Bureaucracies in French Guiana – Applying for a Surinamese Visa

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We needed go to Cayenne to get our Surinamese visa. We thought we had done our homework and that our paperwork was in order. Too bad not everybody agreed with that. Fortunately there was enough to distract us in the process.

“I can give you a two-month visa,” the lady behind the counter stated while she handed back our passports.

“I beg your pardon. We applied for a one-year visa.”

“That may be so, but we can issue only two months.”

The consequences were incalculable: our already-booked flight tickets from Paramaribo (Suriname’s capital) to the Netherlands; Coen’s father’s plans to visit us in Suriname a couple of months later. This was bad news.
The receptionist was grouchy and had other things to do than listening to protesting visa applicants. I’m sure we were neither the first nor the last today.

Time for sightseeing downtown with lots of early 20th century architecture.

Coen’s brain cells work differently than mine. I immediately search for a solution to fit our plans in accordance with this fait accompli. When Coen has set his mind on something, he doesn’t give up that easily. He had applied for a one-year visa, which had been promised by telephone a couple of weeks earlier. He was resolute to obtain it and returned to the counter.

“Can I talk to a superior, a consul, or somebody else?”

The receptionist sat behind a counter with ceiling-high glass covered with instruction sheets. The glass had only a small hole to talk through at the bottom. It’s the type of interior that is supposed to exude a display of power: bow to the powers that be!

“Well, listen, then you should call this number,” she answered and handed him a piece of paper.

We left the office, defeated.

The Right Person?

On our ‘campsite’ at harbor of Degrad de Cannes right outside Cayenne

We racked our brains. Despite fighting the negative spiral that we felt was overtaking us, we were stressed and felt weak. Until Coen had a brainwave, “Let’s ask Daniel for help.”

And so we rang the doorbell at Daniel and Dominique’s house. They were home.

About two weeks earlier we had also driven into this dead-end street, during our first orientation of Cayenne’s old town. While Coen had turned the Land Cruiser around, a woman hung outside the window on the first floor of a big house.

“Are you traveling the world? Where are you from? she had asked in perfect English.

Time to visit l’îlet de Mere, just before the coast.

After a couple of questions back and forth we sat at their table eating lunch, and later that afternoon joined them watching the Grand Parade of Carnival. Daniel and Dominique had been stationed in French Guiana for three years; Daniel was the military attaché of French Guiana and Suriname.

And so Daniel was only too familiar with the structures of power and hierarchy. He was willing to introduce us to those powers. Tuesday morning we returned to the consulate and announced ourselves at Mrs. Purpleheart’s office. I saw the hesitation on her face: she was not sure what to think of us, not understanding what we wanted of her, but she listened to our story.

  • How we called from Brazil to check about the possibilities to apply for a one-year visa, and how this was confirmed as ‘no problem’.
  • How Coen’s family, based on this information, booked a holiday to Suriname for August (stupid – yes!).
  • How locals in French Guiana confirmed the ‘no problem’ status of obtaining a one-year visa.
  • How, based on that confirmation, we booked a ticket to the Netherlands in May from Paramaribo (stupid – without doubt!)
  • To cut it short: that we had a problem.
  • That we’d like to stay in Suriname for a longer period of time, as a pied a terre to work on long-term projects. But also to write about Suriname, among which the Savanne Rally in November, and we showed Mrs Purpleheart our portfolio with articles.

“You know what. Write everything down you’ve just told me. Add copies of articles and then I’ll fax the proposal to the Ministry in Suriname,” she suggested. I watched her face, which was smiling now. I could see her proposal was sincere, not some pass-the-buck strategy.

“I really hope you’ll succeed,” she said.

Waiting for an Answer

And so we proceeded. We wrote our proposal and handed it to her.”Call me next week.”

“Call me next week.”
One week later: no news.”Try again after the weekend.”

“Try again after the weekend.”

Another ten days passed and we decided to go to Kourou to watch a rocket launch. We called from there.

“Yes, I received news. You can’t get a one-year tourist visa but you get a two-year business visa,” Mrs. Purpleheart informed us. “The details will be confirmed by fax later this week, so visit me when you return to Cayenne.”

