Hannah and Colleen chat about the various steps to the ever changing process of getting a visa in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. This isn’t the nuts and bolts, just the experiences from our perspective of foreign bureaucracy and how to walk through it. We are so grateful for our Kurdish friends who made it possible for us to navigate and made sure the government received all the correct paperwork.

Ask questions or contact us at Hannah@servantgroup.org!
Learn more over on our Iraq Page!

Here’s a rough transcript of the podcast!

Hannah: Hey Colleen.

Colleen: Hey Hannah.

Hannah: So this is “Between a Iraq and a Hard Place”. Although it kind of looks like a storage closet.

Colleen: Seriously though we are here to talk about life in Iraq.

Hannah: Right.

Colleen: So we talk about a lot of things that are really frustrating on here and I don’t think we do that necessarily on purpose because we really like frustrating things.

Hannah: Or that those are even the most memorable things!

Colleen: But often they create the funniest stories.

Hannah: It’s true like the whole hindsight is 20/20 thing, but about frustrating moments. It is is hilarious sometimes.

Colleen: And honestly I feel like we today are going to talk about the visa process and that, because we all had to do it over and over again, we did gain, even in the midst of it, a sense of humor about it. And some of the ridiculousness and entertainment that we found in the process of getting our visas.

Hannah: Humor as a coping strategy for what really is often very frustrating, partly because you can’t do anything about it.

Colleen: I mean, the first visa you geeet is not frustrating at a. It’s just a at stamp in your passport when you walk (in at least as an Americ)a It’s like Shazam. You can be here for either 14 – 15 – 30 – 31 days. It depends on when you’ve gone in.

Hannah: Right. I think it’s 30 days now. The only frustrating part of that for me was several times in the U.S. checking in for my flight if I was flying like from Atlanta to Turkey to Iraq. You know, it had my final destination and and the lady in the check in counter would be like, “Oh I’m sorry you’ve been flagged because I need to see your Iraqi visa.” And I was like, “I’m not I’m not going to Iraq going to Kurdistan and they just give me a visa when I get there.” And she was like, “Are you sure?”

Colleen: “I’m not sure I’m allowed to let you fly.”

Hannah: Eventually I just like started flipping through my passport and being like, “See? see? see? I’ve done this a lot.” And you know then they believed you and sometimes they do change that up, too. One time I had to fill out a form and turn that in to get the stamp.

Colleen: Well now it’s become more digital as well. I know the last time I went in I had to get an eye scan and stick my finger and hand in the little scanner thing.

Hannah: And have to do all five of your fingerprints. Yeah, I guess I had to do that last time too.

Colleen: But really nothing more than you would expect going into any foreign country.

Hannah: Or even coming back in the US I’ve had to do that. As a U.S. citizen you like it. It’s fairly standard.

Colleen: It’s when you want to stay longer than that original whatever tourist stamp visa did it starts to get more circus-like.

Hannah: And that is referred to as your ekama.

Colleen: Or residency.

Hannah: Because it’s not really like it’s not really a visa it is kind of a residency like it allows you to have a paying job. So you have to have it if you’re going to work in the schools. And most of the time the schools were usually pretty helpful.

Colleen: Yeah.

Hannah: And I think now they’re just like referring her staff to a lawyer.

Colleen: Rather than having you know the maintenance man walk through the process with you.

Hannah: Right. Or the school security guy. I think one year my Asaish guy did it with me actually.

Colleen: Oh yeah?

Hannah: Yeah. It was kind of fun. It’s fun to get to know him that way.

Colleen: And as a reminder the Asaish are?

Hannah: Those are the like internal police, kind of like the FBI, but spy-ier.

Colleen: Like the FBI the CIA but also like live in your neighborhood.

Hannah: Yeah. So it’s it’s hard to explain them. Nice fellas.

Colleen: Yeah. I always liked them.

Hannah: So that process can be really complicated in part because it’s different every time.

Colleen: Yeah. So when we started talking about stories of how to do this the stories that we all had were all different.

