A few months back, I was in Montenegro on my UK Visa and while I was busy exploring Montenegro and its attractions, I cooked up a plan of traveling further to Bulgaria. I had already heard so much about Bulgaria and couldn’t resist myself from exploring this Balkan Nation – it’s Black Sea Coastline, mountainous interior, vibrant culture, and rich heritage.
To get a Bulgarian Tourist Visa, I visited the Bulgarian Embassy in Montenegro. To my surprise, the consular officer @ Bulgarian Embassy gave me an instant “seal of approval to enter Bulgaria” on my UK Visa. I asked him again if there’s a dedicated visa required for Bulgaria, but he assured me saying: “Stay assured gentleman. You will gain straight entry into Bulgaria on your current UK Visa. I have checked all your documents. Everything seems perfect. There’s no need to get a separate visa for Bulgaria.”
*** With ripples of excitement and full of the joys of spring, Aamir Iqbal was now en route to Bulgaria… ***
To reach Bulgaria, I had to pass through three different countries – from Montenegro to Albania – Albania to Bosnia – Bosnia to Serbia – and then from Serbia to Bulgaria. On reaching Serbia (which was the last country before entering into Bulgaria) – I decided to book a road ticket to Bulgaria. It’s a 450 km road journey that gets covered in 6 hours. I chose to travel via road because this way I will be able to enjoy window displays of Serbia as well.
After a long journey of 6 hours, I reached the Serbia-Bulgaria Border. I was just about to cross the border on foot when suddenly an immigration officer stopped me.
Officer: “Hello Sir, Stop! Where are you heading to?”
Me: “I am going to Sofia, Bulgaria”
Officer: “Can you show me your visa, please?”
Me: “Sure. Here’s my UK Visa”
The moment the officer saw my visa, he went ballistic and it seemed as if one his fuse has blown away :p ! His eyes flashed angrily and while giving me an infuriated look, he said: “Sir you are not supposed to visit Bulgaria on this visa.
This is a C-class Multi UK Visa, which is not eligible to permit you entry into Bulgaria.”
Listening to the officer’s remarks, my blood ran cold. All my excitement of exploring Bulgaria was overshadowed with the heebie-jeebies of this distressing moment. I told the officer, that I have come all the way from Montenegro only after verifying myself from the Bulgarian embassy located in Montenegro.
“Mr. Officer, I would never have arrived here without a Bulgarian visa. But it was your official embassy in Montenegro that assured me entry into Bulgaria on my UK C-class Visa.”
The heated conversation between Aamir Iqbal and the immigration officer, continued for about 1 hour, before he gave me his final excuse, saying: “Sir, we are sorry. We are not allowed to permit you entrance on this UK visa. However, I can offer you a bit of advice. You can travel back to Niš city in Serbia. We have one of our offices there, who can handle your query and decide your fortune”.
*** Worried, fainted, and heart in his mouth – Aamir Iqbal was now stranded alone between the borders of Serbia and Bulgaria. The dark and stormy weather with heavy rain — further rubbed salt in the wounds and the whole situation turned from bright to gloomy ***
However, I struggled against the harsh situation. Due to heavy rain, I was literally soaked from top to toe. Lifted my luggage and went back to the Serbia border. I gained entry back into Serbia. Due to the strong weather conditions, Serbia was turned into a desolate place with no traffic movements, no taxis, and a very limited number of people gathered together under building shades to protect themselves from the rain.
I walked some distance and found some shops. I straightly got into one of the shops, and it was a big fat lady who was the shopkeeper. I told her that I am a tourist who is stuck in an unfortunate situation and that if she could please give me access to her internet connection so that I could book a hotel room here in Serbia and if she could please do something to call me a local taxi? Fortunately, the lady offered me help but that help came at some cost :p … you will get to know later 😀 ! The lady shared her WiFi credentials, and I quickly searched for a hotel room in Niš city Serbia and booked it straight away. The lady also instantly called me a local taxi for Serbia at €100. I thanked her for her hospitality, but who knew that the lady’s intentions were something else!
The taxi arrived within 10 minutes. I quickly jumped into the taxi and was now en route to Niš, Serbia. After the ride, I got to know that the actual taxi charges were €60 only, and the shopkeeper kept that extra €40 as her commission to help me 🙁 !
I stayed in Niš, Serbia for 2 days. During my stay, I applied for a Bulgarian Tourist Visa at their embassy. I narrated them the complete story, what happened and how I came here. The consular officers apologized for the inconvenience and requested me to stay in Niš for 2 weeks, as the new visa process can take up to 12 days. I told that I can’t stay here for two weeks and that I would rather go back to London. Meanwhile, if my visa gets approved, they can call me or leave me an email.
*** I took a flight to London and was now back home. ***
After two weeks, while I was in London, I received an email from the Bulgarian Embassy that my visa has been rejected.
The visa-rejection email that I received from the Bulgarian Embassy.
Meanwhile, in London, I applied for the Bulgarian visa again and it was again rejected. I kept paying the €50 Visa Application Fee and kept applying again and again, until on the 5th time when the embassy officer called me for a 1-on-1 meeting in her UK office. I went to meet her at the designated time.
Both of us were sitting face to face each other when the officer looked upon me and said:
“So Mr. Aamir Iqbal, why are you so crazy for the Bulgarian visa? It’s 5th time you have applied for the visa and have been rejected. What’s so attractive in the Bulgarian visa that you keep applying for this, even knowing that your application does not satisfy our requirements? Can I please know your problem? Do you want us to ban you permanently for applying for the Bulgarian visa?”
To this, I replied to the officer saying:
“Madam, why you people are so crazy that you are not granting a globe trotter – who has visited 40+ countries – a Bulgarian tourist visa? I am fulfilling all the requirements, but even then it’s the 5th time that my application has been rejected. What’s your problem?”
Our niggling discussions kept going for more than half an hour when the lady finally said:
“Mr. Aamir, if approving and rejecting a visa application was in my hands, I would have granted you immediate access. But all such decisions are made by the head office in Sofia, Bulgaria and we have no authority to peek into their affairs.”
To this, I said:
“Ok Madam, no problem. I don’t care if I face a ban… I will keep paying the €50 fee and will keep applying for the visa. After all, I am fulfilling all the visa requirements, there’s not even a single requirement which I am not abiding by, and even then you people keep rejecting my visa with no any proper excuse!”
To this, the lady laughed and said Ok you keep applying. So now, it was the 6th time that I paid €50 Visa Application Fee and applied for Bulgarian Visa with the same documents. Not even a slight change to my documents… And to your surprise, right after 10 days, I got a call from the embassy that your…
“VISA HAS BEEN APPROVED & We are happy to know that you comply with all our visa requirements.” On hearing this news, I jumped in excitement. I rushed to the embassy to get my Bulgarian Visa, and here’s my visa 😀
Moral: Great things happen to those who don’t stop believing and trying. There is no failure except in no longer trying. As Dale Carnegie, once said: “Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.