Wednesday, July 25, 2012
I am a list maker from way back. From weekly budgets, shopping lists, packing lists, things to do today lists and while I was on my trip I was making notes for my blog and of course lists of things I had to do when we go to internet access, you know people to email, bookings to be made, money to transfer etc…. I am a list girl from way back. So I made a list of things I needed to get done while I was home and getting my Ethiopian visa was one of the important ones and at the top of the list.
While I was in Chile, I emailed the Ethiopian Consulate in Australia, which is located in Melbourne and the gentleman I was dealing with down there was very helpful. We went back and forth with a few emails and he always got back to me promptly during the week we conversed. Basically I can enter Ethiopia on a 3 month tourist visa which I can obtain from the consulate before I leave. The downside to this is that the visa is valid from the date of issue, which means I would have to leave Ethiopia earlier than I need to if I got it processed in Australia. So I will now have to get it done in London and as late as I can so that I can stay in Ethiopia till the middle of November to come home for Christmas. I may even be able to get a 6 month visa in London that you can only get in Australia if you are Ethiopian descent. In regards to long term living in Ethiopia once I find a job with an approved government registered company I can stay indefinitely or of course if I marry. If all else fails and I need to stay longer before coming home, I can skip out of the country and then re-enter again to restart a month visa that they issue upon arrival into Addis for 20USD. So either way, it isn’t too time consuming for me to be able to live/stay and after Christmas I will start in earnest for a job of some sort.
Speaking of visa’s the good news is that David told me that the Australian Consulate has now opened a branch in Addis Ababa. Currently they had a visa agency looking after the applications of the Ethiopians and then sending then to the Consulate in Kenya. So this is great news and hopefully will help when we apply for Zeme’s tourist visa for November. Now that I will also be there, I’ll get some good old fashioned Western time frames going and hopefully get this visa debacle all sorted so that we can come together at Christmas for Zeme to meet all my friends.
The bane of our existence is visas and I think it is something I am going to have to get used to with Zeme raveling on an Ethiopian passport. That’s okay, it just means extra planning is involved and we all know how much I like to plan things!!!!
So it another thing that I can cross off that ‘list’ and see what is next to do.
Next on my list was money matters. On my World Odyssey I had Travelex cards that basically work like a credit/debit card and there were a few that you could choose from. They had ATM cards in different currencies and they also had a Visa card option as well. So, me wanting to be prepared for anything and everything, I got ATM cards in British Pounds, Euros and Australian Dollars and I also got a Visa card in Australian dollars which this was going to be my primary source of accessing my money. The beauty of these cards is ten fold. They don’t access any funds from your personal accounts here in Oz; you transfer money via BPay or reload where you bought the cards from. If you lose them, they are easily replaced at any Travelex office around the world, 24/7 global assistance and you also get 2 cards on the one account. It is an amazing product and I didn’t have a single issue the whole trip using these cards.
There were 2 instances where my card was stopped and I was notified. The first time I was in Madagascar and I had used my card to purchase duty free (considered an African country) and then I flew 4 hours to get to Reunion Island which is under French rule and I used the ATM to get out some cash in Euro’s. Well the ‘system’ had a problem that I could get from Africa to France in 4 hours and stopped the card till I had let them know what had happened and at the touch of a button my card was re-instated. The second time was when I left Brazil. I had used the ATM at the airport to get some Brazilian rials for my return. I then flew to Frankfurt and purchased a new camera duty free and then 7 hours later I was using my card in the ATM at Addis Ababa International airport for some local cash. So as the ‘system’ saw it, my card had been used in 3 continents in a span of 30 hours and again suspended my card. They are good in letting you know, they send you an email and a number to call them back on. If you don’t have access or money to use a phone they ask for a phone number they can call you on and a preferable time and they will call you. And again after establishing the account and identity the card is all good to go again within 5 minutes. I love my Travelex cards.
So having had and used these cards for the last 16 months, I had to check that I hadn’t exceeded the yearly spend on them of 45,000AUD. If you get to that limit within the year then they will be stopped until your anniversary of the purchase comes around again, as the cards are valid for 3 years. I was just going to purchase another 2 cards just to be on the safe side, but Travelex have slightly changed their product since I left and now only have a MasterCard option. I am a little wary of MasterCard as some people on my Africa trip and in South America had problems accessing money from their MasterCard accounts. The product itself is a lot better, the withdrawal are now free, the Visa cards were 3.75AUD, the yearly spend is now 100,000 and the cards look a lot groovier. So when I was at the office yesterday I purchased the cards as ‘no fees’ is too good to pass up and I will use my Visa card as a backup if I have issues with MasterCard. I always have an Australian credit card (small limit), an Australian ATM card and 2 Australian credit card numbers I have written down in code form with me as an extra backup. I told you I was prepared for anything and you can never be over prepared when it comes to money. I could think of nothing worse not being able access my money and relying on others to ‘spot’ me till I got my hands on money. No thanks, hence the billion different options I travel with.
So nothing extra has to be done in regards to accessing my money for my next journey. What I had in place on my World Odyssey worked fine and I will use the same process again. All I can say is thank goodness for internet banking and BPay and with the new MasterCard product having no withdrawal fees I think I am probably in a better place than last trip and also paying less fees than running my funds through an Australian card.