Hannah: And I feel like every time I went to get mine it was different. So I had to get had to get my ekama both in Erbil and Dohuk which I think led to some messes when I moved to Dohuk because they were like, “So you have this ekama for Erbil Providence but not for Dohuk Providence…

Colleen: Province?

Hannah: Province. So we have to like go through all these other like I felt like I had to go through other hoops that people who were only in Dohuk or who had just come to Dohuk didn’t have to do. And I don’t know if that’s like the Bahdini versus Sorani thing.

Colleen: The different political parties have to like make friends.

Hannah: But I think the one thing that was consistent for everyone was that you have to get a blood test.

Colleen: Yeah. It’s like the first step was getting a blood test.

Hannah: Which really freaked some people out.

Colleen: Yeah, I mean I didn’t get freaked out by it, although I do struggle with needles. I can handle blood fine wounds all of those but but needles do make me feel like I’m going to pass out and I can’t control it. But. I let the guy know who we were being led through the process by most of the times I went actually was the same guy, our friend. He was great about it but I know I wanted him to know, because I didn’t want to pass out or something and have him freak out that I was having some sort of health problem or you know that would be a scene. The American girl like passed out in the visa compound.

Hannah: Oh it is!

Colleen: Oh did you see it happen?

Hannah: I’ll save my story, you finish.

Colleen: I never did!

Hannah: O good job!

Colleen: Because our friend was very good at distracting me in the process. In fact, one of the times my favorite one he ever did to distract me was you I’m standing there. I’m not looking. She’s got needles and things, I’m not looking. And he says, “Colleen, your visa your your passport is expired! How did you get here?” And I was like, “My passport is not expired. There is no way my passport is expired.” He’s like, “No, no. The date, it’s right here. This is the date. It says you know it expired last month!” and I was like, “No there’s no way that this is expired.” And then he grins at me and starts laughing and my other co-worker who is there starts laughing, too I think maybe he told him in advance what he was going to do and by then the blood draw was done! I mean those are ladies in there. Very efficient. Super speedy.

Hannah: Yeah. So the incident that I ran into was with one of my roommates who we had been through the process before. I think we had gone home for Christmas and had to renew our ekama and we’d been through before and she was kind of similar to you. She didn’t like needles. But the first time it was fine. Like the people doing it were super efficient. Done, finished out of there. The second time we went together and they had like a wall dividing the two chairs that we were sitting in. And I got mine done like lickety split fast. Got up and you know you have to like walk out of the little trailer that they’re in because someone else is coming in to get their blood drawn. And so I couldn’t wait for her or go sit with her. And the guy that was helping us with the process at that point, came out and found me and he was like, “You need to come back in here.”

Colleen: Oh no!

Hannah: And I was like, “Oh no! what’s going on?” So I went back in and whoever was trying to draw her blood did a terrible job. Like this is the only time that’s ever happened. Normally it’s just like, fast and you’re out of there. And I think this was like a trainee and so she’s sitting there is just like weeping about like, “Oh you put in my arm like four times you can’t get any blood, and I don’t know what I’m going to do…” And she’s like freaking out. And so they brought around the guy who had done mine and they tried her other arm and he got it done like in a second. At this point every Kurdish person is crowded in there because the people who are waiting to get their blood drawn have stood up and come to watch the drama with the blonde American girl who’s freaking out. It was really traumatic for her, I think. We were able to like get through it though and get out of there and while she was normally a very cheerful person, for the rest of the day she was kind of… despondent is too strong of a word, but very emotional, like emptied. Most other people that have had objections to it are like worried about like, “I’m in this third world country. What are they going to do to me? Like is it going to be sanitary? Is it going to be clean?” And it is!

Colleen: Yeah.

Hannah: They alcohol swab your arm, they open a new needle, like it’s all very clean. And it was always reassuring to me too that like the reason they’re testing their blood your blood is they want to find out if you have what is it.. Hep A, Hep C, and HIV. And so you know if your blood tests come back clean… which mine always did. Never had anyone get flagged for anything. I feel like home now I know at least I’m disease free.

