• Hazel Mai

How I got a visa to Sudan without an Invitation Letter from the Vietnamese embassy

Boys in Dongola, Sudan
Boys in Dongola, Sudan

If you’re a traveler from a small country, like me from Vietnam, you know that getting visas isn’t always easy

Sometimes it feels like life treats us unfair just because of the name of our passport

Every time I apply for a visa, I can feel the butterflies in my stomach

I worry if I need another document in order to get the approval

I worry if they need my bank account statement in order to prove that I have means for travels

I worry if they’ve never met someone from my country and for that, they will require interviews

One time, I even heard about a French traveler who got caught by the police because there was a complicated political situation in Sudan and the police thought he was a spy 👽

I’m nowhere near being a spy, but somehow I’m worried if someone thinks I’m spying on their country too.

But I’m stubborn when it comes to things that I want, so time after time, I almost always get what I want and get to travel the country I’m curious to explore

My secret?

Even when things aren’t working out in your favor, I stubbornly trust that in some way, what I want is gonna happen for me

The things I want will come true for me

One time that happened when I applied for a Sudan tourist visa from Egypt.

From the Sudanese embassy website, I found out that I needed an invitation letter from my home entity in order to apply for a tourist visa,

unless I was from one of the countries in their VIP list: most of the countries are Arabian, Western, and then came China, Japan, and other well-known big countries

I got stuck right there

Even though an invitation letter will just need to include my personal identity (name, nationality, passport number) and state that the home entity confirms my nationality and approves my wish to apply for the tourist visa

I know it’s not gonna easy for me to get those few words

I’ve lived in Vietnam for 22 years, and from what I remember, the government doesn’t like

1. Approving random request - especially if that request doesn’t go with an official form owned by the home authority

2. Taking responsibility when there’s risk involved

3. Allowing something different, or new, or weird

I fulfilled all those 3 criteria for a denial.

Surely, as a random girl from nowhere, even though having a Vietnamese passport, I would surely get rejected if I showed up and asked for a beautiful invitation letter signed by the consulate.

But I had no other option.

But I wanted to try my luck with the Sudanese embassy first.

I went there the next day and applied without an invitation letter. In my mind, I just wanted to try my luck to see what happen, or what if, by any chance, the requirement about the IL had been canceled?

Surely enough my application got sent back and one of the officers told me I needed an IL from the Vietnamese embassy

He didn’t speak too much English, so I tried to negotiate with help from a local who translated English to Arabic, but the officer wasn’t keen to help

I was disappointed. But I was willing to take on step 2: Asking the Vietnamese Embassy for the IL

The Vietnamese Embassy was located in a diplomatic area of Cairo where many other embassies were (but not the Sudanese Embassy). The streets outside were cleaner than most places in Cairo and it’s pleasant for a walk under the shady trees.

I was greeted in a very Vietnamese way - welcoming and friendly. The officers were curious about my trip across the African countries. But the highlight of the meeting was they advised me against doing such a “dangerous” solo trip, and that there was nothing to explore in Africa.

That was enough to know that they wouldn’t write me the IL.

When asked, they said it was not likely to happen but they would send the request to the ambassador’s secretary to take a look at my case.

Two days later I got a WhatsApp message from the secretary saying that they could not provide an IL for me.

Reading the message, I thought: “That was it. I won’t be able to go to Sudan this time.”

“I’m gonna accept my fate.” - the voice inside me started to creep in.

Deep down, I was sad.

This was not the first time this happened to me. While travelers from big countries could travel the world with ease, I usually had to prep more documents, which I didn’t always have or were easy to get.

I asked God why someone would divide people into groups based on their nationality, or their government’s political model

I wished I came from a different place so that I had a different name of passport, or maybe I could have dual passports like other people

For me, it’s just sad having to struggle for a visa so many times.

I thought I was gonna accept my fate.

But I remember waking up the next day feeling like it IS the day to get a Sudan visa.