 

We checked the Internet. Despair rose. For a business visa we needed a registration number of the Chamber of Commerce, and a business partner in Suriname. We had neither.

But we shouldn’t have worried. The documents had stamps of the highest authorities and that was good enough. When we returned to the consulate we tackled our next obstacle: the temporary import document for the Land Cruiser.

“Please take a seat,” the receptionist said. “I’ll see if the person in question can receive you.” She was in a better mood than during our first encounter.

The clock was ticking. Nothing happened except from other visitors being attended to and leaving the building. The room became entirely ours and in half an hour the consulate would close. A man from the back office entered the waiting hall and looked at us questioningly. We asked if he was the man we’re supposedly waiting for.

“Uhm, no. He is in Kourou. Can I help you? Let’s walk to my office,” offered the man of whom we have forgotten the name. He said he was second in command.

More Obstacles?

We posed our question. He didn’t see the problem.”The Land Cruiser will receive a two-months temporary import document at the border. You can extent it at the customs office in Paramaribo.”

“The Land Cruiser will receive a two-months temporary import document at the border. You can extend it at the customs office in Paramaribo.”

Oh well, this was just as a stupid question calling from Brazil about our visa. These kind of answers are totally unreliable. The only thing you can do is take it as it comes, and then take it from there.

“So where did you enter the country?” he asked, leafing through the passports.”From Brazil, over land,” we answered. “You won’t find an entree stamp in there.”

“From Brazil, over land,” we answered. “You won’t find an entree stamp in there.””Why not?”

“Why not?”

“This is French Guiana. We are Europeans in Europe, and thus don’t get a stamp.” We had even driven to the airport in an attempt to get one there, having heard that not having an entree stamp could cause problems when leaving the country. “No, not necessary at all!” the airport officials had stated with conviction. Of course not. They didn’t want to give one either, just to please us.

We had even driven to the airport in an attempt to get one there, having heard that not having an entree stamp could cause problems when leaving the country. “No, not necessary at all!” the airport officials had stated with conviction. Of course not. They didn’t want to give one either, just to please us.

“But that stamp was mandatory to apply for a visa. And where are you staying?”

“In the car.”Right.

Right.”You know what, why don’t you call Mrs. Purpleheart. She knows the ins and outs,” we offered.

“You know what, why don’t you call Mrs. Purpleheart. She knows the ins and outs,” we offered.Short telephone call followed. He hung up.

Short telephone call followed. He hung up.”Okay, all is fine. The only thing you have to do is pay.”

“Okay, all is fine. The only thing you have to do is pay.”We could do this on the spot, with our bank card. However, the bank card didn’t work. Surprised? Nope. We had to go to the bank to deposit the money By then it was lunchtime and the bank was closed.

 

We could do this on the spot, with our bank card. However, the bank card didn’t work. Surprised? Nope. We had to go to the bank to deposit the money By then it was lunchtime and the bank was closed.

Our Surinamese Visa!

That afternoon Coen went to the bank. He was glad to have left me behind. More bureaucracies, red tape and in this case unwilling employees. Better leave it to Coen to deal with those people playing important. An hour later, the money was deposited.

At three thirty we had a full-page, two-year visa pasted in our passport. Thanks Daniel! Thank you, Mrs. Purpleheart!

For more on French Guiana, check out these articles:

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Thank you for your support — Karin-Marijke & Coen

2 thoughts on “Bureaucracies in French Guiana – Applying for a Surinamese Visa

  1. Hey guys, I didn’t know we were mentioned in one of your topics. Very impressed and don’t believe I deserved such an honor!
    Anyway, many thanks for mentioning us, even if I didn’t help much.
    By the way, did you know that Mrs Purpehart passed away some time after this story. RIP, she was really a nice person.
    Dan&Dom

    • Yes you do! Sometimes it’s those little things that push us over an invisible barrier and lead to great encounters like the one we had together. Also it showed us how the universe is connected in ways we don’t understand. What a terrible loss, may she RIP indeed.
      Adventurous greetings,
      Coen

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