Are you visiting Japan soon as a tourist using a passport under your married name BUT still have an unexpired visa under your maiden name? Read on to see if you can still use your visa.
What is the worst thing that could happen to you when you are traveling?
I can think of a bunch of things that could ruin a good holiday: lost baggage, theft, flight cancelations, and missing hotel reservations. The list could go on and on, but I have somehow managed to avoid those troubles. I’ve always made it a point to prepare well for any trip; from booking to confirming tickets, packing my stuff, preparing a doable itinerary and taking care of visa-related concerns. Not once have I missed a flight, questioned by an immigration officer, lost any of my belongings or even pick-pocketed during a trip. But my recent trip to Japan made me a bit lax about getting things done and almost resulted in one of the worst things that could happen to a traveler: being denied admission to your country of destination.
While this was happening, all I can think about was how incredibly unlucky I am. I will not bore you with the details, but let’s just say that 2019 had thrown me some stinkin’ s**t. It was almost the rancid icing on a perfectly awful year. But enough about that, let’s talk about what happened.
So before I get into the details of my semi-traumatic travel experience, let me just give you a little background.
We had planned a family trip to Osaka, Japan in mid-May to celebrate my sister’s birthday and well, just for some travel bonding time. For most of my readers, traveling to Japan is as easy as booking your tickets and go. I, however, possess one of the passports that give me limited travel freedom. In most cases, I would need a tourist visa to travel. Now it is also worth mentioning that I am a US permanent resident and although I know that it doesn’t make any difference with regards to my entry eligibility to certain countries, it kind of played a factor with how I handled my visa situation.
Now here’s the dilemma, I have been given a multiple entry visa before I got married that’s set to expire next year. Naturally, after our wedding, I renewed all of my IDs including my passport to reflect my married name. And so after booking our flight, the first thing I did was to check on whether or not I could still use my visa. Like any typical person, I searched Google for answers. I was hoping that the answer to my question would easily come up in black print somewhere on the embassy’s page. What I only found were a couple of comments saying that it should be fine as long as I take with me a copy of my marriage certificate to prove the name change and one forum comment stating that they did the exact same thing and that they encountered no problems at all.
Now you may think that it’s a stupid thing to ask the internet for something as important as this. Of course, it’s stupid! I did what any sane traveler would do, I went straight to the Consulate Office of Japan in Guam (where I currently live) to get my answer.
Because I live on a small island with a population that mostly don’t need a visa to visit Japan, it was easy to walk-in to the Consulate Office and ask an officer my pending question. I was informed that I could in fact still use my unexpired visa. And this was a directive straight from Japan! I even saw him read through a file/memo to confirm before he gave me the information. Mind you, I went to them twice just to be sure.
I made the decision to just use my unexpired visa and not bother applying for a new one under my married name. It would have been fairly easy to just apply again, but my personal circumstances during that time made things a little bit complicated.
And so, we left Guam and flew to Manila, spent a couple of days at home with family, and finally, it was time to leave for our family trip to Osaka! We checked in online for our flight but of course, they still looked over our documents at the check-in counter at the airport. I proactively offered my original marriage certificate and explained that my valid visa was on my old passport, but the airline check-in agent dismissed it and told me to just present it in case I was asked.
This gave me a great boost of confidence that everything will go smoothly on my trip! Airline employees are trained to be the experts and checking the required travel documentation is part of their daily routine. They’re not going to let me check-in on a flight if they thought I have even the slightest chance of being rejected and deported at my destination. They would have to pay for my flight home if that was the case, so I’m pretty sure they are very diligent when it comes to these things.
Finally, we arrived at our destination and promptly lined up for an Immigration Officer (IO). I went by myself to the next Immigration Officer available, my husband and daughter were next on queue. As I watch the IO go through the pages of my passport and my Japan tourist visa, I offered my marriage certificate in my attempt to make it easier for him to understand the situation. When he finally made a phone call to someone in their office, I knew then that something was wrong with my visa.
I was led by another IO to their office on the left side of the Immigration area and was told to wait. A few minutes later, a senior officer came and listened to me as I explained my situation and the information that I received from the Consular Officer in Guam. After which, I was told that unfortunately, my visa was indeed invalid.