Colleen: At least for those. It was years before I finally asked the guy who was helping us. I was like so I’m assuming all of my tests have been clear since they let me stay. But like do you have copies of all those, and he’s like, “Oh yeah, here, here’s your folder.” And I looked through it and it’s like all of them are pretty much the same. Nothing there. OK.

Hannah: Yeah. Because they’re not, through this whole process, they’re not telling you what they’re doing or why. The only reason I knew they were testing for those things was I ended up asking our friend who’s a doctor. I was like, “What’re they doing?” and she was like, “Oh, they’re testing for this, this, and this.” Like, “Ok, cool.” But part of that also means that you can’t get your ekama in one day because they have to send that blood off and get it tested, so it usually happened was you would go through the process to that point get your blood done and then like go back to school or whatever you were doing before and then like a week later you would be brought back into the office to go through the rest of the steps.

Colleen: Yeah, there are an unusual number of steps and there are always a little bit different and it involves a lot of little pieces of paper with signatures and stamps. Honestly, again, because it was never explained and even some of the people I asked who knew couldn’t really explain they’re like, “This is just what you have to do.”

Hannah: It’s all shrouded in mystery partly because it’s ever changing and partly because it’s bureaucracy.

Colleen: And I think partly too because they don’t want people to know what kind of security they’re running. Sure. I think usually it was about five or six different people that we had to either talk to, sit with, submit a piece of paper to, or get a stamp from. There was something we had to do at least that many times, sometimes more. And then sometimes partway through the process we’d run out of like they needed more passport photos this time than they did last time. So then we’d have to like go out of this weird compound of trailers where all this happened (at least in Suly that’s what it was like). Go out and then get more passport photos taken from the guy with a little booth set up on the road. Then come back with more passport photos.

Hannah: Yeah. I feel like I had most never had passport photos. And so in Dohuk you have to go downtown and get your pictures done. In Erbil they just had a little guy with a printer there that you paid him and he would print out like 20 of your little passport photos and they always overexposed them so that you look really pale. UGH! One of them!

Colleen: They also Kurds really like wide faces. And so like one of them they also white into my face and I already have a pretty wide face. And so between the wide face and the the white glow I joked that those were my moon photos.

Hannah: I remember in one of them I was wearing pink like V-neck shirt with like a white undershirt under it like bring the neckline up a little higher. And when he overexposed it it just looked like I had on a really low cut shirt and he was like, “Oh, uh, so I can crop this so that it’s higher.” And I was like, “Yeah. Would do you do that for me. Because it’s definitely not what I was wearing.” Yeah. So passport photos are a big thing. You’ve got to have those.

Colleen: Stacks of them.

Hannah: Stacks of them. Right. I also feel like sometimes they would just keep them?

Colleen: Like the passport photo people?

Hannah: No no. Like or they go through and like sometimes your photo is attached to things.

Colleen: Stapled to forms…

Hannah: But I always felt like I had like 20 of those. Are you really like stapling those to all the paperwork. Are they going in like a secret file of like American pictures like I don’t know!

Colleen: Well I don’t know. There’s no telling or how far or where all of our photos are.

Hannah: Hey I just want to give you a friendly reminder that if you are at all interested in serving with us in Iraq now is a great time to apply. It gives us lots of time to get to know you and for you to get to know us and we can get you on the field. So if you are interested in applying do it now! ServantGroup.org! Getting a Visa is do-able!

Hannah: But most of the time you’re just sitting in a waiting room, sometimes with a bunch of other people, sometimes by yourself, sometimes with other people that you’re with. When you go into the government buildings they take your cell phone and you get like a pat-down search and a lot of times they’ll confiscate everything you have with you.

Colleen: I never experienced that one.

Hannah: Sometimes they don’t. Like sometimes they don’t care. There were yes several times where it was just like you can’t take anything in with you which is awful because then you’re sitting there staring at a wall for two or three hours.

Colleen: Right. And all of this like waiting and waiting, and then you meet with this person and waiting, and then you meet with this person and waiting, and you take a number so that you can wait some more so, that you can meet with that person.