I didn’t how it would happen. But I knew the stamp was waiting to be pasted in my passport.

“I’m feeling lucky.” - I said to myself.

I felt like I drank Harry Potter’s lucky potion in my sleep.

I didn’t know how I would eventually be allowed to cross Sudan’s border, but I knew where I needed to be: At the Sudanese embassy.

So I got up from my bed and did my make-up


I didn’t usually put on makeup while backpacking but I did that morning

Out of soul-guidance almost

I didn’t know how applying makeup and getting a visa were related. But I just wanted to feel pretty and “zen” and it came naturally to me that make-up was gonna make me so

I showed up at the Sudanese embassy.

I knew what I needed to tell them, it was simple.

I said with the brightest smile on my face:

“Hey there, my embassy didn’t give me the invitation letter so I’m thinking if I could apply without one.”

A doubtful expression was worn on the officer’s face. Like last time, I needed a translator who was a local just behind me in the line.

I tried one more time.

“I knew a German guy who applied for a tourist visa two weeks ago and he didn’t need an IL. I’m wondering if I can do the same?”

I wasn’t lying. I knew a German guy who did. Although I knew that he didn’t need to because of his nationality, I just went ahead and ask the officer anyway.

I tried my last shot, still with the friendliest face I could get:

“Could I have a chance to talk to someone who is in charge? I love your country and I really wish I can go there.”

If he didn’t want to help, I didn’t know what else to say. I watched as he listened to the translator.

Then without a word he went to another room with my documents. A moment later he walked out and told me to wait.

My hopes were building. My documents were being scanned!

At least it was one step ahead of where I had been.

I waited as people, mostly Egyptians, got their applications submitted one by one, tipping my toes trying to find out if some officer happened to have my passport on their hand.

At last, an officer walked out from the other room and called me to the reception.

He’s a big guy. He wore suits and didn’t seem to want to talk much.

Without any words, he put a piece of paper that looked like a form on the counter and signed on it. I still didn’t know what it was. Giving me back my passport with the paper, he said:

- Fill in this form. Pay 150 USD at the cashier and wait. You’ll get the visa after 2-3 hours.



OMG. 😭😭😭

Is it true?????



And that’s how I got the visa.

I paid, and got it in 3 hours.

No more hassles.

I can’t believe that I made it!

THANK YOU SO MUCH MY GENIE! Was that the officer or was that myself? Hahaha!!

Until today, that’s still one of my highlights when it comes to visas’ stories (I have a few, believe it or not).

I learned a few things from that experience:

1. Africa doesn’t play by the rule. I learned this lesson time and time and time and time and time again. Every time it’s like new. I’m sure you’ll be “fascinated” by this when you visit the continent.

2. When negotiating, sometimes it’s better to be neutral and positive than blaming something or someone, make people want to help you instead of forcing them to.

I could have blamed my home embassy in front of the Sudanese officer so that he felt sorry for me, but I didn’t. I simply shared about my challenge and let them know I love their country, with a smile (and not faking)

Consulate officers are humans too. I’m sure they have compassion for others.

And when they do, I’m sure they like going an extra mile for a person with positive energy more than one who complains or insists too much.

3. Trust in what you want and the universe will pave your way towards it.

I didn’t accept my fate when I knew I had to get the IL.

I didn’t accept my fate when the S embassy sent my application back the first time.

I didn’t accept my fate when the IL wasn’t available for me.

I asked the consulate to approve my request regardless of my fate.

With my head high, I asked the consulate to treat me like how they did with a German.

That’s how we make the impossible possible.

That’s how we become one of the “rarely happen”s

Simply because we trust so much and we ask for what we want.

Kudos to me for showing up and working towards my belief every time!

And if you’re dealing with something and you don’t know how things would turn around


Trust so so much that what you want will come true for you in the end

And do the work

And one day everything will eventually show up in your favor.

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