Saturday, October 19, 2013
visa renewal in Toronto...
We are up up/over in Canada to renew the visas in our passports. Our current visas expire in February so we needed to get on and get them extended.
We have been told that they will add 2 years on to the end of the current ones so it didn't matter that we were renewing them 4 months early.
We can apply for this 2 year extension, then another 2 years and then we will need green cards if we stay in America.
We decided to do the renewals in Toronto for a number of reasons, but mainly because at least two families suggested it was a good idea. You have to leave the country and we should really have done them on our next home leave trip, but given we are only going back to the UK for a week, that wasn't going to be possible.
So we drove from Kalamazoo to Toronto on Wednesday. The drive was so easy. We took the north route through Flint as apparently the border control is less busy. And it was - it was virtually empty. We didn't have to queue at all. We stopped for a second breakfast / bathroom stop, lunch and another bathroom stop so it took almost 8 hours but went by really quickly. A sweet friend has lent us some travel toys and the kids were excited to open the bag and delve in! There were lots of magnet books and trays with magnets in so they could have those on their knees - genius idea for a long car journey!
We are staying in downtown Toronto, in a hotel which is about 10 minutes walk from the Eaton Centre which is the biggest shopping mall I have seen in a long time! I am excited to go to the Canadian department store 'The Bay as they sell UK brands like Bench, Planet and Dorothy Perkins.
We went to the US Consulate, which is only a few minutes from the hotel in the car or a reasonable walk.
We booked the earliest appointment we could. We only applied for it on October 1st and managed to get one for less than 3 weeks later so settled for a 10am appointment. They start as early as 8am and we were advised to get an early appointment. The website suggests you arrive 20 minutes before your appointment time so we arrived there around 9:30am. There was already a queue of people outside and it just got busier and busier! By the time we left 2 hours later, there were huge lines all over the place and no seats left!
The appointment took about 2 hours in total. You check in with security at the gate having waited in line outside. We forgot our umbrella but thankfully it didn't rain! I think we were outside for about 30 minutes.
Then you see someone at the front desk and get your papers in a folder. Then another line and another check in desk where you get your number. Then you sit and wait. You will be called to go upstairs and pay a fee, called to another window to take your fingerprints and then called to do the interview plus pay another fee.
They say that you cannot take any electronic goods, food and drink or large bags in with you. There is nothing to do once you get in there and nowhere to buy a drink or snack. Another good reason to go straight after breakfast!
Our kids did amazingly well for 2 hours with nothing to amuse them other than a piece of paper and a pen. But there was a bit of a meltdown in the restroom towards the end. Hey, I was bored so I can only imagine how the kids felt! And you can't snooze because you have to watch out for your number! They announce it, but only quietly! We did bribe them with the promise of a trip to the Disney Store - which they held us to as soon as we left!
We brought a paper map with us so we could find our way back to the hotel via somewhere for lunch. We could have probably brought a few more things for the kids but there is nowhere for them to play and we kept losing our seats as we went to each window. You have to take the kids with you each time you go up to a window so they ended up on our knees.
But all in all it was an OK experience, the kids did great and I would recommend that office to anyone.
We are now 'hanging around' in Toronto waiting for our passports to be sent to a local office called Lumis. They say it can take between 2 and 5 working days. We are supposed to get an email to tell us when they are ready but we can also log into the website to see if they are ready. Hopefully we won't be here too long!
Toronto is a great city and there is loads to do here so I'm sure we won't get bored. Though be warned - it is not cheap! The CN Tower cost us over $100 though we did pay extra to go up to the highest view point. It was stunning to be up there but you get a great view from the glass floor level too.
And the zoo is pretty expensive too! But worth it - they have Pandas and Polar bears, Grizzly bears and White Lions! Plus lots of other exhibits. We spent all day walking around and just about saw everything!
There is also a new Aquarium by the CN Tower which we might do if it rains plus a huge shopping mall with a fantastic food court! We've had thai red curry twice already!
We hope to go to Niagara falls too as that is only 90 minutes away by car. Obviously we will have to stick do the Canadian side as we don't have our passports!
We decided to do the renewals a few months early to catch the weather. It has been sunny but cold and it's due to rain this weekend and we didn't want to be stuck in a city in the snow. They do have a huge network of underground tunnels to get around the city plus a tram/trolley system but I'm glad we have come at this time of year. It's not too busy during the week and not so cold that we don't want to leave the hotel!
So fingers crossed we get our passports back early next week and we can get back home.