To make a trip to South America while holding a Vietnamese passport, I had to apply for several visas: a tourist visa to the destination country and 1 or 2 transit visas to get to my final destination. If you fail to get a visa, it means you have to start again. After researching for a while, I chose a flight without having to apply for transit visas: Hanoi – Doha – Sao Pablo (Brazil) – Santiago (Chile). As a Vietnamese citizen, I can get a 3 month, free tourist visa in Chile.
Qatar Airways needed me to buy a return ticket from their airline, in case there is a problem with immigration, they would use the money I paid for the return ticket to take me back to Vietnam. It means that if there is any problem, I would have to return to Vietnam and lose $3500 for tickets.
After 31 hours (26 hours of flight and 5 transit hours in airports), Chile welcomed me with a special entry at the Chilean police investigation office (PDI – Policía de investigaciones de Chile). Landing at Santiago airport and finishing the vaccines and travel insurance checking progress, I was standing in line to wait for immigration procedures. Here the story begins…
There were a few police officers standing around the line to check if there were any suspicious people in the line. The policeman must have seen me, a girl walking alone, holding a passport with a strange color and language. So he asked me to follow him for a special inspection. “Random checking”, he explained. At this time, I also asked him a few friendly questions, but he did not answer at all. I thought he was trying to be cool, but later I realized that his English was not good, so he didn’t understand what I had asked.
I followed him into the office, then he called another woman who spoke English to talk to me. The first question she asked me is if I had another passport (?). I said no, I only have this passport. She asked about the passport 4 or 5 times during the entire conversation to make sure.
Then she asked about my luggage, I told her I still had two more checked bags. So they took my luggage codes and told me to wait there, they would go to get the luggage. After a while, they back with my luggage.
The next step is unloading all my luggage for inspection. At this time, I also quickly showed them a Vietnamese criminal record check to verify that I was not a criminal (I prepared this document before leaving Vietnam). For anything they unpacked from my bag, I quickly explained what it was before being asked. My luggage had clothes, belongings, camping stuff, laptop, Ipad, camera, some coffee, etc.
I was most worried about my personal papers. Because I brought a lot of personal original and notarized documents: passport, identity card, household registration book, university degree, transcript, proof of work and income, bank statement, etc. Before the trip, I was warned to put these papers in my checked bag, because there are cases that immigration checks and questions about why you travel with so many documents, maybe you plan to apply for a job here. If they were in doubt, they would not allow me entry, and the airline would take me back to Vietnam. That means I would lose $3500 for nothing. When the policeman saw that file, I quickly explained that I was preparing documents to apply for a tourist visa to Peru, I wanted to continue traveling to Bolivia and Peru. The guy nodded and did not check these papers carefully. I breathed a sigh of relief.
The next step is checking the passport. They turned off the lights to scan my passport and see if it is real. They carefully checked two pages: my passport information page and my Japan visa page.
After checking my luggage and passport, asking a series of questions about why I came to Chile, and checking my return ticket, they asked me to sign the inspection report. I asked if I could take a photo, and they said no, so I signed. Now, I look back at the situation and wonder why I easily signed the document in Spanish, even though I didn’t know what the content was.
I wanted to give the policemen some Vietnamese coffee as a gift, but they refused because they could not receive gifts at the office.
Then they took a trolley and helped me put my luggage there. They gave me the entry stamp and then let me go. The story seems to have ended but not yet.
At the baggage scanning counter, one more time I had to unload my luggage. This time, they must have suspected that my coffee was cocaine, so they unpacked everything to check. He opened the first bag of coffee, smelling it, making sure it is coffee. He was about to stop checking, but he thought again and he opened all the coffee bags to make sure it was all just coffee. After that, they let me go.
The entry to Chile was a bit long, but everything was fine and happy afterward. Chilean friends, I knew from Couchsurfing and some groups on Facebook were very friendly and helpful.
After a week in Chile, I bought and set up this cool bike to start my journey to explore South America.