Hannah: Yeah. And a couple of times there was the like, “OK, so you need to pay this person this much money.” It’s like, “You took everything from me. I have no money. What do you want?” If I was going with other people we would make up games to amuse ourselves.

Colleen: Oh yeah.

Hannah: Because there’s only so much chit-chat that you can do. Because you also don’t want to like complain or like talk about deeply personal issues because you’re never quite sure who speaks English.

Colleen: And I mean everybody is watching you and listening to you. It’s not like you’re at all under the radar.

Hannah: “I Spy” I can only go so far. There’s only so much to look at.

Colleen: Concrete walls. A person at a desk.

Hannah: “I spy something… sand-colored!” “Everything in this room.” “Yes!!!” I had a roommate that we would play “Wig / Not a Wig”.

Colleen: This one’s my favorite. Every time you talk about this it makes me laugh!

Hannah: Which you would think in a country where the majority of the women had their hair firmly under cover. It wouldn’t be able to tell it wasn’t the women’s wigs that we were looking. I realized through this game that I have no concept of what real hair looks like versus fake hair.

Colleen: So you’re not good at this?

Hannah: I was not good at this game in the beginning. I got better because I was trained for what to look for. There were definitely some men with some luxurious hair that was not their own.

Colleen: And here I just thought all Kurds had tons of hair.

Hannah: No apparently not.

Colleen: Apparently not.

Hannah: They just really good at wigs. So that was amusing. You couldn’t do that for too long though because sometimes there weren’t like enough people.

Colleen: Yeah. Once you’ve done all 10 people in your room that are all waiting, as well. I always enjoyed the meeting of the other random foreigners, trying to have conversations and then realizing they only speak German.

Hannah: I used to spend a lot of time looking at shoes. As you know I kind of like keep my gaze lower don’t make eye contact with men kind of thing, and it is primarily men that are in these places. And so I would watch a lot of shoes and make assumptions about people and eventually like start making up stories about like, “Oh, this is what this person wearing these kinds of shoes, who they would be.” So it was good for like my creative thinking endeavors.

Colleen: I think I mostly went by myself or with one of my teammates who was notorious for only ever grading papers. I definitely had to find ways to amuse myself.

Hannah: I had one time in Dohuk trying to get my ekama and I don’t know what had happened at that point. So when you get your ekama it’s like a little driver’s license card and you’re supposed to keep it with you all the time you use it to get through checkpoints when you travel from city to city. You show it to them when you are leaving the airport.

Colleen: And you can use it to even get back in.

Hannah: Right, now instead of that 30 day visa. And I think what had happened this time was I had been in Dohuk for just like three months for that little short visit and then gone back for the summer. And when I left, they took my ekama at the airport because I flew out of Erbil and I think my ekama was expiring anyway so they they took it and I was like, “That’s fine, I’m going to come back and live in Erbil anyway. I don’t need my Dohuk ekama anymore.” Except that I ended up coming back to Dohuk. And so when I went to renew my ekama in Dohuk. This is the only thing I can think that caused this issue. They were like, “Why don’t you have your ekama? Where is it?” And I was like, “Well, they took it from me at the airport.” And they’re like, “They’re not supposed to do that. Why you leave it with them?” and I was like, “A man with a gun told me to give him my ekama. So I gave it to him.” But I ended up in like an ekama purgatory.

Colleen: Oh no

Hannah: Where I think every day, it felt like every day, for about three weeks, I ended up in the ekama office for a couple hours at a time and it wasn’t always the same office. Like I definitely got taken to the Asaish office, which like they definitely take everything from you when you go in there. And it is a big like the waiting room is like a big empty room with like four seats and a clock, and that’s it. I feel like they’re going to like take me down in the basement and interrogate me which is what they ended up doing but not in a mean way like they were spending that time I think trying to find someone that spoke good enough English to ask me these weird questions like, “What does your father do?” And my father is the director of a Christian summer camp.

Colleen: Which is not a concept that exists in Kurdistan.

