Pa­pers, Please

The right doc­u­ments smooth the way for your in­ter­na­tional trav­els. Don’t leave home with­out them

Business Traveler (USA) - - TALKING POINT -

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

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