Author: Isa Phillips

*A note from the Publisher: we sometimes ask travelers to share their interesting travel or visa stories, and sometimes we get picturesque stories indeed. Hope you enjoy the one below. Please note that the opinions expressed by our contributors are their own. The name of the country issuing the visas in this blog has been changed to Tuvalu.

As a Jamaican track and field Olympic athlete and an international representative for Jamaica, getting visas was the story of my life. At least once every year since my very first trip off the island, I have had to get visas for my competitions or for personal travels.  My first Schengen visa was in 2002, when I traveled to Budapest, Hungary via airport transfer (in transit) in London, for the world youth championships with my teammate Usain Bolt.

Isa Phillips.jpg
Phillips at Mannheim DLV Competition 2011

Currently I have traveled – many times for competitions – to over 40 countries, spanning 6 continents, and still counting. Antarctica is my next stop.

Personally, I am tired of getting visas. As a Jamaican, I often had to get visas nearly everywhere I visited. I did not mind it at first, but now, I find the process painstaking.  The 90-day Schengen visa every year for my pro sport travels was often not long enough for return visits. The breaking point came in 2016, when I was heading to Europe with just 4 days left on a valid Schengen visa.  I had booked a flight with the plan that I will renew it when I get to Germany. However, I was not allowed to board a non-refundable flight because the airline said that in the event I am denied the visa in Europe, it would be the airlines liability, even though I would have enough time to get it, provided I was going directly to the consulate when I landed. 

My most memorable visa experiences were for Tuvalu visas. I rented a car, skipped an entire day of training, and went to Houston to the Tuvalu consulate to get my visa for the world championships with one of my teammates. I was told that my name was not on the initial list of our delegation that was summited by Jamaica. So, I called the office responsible for the submission as the consulate requested. The office confirmed that the necessary supporting documents for me were faxed the week earlier. After over an hour of back and forth, the representative said that Jamaica would have to re-fax the document and I would have to come back the following day.

By this time the consulate was minutes away from closing for their lunch break. My teammate had already confirmed her visa and waiting to pick it up when the consulate re-open for pick-ups at 2 p.m. I refused to leave without my visa and asked if may I speak with the senior consul or the boss. The person to whom I was speaking responded: “Sir I am the senior consular here, this is property of the Tuvalu nation, now please leave the office or I will be forced to call security.” My teammate was getting scared and was urging me to leave with her. When I refused the leave, the representative signaled over to the security to escort me out. This was the first time in my life security was called on me. Still, I did not move. Two guards came and held on to both my arms; but I dislodged my arms from their grip. When the representative saw this, he told me to leave my passport and he will double check to see what he can do, and for me to call the representatives in Jamaica to see if they may resend the necessary documents. When I came back later that day, and they handed me my passport with the visa, and said nothing.

When I was in Funafuti, at the World Championships, I was invited by one of my sponsors to come back to Tuvalu for a speaking arrangement later that fall. I was in Stuttgart for the summer so I went to the consulate in Munich, Germany to get another entry visa to Tuvalu. This time, the consulate gave me 6 days, for the length of time based on my confirmed hotel reservation. However, I was scheduled to return to the USA on the morning of the 7th day, at 6 am. When I arrived at the airport, customs denied me departure saying that my visa is expired by 6 hours and I will have to get a new visa for 24 hours to leave. Try as I may, I could not convince them to let me leave. I was escorted to the consulate at the airport and had to purchase a new visa, the shortest I ever received, for 24 hours.

Isa Phillips is a Jamaican track and field athlete who has traveled globally for his competitions.