Hannah: NO! I was like, How do I explain this to you? “He owns his own business?” I think I said he runs his own business, which is correct. He does run his own business. He doesn’t own it. That’s a whole other thing that also inexplicable.

Colleen: Yeah.

Hannah: And then they were like, “Ok, how long has he been doing that?” I was like, “Oh like twenty five years?” and they’re like, “Oh, Ok. What does your brother do?” And I was kind of like, “What does my brother have to do with any of this at all?”

Colleen: But you realize that like your status as a person your standing has everything to do with what the men in your life do.

Hannah: Right. I realize this, later. And so my brother also works at the camp and I was like, “Oh, he works at the same business as my father.”

Colleen: Which is very respectable.

Hannah: Yes, very respectable. And and they were like, “Oh Ok. And what did you do when you lived in America?” And I was like, “Well, I also worked at the same business.” And like part of me was like this sounds like it’s not a believable story at all. Like it’s real, it’s true, but it doesn’t sound believable. But he was just like, “Oh, Ok family business.” And like, “So you’re a respectable person because you worked with your father and your brother at the same place. Yes. OK. You didn’t have like some weird job.” Yeah. And he asked me a bunch of other questions like where was I born which I get left on my passport. How long had I been living in Kurdistan which I had to do like quick math for. Because I had that weird thing but I just remember coming out of that and being like I don’t understand any of why any of this is going on. Like are they just trying to like verify my identity? Like what’s happening?

Colleen: You want to make sure you’re not a spy for the other government party or something?

Hannah: I guess I don’t know. So finally after too long of this the administrator at the school called me into his office, because I was missing work to do this. And it was really frustrating and he had some military guy that was a parent of one of the students, not even a student that I was teaching, and he was like he introduced me to him. I don’t remember his name. And he was like, “This is Miss Hannah. This is what’s been going on. Miss Hannah. I want you to know that he says he’s he’s going to help you and get this taken care of.” I have no idea what the administrator of the school did what wasta was exchanged to get this to happen, but I handed this guy my passport and like a letter from the school. And the next day the administrator called me back into his office handing me my passport handing me my ekama. And he was like, “You’re good for a year.” And I was like “Oh. I don’t know how you did this, but this is amazing.”

Colleen: And you got it for a year because that’s one thing we didn’t touch on yet. Is that usually you have to go through a process of like the first one you get is three months and then you get one for six months and then you maybe get another one for six months and then you get a year and most people go through this kind of step by step process of longer and longer residency cards. I didn’t. For some reason mine were always a year I had special friend wasta or something. I don’t know.

Hannah: So innocent looking. Wel, and we knew a family that like the husband got one year the wife got six months and the two daughters each got three months.

Colleen: But the whole family is going to stay together the whole time.

Hannah: Right. You would think so, but I guess they were kind of thinking like, he has a full time job with a Kurdish company. The wife had a part time teaching job with the school and the daughters were both, I don’t know, late teens.

Colleen: Right.

Hannah: And I don’t know if they figured maybe they’ll send my daughters back to America with the wife. I don’t know. But it was annoying, like they were kind of like because you know he’s not going to send his two teenage daughters to sit in government offices by themselves.

Colleen: No.

Hannah: He’s still going to have to go. The husband is still going to have to go with everybody every time. It’s also hot.

Colleen: It was never comfortable. I mean sometimes we wait in the winter area was cold.

Hannah: You’re there for hours. There’s no water. I mean sometimes they will bring you tea. Sometimes they’ll sell you water. One of the places had like a little sandwich shop where you could buy a sandwich.

Colleen: One of the places did give us water. They gave us the water in those weird little plastic cups, square cups with the peel off tops.

Hannah: But you also didn’t really want to have to go to the bathroom.

Colleen: No no. I’m not even sure if and where there were bathrooms… I’m sure they existed somewhere. I don’t go to the bathroom there ever but a couple other places. The both the Asaish and the courthouse were interesting places to try to find bathrooms for women.

Hannah: Sure.