When I went on my Odyssey, besides my notebook and my IPod I purchased a Blackberry phone, unlocked and this was my form or keeping in touch via text messages. I had planned to just use my Australian sim as much as I could, but I quickly realized at 2.50AUD a text message that I had to find a better way to send the messages. After 3 weeks I found myself in London and I purchased a UK sim card with Vodafone. I could top this up at any European Vodafone outlet and it seemed a perfect solution to keeping the cost low and I would then keep my Australian sim as a backup. What Vodafone UK failed to tell me at the time of purchase was you could not top your account up on line with a foreign credit card; it had to be domiciled in the UK. Trust me I tried all the tricks in the book and 4 different cards to no avail. So once I got into Africa and used all my credit I was going to be credit less. When I left the UK I put 150GBP on the card and hoped that it would be enough to get me through my 3 months there. Well it wasn’t enough and I had to ask a few friends to top up my account for me in the UK and to this day I still owe 100GBP between 3 people for topping up my account for me.
Once I had started in Africa, my guide Julius said it was really easy to get a Kenyan sim card and a lot cheaper so he helped me in my first purchase of a Kenyan sim. The downside to using the African sim cards was that they all didn’t work in each other’s country. So each time we entered a new country I would purchase a new sim card. This was definitely more cost effective then the UK sim and also the Australian sim; it was just an inconvenience for the people receiving my texts from yet another new number. Most times we were in countries for 2 weeks so it was worth-while to do and certainly a lot cheaper for me. The process of recharging these cards was also really easy, you purchased credit from authorized sellers and then imputed the confirmation number into your phone and it was done. I was surprised it was so easy and 99% of the time I didn’t have an issue in Africa. The main issue was reception in some areas which you would expect, but even that was surprisingly more than I ever thought I would get. It was in Africa that I lost my Australian sim, but this wasn’t a huge drama as I still had money on my UK sim but I still have no idea where it got to or where I actually lost it…
South America was another kettle of fish. I tried an Ecuador sim card and had issues straight away and when I tried the Peru sim I also had issues. The phone people in Pisco said it could be my Blackberry, so I bought a 20AUD phone and once we worked out what the exit code was for Peru I had no problems getting messages out. But I was back to an analogue phone, you know press a key 3 times to get a single letter type jobs, but I could use it and my messages were getting out so no complaints for me. These issues continued through all the South America countries and it was a pain in the arse 90% of the time. Mark was super patient every time we changed countries to come with me to translate the purchase of new sim cards and to get all the exit codes to send a message. Some worked and some didn’t, but when the sims were only costing me a couple of dollars it wasn’t too bad if they didn’t end up working for whatever reason. Who would ever have thought that Africa would have an easier communications network than South America. I am lucky that I had a British couple on the first 2 segments of South America that I could give them cash and they would use their credit card to top up my account.
By this time I was getting a grand old collection of sim cards and upon my return to Ethiopia I was able to use the card I had purchased 4 months prior. The Ethiopian network is not the best. There is only one company, government owned, and the signal and reliability in the country is not the best. Text would be sent and not received, call drop outs and messages about phone disconnections but when you tried back 2 minutes later you were connected. There really is no advantage to having a smart phone in Ethiopia, but I am a Blackberry gal through and through and I just had to get another one to replace the one that was lost/stolen in Chicago. It was here that somehow I lost the pouch that had all my sim cards in it, including my UK sim that I had just topped up with 50AUD before leaving Rio. Dang it, so as I left Ethiopia I now had no sim cards what so ever and no card that would work. This panicked me and I was really worried that I would have no communication options as I headed back into South America for the last 6 weeks. When I landed in Frankfurt I managed to find a travel sim in the electronic store at the international airport as I had a 3 hour transit there, so by the time I landed back in Brazil I had one working phone again.
This sufficed me all the way round the top of South America, Easter Island, Barbados, Canada and the US till my phone was lost/stolen in Chicago. Which the timing was crap again as I had just added 30EUR to my account the day before. So I had to then purchase a new phone in the US with a sim card and went for a cheapie phone of 70AUD and a 30AUD plan which gave me free data and free text messages in the US it was a great backup plan to get me through the last 5 weeks in the US.
My arrival back into OZ I had to get yet another phone, as the US phone was locked to AT&T. I wanted to get a new Blackberry and after shopping around they seemed quite hard to even get your hands on one and when you could to buy the phone out right was going to cost 700AUD. Not even I could justify 700 bucks for a phone. So I settled for a 99AUD phone on a prepaid plan that was unlocked but I missed my Blackberry. So while I was on EBay one afternoon I just checked the cost of the new Blackberry and I found one for 268AUD from Hong Kong and it included the postage. It was unlocked, brand new and in original package so I couldn’t resist and it arrived this week. It works fine and I now have my Telstra prepaid sim in my spanking new BLACKBERRY. So I am not caught in the position I was in before I am going to purchase another one or two Australian sims and then get one in the UK before I leave for Ethiopia. I’m just going to make sure the sim I purchase in London will be a company where I can top up on line. It is a shame that Vodafone don’t let foreign credit cards top up as I was really happy with the service and coverage I got with them. Oh well I am sure that there are more companies that will do the same thing. In Australia Optus seemed to have a great prepaid deal where you pay 29.95 for the sim and that includes 300AUD of calls and text messages. Normally these plans don’t include international anything but this plan does. The text messages are 3AUD a pop which is super expensive, but when you have a 300 buck credit you are still getting 100 texts for free. So I will definitely be getting that sim to take with me.
So that is the pros and woes of my phone and travel sim cards. I am heading in a little more travel savvy this time around and as with my money matters having a few spare cards for backup now makes sense and I am not sure why I didn’t think about it before hand on my first Odyssey.