Imagine my absolute disappointment. I was literally on the verge of crying. I was already thinking about my family waiting for me at the baggage claim area and just how incredibly embarrassing and just plain awful to have to go back home because of my bad judgment.
With all these going through my head, I could barely understand what the senior IO was saying until he uttered the words Special Landing Permission, how he would need a translator, and that it could take a while.
Then came the long wait. An airport employee dropped by to ask me for my flight information (so they could locate my family and inform them of the situation). Then I waited some more. There were three other travelers (different Nationalities) also waiting in the office. No idea what’s going on with them but I could tell that they were just as anxious as I am.
Finally, the senior IO came back and led me to what I believe an interrogation room, with a translator at the other end of the phone line. I will no longer bore you with the details of the whole conversation but I was basically informed that my visa was invalid and void but that I will be given a Special Landing Permission so that I can enter the country as a tourist. I was also asked to write a short appeal letter requesting for permission to be granted entry to the country so that I can join my family on vacation. And of course, I signed a few documents confirming that I understood what happened, etc.
Finally, I was allowed to leave and join my family, with my Immigration sticker allowing me to stay in the country for 15 days. Yey! Osaka, I’m excited to see you!
What I Learned From This Experience
First of all, I do not blame anyone except myself. The officer from Japan’s Consulate Office in Guam gave me information that was true at the time that I made the inquiry. Osaka is hosting the G20 Summit at the end of this month and all over Kansai International Airport, especially in the Immigration area, are warnings about heightened security. It is quite possible that the change in policy happened after I inquired and probably in preparation for the summit.
Second, I appreciate so much the professionalism and kindness of the Japanese Immigration Officers. I would have been in a total panic, or worse, had they not been nice and did their best to explain to me what was going to happen. They did not leave me wondering in the dark nor did they show any unseemly behavior. This is just one of the many reasons why I love Japan.
And lastly, when applying for a visa or when you’re being questioned by an IO, ALWAYS be honest about your travel intentions. I personally think that this played an important role with the IO’s decision in granting me the Special Landing Permission. He knows that I’m traveling with family. I have all the documents to prove that I will only stay in the country for six days and it’s purely for tourism purposes. I have also traveled at least three times to Japan before, was issued a multiple 5-year visa, and have never overstayed or caused any trouble. If in any way I acted suspiciously and if there were inconsistencies in my story, I was surely going to be sent home.
My experience could have been prevented and I could have had a smooth and stress-free entry to Japan. But what’s done is done and I am very grateful that I was given special consideration because it could have gone the other way. Being denied entry to a country like Japan would have affected my future travels, and visa applications too. But honestly though, even if it had not gone positively, it would not change my perception of the country because I know that what happened is my responsibility.
Some Additional Travel Tips
- Always check your travel documents before you even book your trip. Visa requirements are not the only thing you should check. A lot of people may not be aware of this but in certain countries, you must have at least 6 months validity left on your passport in order for you to travel. Airlines could deny you boarding or you will be denied entry by an Immigration Officer if you don’t. And that’s even if you intend to leave before your passport expires. Always check the most updated policies on the Embassy’s page or call them if you have to!
- Make sure that your visa, electronic travel waiver, and even your airline tickets and hotel reservations, match your passport information. People may have gotten away in the past with minor name discrepancies but let’s face it, times are changing and stricter rules and scrutiny are being enforced all over the world to prevent terrorism, etc. Gone are the days when Robert and Bob are assumed to be one and the same person. Everything has to match!
- A lot of newly-married women do this as well: they book their tickets under their married name even if their passport is still under their maiden name. Again, always book your airline tickets (or any other travel-related reservation) under the name in your passport!
- But of course, getting married isn’t the only reason why anyone would change their name. There are people who chose to change their legal name for whatever their reason and in such cases, bringing your Name Change document is a must to avoid disruptions in your travel plans.
I know that this is quite a long read but I hope my experience would somehow be an eye-opener for you too about being thorough with anything related to your travel. And if you are here because you are in the exact same situation as me, here’s the plain and simple answer: go and apply for a new visa! Save yourself the worry and hassle!
Thanks for reading and let me know if you have questions or if you’ve ever been in a similar situation. I would love to hear about your story!
Oh, and stay tuned for more of my adventures in Osaka! We enjoyed a fabulous vacation!
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