Colleen: The other interesting thing about applying for visas and all of the paperwork is the naming question.

Hannah: Yeah.

Colleen: Because in the United States we do first name middle name last name. The last name is a family name you know. And most of the people we knew did not do that, there were a few people with like family or tribal names but for the most part your name was your first name, your father’s name, and then your grandfather’s name.

Hannah: I did see a couple that had like their great grandfather’s name also which made it really interesting when you were trying to fill out paperwork like for the S.A.T. for example.

Colleen: Translating those into American paperwork is such a hassle.

Hannah: Right. But it’s true the other way too. Like translating our names into Kurdish.

Colleen: Like, “So Hannah, what’s your father’s name?”

Hannah: My father’s name is Joel.

Colleen: And your grandfather’s name?

Hannah: …is Russell.

Colleen: So your name is Hannah Joel Russell.

Hannah: Which is not what my name on my passport is.

Colleen: Oh darn, you must be lying about who you are.

Hannah: Right right. Exactly. And then like because it’s a very phonetic language the spellings of the name like Hannah I was usually good that is a Kurdish Arabic name. I was good. It was never spelled the way I spell it, but fine. They knew what they were doing. My middle name was confusing because it’s mostly vowel sounds. And so they were never quite sure what to do with that. And then my last name has a silent C in it. So they would like look at it and be like, “Huh, why is this letter here?” I don’t know man. My grandma says it’s to distinguish us from the horse thieves. I don’t know. And then you know you don’t want to bring up horse thieves because oh your family has criminals. Yeah but not the ones with the C in it. Yeah. So I think some of my ekamas had Hannah Joel Russell and then some of them had my actual legal name but spelled wrong. It was a mess, man.

Colleen: My favorite story was John’s. Yeah. Where he is in a line of people who were named son after father and so they would ask him what his father’s name and it would be John. And then his grandfather’s name was John. And so they’re like John John John. That is not anybody’s name. No one would do that. And I mean it’s true there people don’t name sons after fathers, for that very reason, I think. Right. At least mostly not. There were a few exceptions we ran into. But they’re seen as oddities.

Hannah: There was a dentist. I think it was a dentist in our city whose name was Yousif Yousif Yusif so his sign said Yousif Y. Yousif. Which is why no one’s paperwork ever all looks the same. It’s never a consistent.

Colleen: And it’s never a problem, right? It’s always considered, Oh well, that’s fine. It’s all right if it’s a few letters different it’s OK. No problem.

Hannah: It sounds kind of the same.

Colleen: So we know it’s you! Which then when you get to again filling out the S.A.T. form and you know, students are not allowed to enter unless their I.D. exactly matches what the form that they’re trying to…

Hannah: …the form that they fill that they filled out months ago…

Colleen: …months ago! Trying to convince the students to do that exactly right and that it mattered, in this case, was so challenging.

Hannah: Yeah I was had a chuckle at what my little ekama ID said my name was is always amusing. And I would let my students look at it and they’d be like, “Ugh, Miss, they messed up your name.” And I’d be like, yeah I don’t care. It works.

Colleen: Yeah. So as long as they let me live here we’re fine.

Hannah: And again that ekama is only good for Kurdistan. So we couldn’t use it to get into Iraq. I also found that a lot of times if I gave my ekama, especially at the city checkpoints like to get into a city, if I gave them my ekama rather than my American passport, I would have to go through a lot more searching like they would actually make us pull over and like, go through the car and want to look in all my bags. But if I gave them my American passport, a lot of times it was like pull over let us look in the car go get a pat down, but we’re not going to like unzip your suitcases. And at the little pass through ones they would just be like, “Oh, you’re American. Cool. See ya!”

Colleen: I think I only ever gave mine with like the ekama in the passport. That’s how we always did it and I’m not sure I ever had my car pulled over searched or anything in any way.

Hannah: They got real strict about it Erbil for a while. Ekamas are fun. If you know someone who is immigrating to the US and they’re going through that process have a little sympathy for them. It is frustrating when you don’t know what’s going on or why.

