The right documents smooth the way for your international travels. Don’t leave home without them
Sometimes after the long day’s work, the television beckons, tempting me to relax in the flow-and-glow that passes for entertainment on 500-odd late night cable channels. Slipping a fresh set of AA batteries into the remote, I begin more or less mindlessly flipping through.Yes, I could resort to streaming something I really want to watch, but then I’d feel obligated to really watch it. And obligated is not what I really want to feel right now.
flip, flip, flip… And then – bam! – my screen is transformed into a time machine, and I am hooked. The black and white images are so captivating, the story, so irresistable. It’s that film classic – Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Casablanca. This is one I can always stay awake to watch.
Now for those among our readers who are not familiar with this Hollywood classic, here’s the basic plot: It’s 1940 and France has fallen to the Nazis. Rick is an American ex-pat who runs a nightclub in Vichy-controlled Casablanca. Rick’s erstwhile love Ilsa shows up one day on the arm of her husband,Victor Laszlo, a hero in the Czech resistance and a wanted fugitive sought by Casablanca’s Nazi occupiers. Now pay attention; this is the important part. What Victor and Ilsa need to evade the Nazis and fly from Casablanca to neutral Lisbon and freedom are some papers called‘letters of transit.’Which, conveniently enough, Rick has tucked away in his impeccably tailored white dinner jacket. But will he give them up to save the woman he loves – and her husband?
For the rest of the movie, much of the tale twists and turns around that question. However the question that’s never answered is, what exactly are‘letters of transit’and why are they important?
In fiction, there’s a name for a plot device that motivates the storyline; it’s called a MacGuffin. It’s a term credited to the director Alfred Hitchcock. The MacGuffin itself may be of no real value in the story, but characters will kill or die for it. Think the worthless title bird in The Maltese Falcon or the rare mineral unobtanium in Avatar. The so-called ‘letters of transit’ in Casablanca are a MacGuffin. They’re what everybody in the story is after, but in the end they don’t actually matter.
The reality is that there’s no such thing as a letter of transit. But there are plenty of other important documents we business travelers need to understand when we set off on our global journeys. In this month’s feature Access Granted (page 16), we explore some of the more intricate ins and outs of the paper trail that surrounds – and can often disrupt – international travel. Passports are critical, to be sure, but for many destinations they’re only the beginning.
These days most of us work and live in a global economy. In large part, it’s been travel, and in particular business travel, that’s created a world where this is not only possible, but necessary. And as a consequence, governments have found it to their advantage to lower some of the barriers between nations.
Some, but not all. While many borders are relatively easy, thanks to technology and governmental cooperation, there are still plenty places in the world where passage is anything but frictionless. And it’s up to travelers, wherever they’re headed, to make sure all the i’s are dotted and t’s crossed. The success of your trip, and perhaps your personal security, depend on it.
Poor preparation, like fictitious letters of transit, won’t get you where you want to go. BT
— Dan Booth Editorial Director