26 November 2008

The Queen is Dead

This morning Cunard's venerable ocean liner QUEEN ELIZABETH 2 arrived at the port of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates: its final stop on a forty-year voyage.
Launched in 1967 and in service in 1969, the ocean liner has sailed the equivalent of thirteen round trips to the moon. She has carried over two million passengers. She has even been to war: ferrying troops to the Falklands/Malvinas in 1982.
I had the pleasure of being on her last true round-the-world cruise in 2007, and can truly say I will miss this ship and all who sailed on her.
The QE2 now becomes an attraction in Dubai, and will be turned into a hotel, convention centre, and museum. So if you did not have the pleasure and privilege of sailing on her, you can now visit her in a climate more welcoming than the cold North Atlantic!
Now the excitement builds as we anxiously await news of the replacement Queen Elizabeth, or as I call her, "the QE New".

19 November 2008

World Toilet Day

Today is international World Toilet Day. The day is meant to bring attention to the single greatest health issue on the planet: sanitation. With close to 80 per cent of all disease being caused by fecal matter, the problems of access to toilets is a global one.
It is estimated that 2.6 Billion people do not have access to sanitation facilities. This means about 40 per cent of the world’s population lives their lives literally surrounded by excrement. This does not mean they do not have a toilet as we know it, but that they do not even have a bucket or the knowledge of sanitation measures.
Now imagine if somehow all people had access to toilets. All of a sudden we would cut the prevalence of disease by billions of cases per year. Medical and drug costs would drop. People would be healthier.
Now what does this have to do with travel? Well, as travellers seek more exotic locations, they are faced with more places without enhanced or even basic sanitation means. Let’s face it: having to go to the bathroom in some places in Africa and Asia is a trying experience for us soft Canadians. As a seasoned traveller I recommend you always carry a small roll of toilet paper on your person whilst travelling. And let’s be truthful here: it can be very useful not just in a village in Cambodia, but also in an airport boarding lounge. Before travel to an exotic location, I collect the ends of regular toilet paper rolls. The last bit of the roll is small and convenient to carry. Removing the cardboard tube helps. Put it in a zip-lock bag if it might get wet.
To learn more about world Toilet Day, visit the World Toilet Organization (WTO) by clicking here.
And wash your hands.

11 November 2008

Brazil - new prices

Bad news. Due to recent fast and furious dollar fluctuations and depreciation, fees for Brazilian visas have been upped dramatically.
As of November 2008 there are new fees for a Brazilian visa. Tourist visa prices jumped 50% from the old $90 to the new $135 per person. The business visa is also higher, at $126 per person. Prices for US citizens living in Canada have climbed to an astonishing $252 per person.
So if you are visiting Brazil by plane or ship or bus, or even stopping for a day at Iguaza Falls on the Argentine border, you need a visa at the new price. Visas acquired at the old price are still valid if they have not reached their expiry date.
Click here for Brazilian visa details.

09 November 2008


There is good news in Visaville.
Quietly and without notice the Chinese embassy in Canada began processing visa requests in under 48 hours if required and if paid at double the standard rate.
So we are once again pleased to offer Now visa service for China. If your application arrives before 09:30, then it will be handed back by the Chinese the next day.
The fee for this new fast service, re-instated now that the Olympics are past and things have settled down in China, is only $125.
The other good news is that multiple-entry visas are again available if you can prove you had one in the past. A previous multi visa in your current or previous passport is proof. Of course, you have to provide the old passport in case of the latter.
So click here to get your Chinese visa from VSC: Canada's best and most trusted visa provider.

05 November 2008

Passports for US travel

Even with the defeat of the Bush group in Washington, there is to be no respite for travellers. As of 01 June 2009, all people seeking entry to the United States of America by land, sea or air will need to present a full passport.
At the beginning of 2008, the US Department of Homeland Security and the US border agency began requiring all air passengers to present a passport in order to board a flight to the USA. At that time land and sea border crossings needed only a birth certificate and another item of government photo identification such as a driving license. But this was only temporary.
No border crossing into the USA will be possible without a regular passport. This becomes the rule as of next June: only seven months from now.
So go out and get your passport renewed, or get your first-ever passport. Visit the passport office on-line here. Passports applied for in person take two weeks, or four weeks if by mail. For 24 hour service you pay an extra $70 above the basic passport fee of $87; but you have to apply in person. Those wanting more pages should pay the extra $5 for a double-thick passport.
And remember, any visa you already have in your passport automatically expires with the passport, and cannot be transferred to the new passport. Your passport number will change, too. So if you applied for anything under the old passport, or used the old passport as ID for a cruise ticket, this will all have to be changed. Remember to update your airline on-line preferences, as these are automated to hasten border crossing procedures and linked to your old passport.

03 November 2008

Brazilian financial requirements

For reasons unknown to the general public, the Brazilian government has carved up Canada into four consular jurisdictions for the purpose of issuing visas for tourist and business travel.
For visa applications to any and all of the jurisdictions, we at VSC require applicants to provide financial data. The standard requirement is that all applicants provide either a recent bank statement with their name on it, or their recent Revenue Canada "Notice of Assessment" which usually arrives about two weeks after you file your taxes.
Now some people naturally disagree with having to supply what they rightly see as personal financial information. Of course, the Brazilian government is under no obligation to provide a visa, either!
Making the whole thing even more complicated is the fact that the four jurisdictions have different financial requirements.

Ottawa: "self-employed or unemployed applicants must present statement of earnings. Statements of earnings of spouses or parents in case of students can be accepted."
Ontario: None listed.
Eastern Canada: "proof of financial means: - copy of recent bank statement, with complete name of the account holder; - copy of last income tax."
Western Canada: "Proof of income or employment: - copy of recent bank statement, with complete name of the account holder; - copy of recent pay stub; - copy of last income tax."

The lesson is that the requirements are on average for everyone (not just the self- or unemployed). Only Toronto does not specifically ask for the info, but is still subject to the rules set down by the Embassy in Ottawa. This is why we inform people of the requirement to provide either the Notice of Assessment, or a recent bank statement. Either document must have the name of the person applying on the original document. Photocopies are encouraged. The account number or the SIN can be deleted.
I hope this explains why we stand by this requirement. There is no use in having the visa process grind to a halt just before an important and expensive departure just because a simple document was not submitted.