Colleen: All of the unknown waiting the waiting where you don’t know when the end is going to be or what is being accomplished or if anything is being accomplished while you wait.

Hannah: Because a lot of times nothing has been accomplished.

Colleen: Sometimes it’s a tea break!

Hannah: Or it’s like, “No, no, don’t go in at this time because no one will be there, because they’re all out at lunch or you know people don’t come in and open the office at the same time every day. So you may have been able to get there at 8:00 the morning before, but today nobody’s getting in until 11:00 because now they have company or whatever.

Colleen: There’s really no telling.

Hannah: It’s true.

Colleen: It’s kind of like see what happens. Adventure.

Hannah: I was though always grateful that it was generally fairly painless process and I always felt like I was going to get an ekama, because I had, especially South American friends, that they just they didn’t have the political relationship that the U.S. has with Kurdistan. And so they’re always like, “I don’t know. They might not give it to me. I might not get to stay. I might have to go back to Guatemala or Brazil or wherever.” The Brazilians were usually pretty safe because they’re good soccer players

Colleen: Right. Everybody wants the Brazilians. It was going to say too that the reputation of the schools and and all of that relationship that they have with the governments in each of the cities I think was also valuable in the visa process. You know that it’s an established, a known place to work. They know yeah. This is why you’re here.

Hannah: Yeah. We’ve never had anybody not get their ekama had some emergency ekama adjustments. Yeah because this is the other thing. Sometimes they’ll change the laws about getting an exit visa. Like I never ever got an exit visa, ever. I just showed them my ekama or showed them my passport and they let me through. I did have teammates that were leaving around the same time as me, who did have to get exit visas.

Colleen: Wow, yeah. I think that was pretty short lived.

Hannah: I think so, too.

Colleen: But there was a season where we had to have an ekama to exit and so I actually lost mine somewhere on this bus trip between Suly and Erbil. We were flying out of Erbil. I had it when I left. I never found it, like so I know it wasn’t just in my house somewhere.

Hannah: It was gone gone.

Colleen: In Erbil they would let you pay a fine if you didn’t have your current ekama to get out but I was told that in Suly they wouldn’t let you.

Hannah: I have seen people get pulled out of the common check line. In one case these people were gonna miss their flight, basically but they were leaving like the day their ekama expired. Their flight was leaving at midnight and so technically they were overstaying their ekama even though they were getting through passport control before that. So, we frequently tell our staff like, just make sure your ekama is running out that your flight leaves at least 24 hours before that, because you’re still in the safe window. I don’t know that we’ve ever had anybody get stuck, usually all works out. That’s the good news is it usually works out.

Colleen: The only other timing thing I know we’ve run into once was to get a visa into Turkey. Like on your way out your passport has to be further than six months away from expiration and so someone had been in Iraq then their passport got like four months or five months out from expiration and they couldn’t get their Turkish visa to fly out back to the US. And so they ended up having to send their passport in I think to Baghdad or something that the consulate to get updated or something.

Hannah: I think they do that.

Colleen: There was a bit of a hassle. We try not to let that happen.

Hannah: If your passport is within I think 30 days of expiring they won’t let you leave the US. But yeah, if it’s within a year I usually tell people to get it renewed.

Colleen: Just renew it. Now you don’t want to have to deal with that.

Hannah: No, you do not want to get stuck somewhere

Colleen: Get your passport!

Hannah: Yes. If you don’t have your passport get your passport. Feel like we’ve covered that before. I love looking at my old passports because it’s full of all of those visas.

Colleen: Yes and it’s has all the scribbles.

Hannah: Yeah, it’s like a little travel journal of my life. Fill your passport. Don’t just get it and keep it in a drawer. Go out see new places.

Colleen: I need to travel internationally again.

Colleen: You can find us at Servant Group International on Facebook or Instagram or on our website at servantgroup.org.

Hannah: Yeah, and if you have a question that we haven’t answered yet, send us an email or Facebook message. We’d love to hear from you. Thanks for listening!

Hannah: In Iraq and in Iraq.