund was procured by Adventures Abroad for these missed services, we cannot pass along any refund.

“Ms. Stein must also appreciate that she was lucky to be able to apply to her private tour the funds from her canceled group tour to Jordan. This was solely due to the fact that we have an excellent working relationship with our partners there… . The funds that she had paid for her original tour were barely sufficient to cover these expenses, not including the new flight that had to be purchased. We covered any extra costs incurred. We feel as though we handled all matters in a most professional manner.

“The events that transpired were extremely unfortunate, and we do regret that Ms. Stein was not able to enjoy her full tour with us as planned.”

 

So how is it that Ms. Stein did not have a Syrian visa?

Shortly after she paid the deposit for the tour, back in May 2010, Ms. Stein received a packet in the mail from Adventures Abroad. It included the pamphlet “TOURGUIDE Booking and Pre Departure Information,” and within that was a sheet titled “Important Visa Information for Your Tour of Iran.”

Near the bottom of side one of that sheet was a paragraph in bold, underlined CAPITAL letters: “Deadline: We must receive the above documents in our office no later than six weeks before tour start date. Do not plan any travel that requires a passport for this timeframe. If you are booked on our tour of Iran & Syria (IR6), you must apply for your Syrian visa first.” The rest of the page as well as the other side continued to be only about Iran, and Ms. Stein did fill out the form and send it to Adventures Abroad.

Some members of the ITN staff read the (above) line about the Syrian visa and took it to mean that Adventures Abroad would handle that for each tour member, arranging for the Syrian visa before getting the Iranian visa for the traveler.

Other members felt that the statement was straightforward, plus since there was a form enclosed to fill out for the Iranian visa (photo required) but no form enclosed for the Syrian visa, then the traveler could assume that he had to get the Syrian visa on his own.

Perhaps Ms. Stein simply overlooked the line. Two Canadian members of the group arrived without visas for Syria, too, but it’s possible they figured they could get theirs at the border.

Ms. Stein wrote that fewer than two weeks before departure, she asked to be sent “cultural information” about the countries to be visited. She then was sent another collection of pages also titled “Adventures Abroad TOURGUIDE Booking and Pre Departure Information,” only (and this is something that I noticed while poring over all of the material) the contents of this packet, which was stamped, “Arrival date: 30 Sep 10 Tehran,” were much different than those of the previously sent packet, which was stamped “Arrival Date: 31 Dec 69.”

In the newer packet, there were sections on each country to be visited, with, at the top of each, any visa requirement prominently shown. The words “SYRIA: VISA REQUIRED” were followed by detailed instructions, Syrian Embassy contact info, etc. There was information on each country’s geography, food, electricity, etc. Much of this information was not in the first, similarly titled packet.

Ms. Stein received the second packet two days before departure, but, she admitted, she “gave no credence to any of the other visa information” since the trip was imminent. Obviously, that was a mistake, on her part. It would have been better if she had noticed the visa requirement before leaving the United States.

I asked Mr. Charlton about the differently dated info packets and he replied, “Yes, Suzanne Stein did receive two different sets of documents from Adventures Abroad. The first set… was not as detailed as the second one, though both noted that an entry visa was required for Syria.”

A month and a half before departure, tour members had to send their passports to Adventures Abroad so the company could get the Iranian visas. Wondering how it could be that each tour member’s passport was not checked to be sure it contained a visa for Syria, I wrote to Adventures Abroad asking, “Could this happen again?”

Mr. Charlton replied, “In the future, we will, of course, now make a habit of checking for the Syrian visa should we receive the clients’ passports for Iran visa processing. It just had never happened before.”

Mr. Charlton subsequently wrote, “I would like to assure ITN readers that in the days immediately following these events, several of our staff members went through all of the predeparture literature for all of our Syria (and Iran/Jordan) departures… Our documents are now explicitly clear re exactly which visas the travelers are responsible for obtaining and which visas (if any) will be obtained by Adventures Abroad.”

Mr. Charlton added, “Ms. Stein has been traveling with Adventures Abroad for over 10 years, and we highly value such loyalty… . We would love to see her on board another tour with us in the future and would be more than happy to discuss future travel possibilities with her directly.”

 

With this example and that described in the preceding letter from another ITN subscriber, Ms. Powell, certain lessons should be apparent.

Each tour member or cruise ship passenger should take the time to read every word of all of the literature sent by the tour or cruise company (paying special attention to any contract). Try to read between the lines of subtle warnings and statements, and question the company about any possibly ambiguous statements. Make no assumptions.

But it really comes down to this: do not rely on the tour or cruise company for visa information. Ultimately, it is up to each tour member or ship’s passenger to determine whether or not a visa is needed for any country that is being visited — or which MIGHT be visited (see below). This applies even if the company is arranging for visas for other countries on the tour.

One example of possibly needing a visa for a country that might be visited — in a caveat about Uzbekistan released on April 25, the US Department of State stated, “Travel within Uzbekistan by rail or land sometimes requires brief exit into neighboring countries. Travelers should have multiple-entry Uzbek visas and a proper visa for the neighboring country in order to avoid delays in travel.”

—David Tykol, Editor, ITN