Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Chasing a Student Visa in Nepal: Part 1

Brian and I both arrived in Nepal on tourist visas. For people of most nationalities, obtaining a tourist visa is incredibly easy: upon arrival at Kathmandu's Tribhuvan International Airport, fill out a brief form, fork over your passport photo and visa fee (just $100 for 90 days, and even less for shorter durations), and wait in line to receive the visa in your passport. How do they print the visas so quickly, you wonder? Well, that's easy -- there is no printing involved. Relevant information is filled in by hand. The process is fast and cheap, and it requires little planning ahead.

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But here is the wrinkle. Although you can obtain extensions for tourist visas, 150 days is the maximum amount of time, per calendar year, that you can stay in Nepal under a tourist visa. After your five months are up during a given calendar year (western, not Nepali), you have to ship out -- or obtain a non-tourist visa.

Non-tourist visas, however, are an entirely different beast from their easy-to-obtain cousin. The process for a non-tourist visa is neither fast nor cheap, and it requires quite a bit of research and planning.

Around the middle of February, about one month into my 90-day tourist visa, I was talking to a friend who re-entered the country around the same time that I did, and she told me that she was already taking steps to get a student visa.

"A student visa? But you have a business here." I figured, of all people who could legitimately obtain a business visa, she was one, as a co-founder of a successful start-up in Nepal.

But clearly I knew nothing about the non-resident visa process because she laughed -- kindly, but more or less in my face. (On a side note, I have come to really enjoy her candor and appreciate her tough love approach to educating me on how to navigate Nepal's bureaucracies.)

"We went through that process last year," she explained, "and it was not worth it. It was expensive and time-consuming, and the visa lasted only six months."

This time around, she continued, she and her husband would get student visas. After diligently researching her options for several months, she realized that this approach was the second easiest route to a non-tourist visa.

"And the easiest?" I asked.

"Oh, a paper marriage. Three different lawyers recommended that option."

Given that she and I both love our husbands too much to ditch them -- not to mention our status as law-abiding citizens -- for Nepali guys, we decided to work together on the student visa project.

I was grateful that she had already completed a lot of the research legwork because time was getting tight. Although we both had months remaining on our tourist visas, they would ultimately expire before the start of the second student semester, so we had to rush to register for a class in the current semester. Once registered for a class, the theory went, we could obtain student visas. Once we had our student visas in hand, our husbands could also get visas as spouses -- no class registration necessary.

The visa process had only just begun, but at least I no longer had to worry about planning a Nepali wedding.

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