Ok, “fiasco” is a bit of a hyperbole. Everything was resolved within 24 hours.
As one would expect, in order to study in Poland, I needed to obtain a “National Long-Stay Visa” with multiple entries. Most of the requirements for the visa were easy to produce: passport, application form, evidence of immigration status, bank statements, documentation that I have at least 100 złoty per day to live on, reference letter from employer/university, 2 passport-type photos, and my flight booking. Less easy to obtain was the insurance documentation.
If you want a Polish visa, you have to provide a letter stating that you have at least 30,000€ of coverage, plus repatriation. What exactly does that mean? It means that, in the unlikely even that I am taken ill or die overseas, someone will pay for my sick self or my “mortal remains” to be sent back to the US. Morbid, no? But apparently necessary, as this process can reputedly cost in excess of $15,000. I figured that some certification of the existence of my health insurance, in the form of what they called a “visa letter”, would be more than adequate, but this was not the case.
At 11am, after a paraoid last-minute check of my documents for about the 20th time that day, I schlepped uptown to the Polish consulate in New York, since another visa requirement is that you drop the application off in person. Luckily, I happen to be a brief walk away from the Polish Consulate in New York (the only place were you can get a visa if you are from Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island or Vermont). (As an aside, the Polish Consulate is housed in the gorgeous Beaux-Arts De Lamar House, across the street from the Morgan Library on Madison Ave., and they have some great concerts and other cultural events.) After waiting for a few hours and chatting with the people next to me about Rzeszów (who knew ever thought that Rzeszów would come up as a topic of friendly banter? Certainly not I…), I brought my papers up to a window, where the woman rifled through them and…told me to go sit down again. Thirty minutes or so later, after the entrance to the Consulate had officially been closed for an hour and a half, I was called back up to the window and informed that everything was in order, except for needing this repatriation insurance, which I could “get an any travel agency”.
Ok. Simple enough. Except that I find the insurance industry to be incredibly confusing, and I had no idea what I was supposed to be asking or searching for. So, I turned to Google, read up on repatriation insurance, and promptly decided that the first place I should look was STA Travel, since they cater to students. Sadly, the only form of insurance they seemed to offer was the travel variety. Once again, I returned to Google.
Now, the first site that popped up was called iStudent Insurance which, as you can imagine, offers various levels of health insurance packages – including one that is purely repatriation insurance, and at the low rate of $278 for single person for a year! But my web designer/programmer instinct took over, and their poor site design made me suspicious of their validity as a company, so I continued to look down the list of hits. It turns out that most of the other insurance companies sold repatriation insurance as a part of a larger health insurance package – something I don’t need – and also charge multiple thousands of dollars per year for said packages. After about 15 minutes of reading through these sites, it occurred to me that I am 23 years old and in perfect health (or so my doctors say). Why was I wasting so much time on this? I went back to iStudent Insurance and purchased the package (bonus: I didn’t have to leave the restaurant where I was hiding from the rain to do it online). Then I called them up and spoke to an incredibly nice customer service person who not only agreed to fax a “Visa Letter” over to the Polish Consulate the next day, but also promised to call me when she did so. And she was true to her word. The next afternoon, I called the Polish Consulate to confirm that they’d received said letter and everything was clear for my visa to go through (and contrary to the large call volume stated on their website, I was able to speak with someone immediately).
The conclusion of all of this is that, in about two weeks, I will be returning to the Polish Consulate to pick up my visa-endowed passport.
Based this experience, here is the wisdom that I will impart:
- when the Polish Consulate advises you to email instead of call due to “very high volume”, call them anyway. Emailing fails to elicit a timely response (I emailed 3 weeks or so ago with visa-related questions and never heard back)
- make sure you have exactly the documents they ask for, because feigning stupidity about your insurance policies does not bamboozle those sharp ladies behind the windows!
- buy the cheapest insurance plan for something that you will most likely not need. In the case of repatriation insurance, iStudent Insurance (not just for students!) seems like a good deal.