Because we are hoping to serve in South Africa for longer than 90 days, we need to obtain a Visa for Voluntary or Charitable Activities. We’re keeping notes on the process for the Episcopal Global Mission office in case they’re useful to others. We’re sharing them here in case anyone is curious or in case our experience is useful to you as well.
Here’s our experience and advice.
- Start early. This will take a while. The list of required documents is long. It includes a chest x-ray to make sure you don’t have tuberculosis, a medical exam and report to certify you don’t have, amongst other things, leprosy, and an FBI background check. Plus, the South African Consulate website says it can take four weeks to process applications. People have told us it can take longer.
- The South African Consulate keeps your passport while they process your application. This means if you’re planning to leave the country in the meantime, you’ll need to apply for a second passport so you have one to use in the meantime.
- You have to apply at the consulate in person and they don’t make appointments. Also, check the website to see where you need to apply based on where you live. Since our address is in North Carolina, we had to apply in New York City. Fun place to visit, but expensive, especially if you need to make multiple trips or don’t get everything done in a day. Also, a day is only part of a day since they only accept visa applications from 9 AM until 1 PM.
- You may be asked for documentation that is not listed on their website. There are also multiple checklists on the website, including a separate checklist that is part of the application. The person checking our documents had a different checklist than any checklist we could find on the website. So, bring along anything that appears on a checklist, even if it’s not the checklist you think applies to you, just in case. For example, the checklist on the website didn’t mention needing a copy of a marriage license (where applicable, of course), but one of the lists on the application form did. So we found ours and brought copies along and that was a good thing.
- You may be asked to provide documents not on any checklist. For instance, we were asked to provide copies of our other travel itineraries between now and the time we go to South Africa. A young woman applying to do volunteer work was told to get a copy of a utility bill from the organization she wants to work with. She and her mother had taken an 8-hour train ride to get to the consulate. They will be allowed to Fedex the utility bill when they get it and not have to make a second trip.
- The checklists on the website may change. When we started gathering documents, the list included plane tickets to and from South Africa. At the time we applied, that was no longer on the list, but the person checking our documents told us we needed it. This requirement feels odd–a plane ticket purchased before we know we’ve got a visa? Yes. Just do it and bring a copy along and hope you will get to use the ticket.
- If you like adventure, you’re in luck–this feels like adventure. It felt like a combination scavenger hunt (where is our marriage license? This the first time we have ever been required to show it to anyone), adventure race (you have two hours to obtain this new-to-you document and get back to the office before it closes. Go!), and random guesswork (we needed to bring copies of 3 months of bank statements to prove we can support ourselves, but they don’t specify a required amount. We think we have enough. Will they think we have enough?)
So please keep us in your prayers as we wait to see if we get visas, and please keep in your prayers the people who work to keep their country safe, and ours too.