A clerical error on a visa for Russia ended up costing thousands more for a holiday and wasn’t covered by travel insurance.
Sergei Supinsky / AFP/Getty Images
Chrstian icons are projected onto the Saint Sophia Cathedral bell tower during a laser show in central Kiev. Sheryl Smolkin and her husband got to the Ukrainian capital, but missed out on a tour of Russia.
If you need a visa to visit a foreign country, make sure all of the information is correct before you leave home. Because we didn’t, my husband and I incurred thousands of dollars in unexpected expenses during a recent trip to Russia and Ukraine.
In May, we left Toronto for a long-anticipated two week trip to Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kiev and Odessa. We flew to Munich and expected to board a connecting flight to Moscow.
At the gate, a Lufthansa representative noticed that although my documents were correct, there was a clerical error on my husband’s Russian visa. It was valid from March 18 to March 24 instead of our travel dates from May 18 to May 24. They wouldn’t let him on the flight.
Our travel agent gave us an emergency cell phone number for a Russian diplomat in Munich who was on weekend duty. She said we would have to make a new visa application at the Russian Embassy in Munich on Monday. While tourist visas typically take three days she said an emergency same day visa could be issued. So we rebooked our connecting flight to Moscow for Monday evening.
We spent most of Sunday assembling the required documentation. The embassy did not accept cash or credit cards, so we went to a bank and transferred the 70 Euro application fee directly into the account of the Russian embassy.
When we got to the embassy at 9 a.m. on Monday, we were first told that a tourist visa takes three days without exception. Then the supervisor of the first person who served us said the original visa could only be fixed in Canada and we could not apply for a new Russian visa in Munich because we are not German residents.
He also said the Russian government could not offer Canadian travelers any flexibility because the Canadian government would not extend a similar courtesy to Russian citizens in these circumstances.
We realized travelling to Russia was a no-go, so decided to fly to Kiev the next day and meet our group on Friday for the second week of our tour.
As a result, we lost the entire amount for pre-paid for hotels, food, entertainment and transportation in Russia. In addition, we were on the hook for the extra flights from Munich to Kiev, hotels and food for six days, the cost of rebooking an Aeroplan flight from Munich to Moscow (that we never took) and the 70 euro visa fee (for the visa that was never issued).
We had trip interruption insurance of up to $5,000 per person under our annual TD Insurance Meloche Monnex Wide Horizons policy and a further $2,000 coverage for each of us because we charged all trip expenses to our CIBC Aerogold VISA Infinite card.
However, we quickly discovered that neither policy would cover any of our losses. Insured risks under both policies are similar and include sickness, injury or death of travelers or immediate family members not travelling. Government no-travel warnings, certain types of accidents and natural disasters are also covered.
But visa glitches are not listed in the policy provisions.
I have since checked out policies offered by two other popular travel insurance carriers, RBC insurance and the CAA. Although RBC’s trip interruption coverage appears to be more comprehensive in some ways than TD Insurance or the CIBC VISA policy, the non-issuance of a travel visa is specifically excluded. CAA also covers a broad range of insured risks, but a situation like ours is not one of them.
We have learned the hard way that what appears to be a simple clerical error on a visa cannot be fixed outside the country, and trip interruption insurance coverage won’t cover unexpected expenses that result.
In the end, we spent a few days exploring Munich and some time in Kiev before we joined our group. The second week of our holiday in the Ukraine was wonderful and went off without a hitch.
But the next time we will check and re-check all visas before we travel and take nothing for granted. And at least for the foreseeable future, any further plans for travel in Russia are definitely off the table.