Tour companies in Ukraine
(Orange County, Ca.)
After weeks of corresponding with Eva, it appears she may be trying to scam me.
Eva has an interest in visiting me and she suggested using a travel company called Joyfirstname.lastname@example.org They give their address as Lenina St. 16A in Karlovka, Poltava, Ukraine.
According to the e-mail received from the manager, they work mainly with Ukrainian citizens and accept mainly cash and electronic payments from abroad.
They claim they can get an international passport for Eva in 3-4 days for $300 and in 3 to 4 months for $110.
The cost of the visa is $350 which includes consular contribution, medical insurance and visa form.
I e-mailed Eva stating that the chances of getting her a Visa to the US are not good and she said that she talked with the "Tour Company" and they guaranteed her that the visa would be issued. Supposedly this firm has worked in association with the embassy for many years. Supposedly the firm will represent her interests, which means she will not have to go to Kiev to hand the documents, but only to pick up the visa!
This seems pretty far fetched. I'm sure all applicants have to appear before the embassy to be interviewed, unless they are bribing someone as a payoff to get a visa, I would think!
What is your thought?
I agree with you: Far fetched.
I Googled it and found this: http://www.ukraine.com/forums/travel-tips/14650-how-much-does-passport-cost.html
It basically says that a Ukrainian can apply for a passport and receive it in around 6 weeks for a filing fee of $50 (USD). For expedited service one can receive it in a week for around $100 (USD). And, it does say that some services can get it in 3-4 days for a little more.
As for the visa, again, those are rarely granted to single Russian/Ukrainian women. I have heard, however, that there are services there that can get them. But they don't work like you describe here (where the "tour company works in association with the embassy"). What these companies do (I have HEARD, but have no direct experience with them) is create all sorts of fraudulent documents for the lady to show that she has a good, well-paid career, substantial property, etc. These kinds of things make the visa a little more likely because to the U.S. government it looks like she has more at stake in her own country making her more likely to return and not violate terms of the visa.
I have heard that these services "guarantee" their service such that if the visa is not granted, the fees are refunded. But, I have also heard that these services run more in the $2000 USD range, not $350, and they DEFINITELY don't have an association with the embassy, and they don't represent the girl.
But thinking and talking about all this visa/passport stuff really feels like a waste of effort, and completely avoidable.
Just take control of the situation by sending her a message saying something like this (using your own words): "Eva, I prefer that our first meeting be in Poltava. I have researched my options for travel and apartment and can take care of those details myself. Would you be available to spend time with me on the week of Feb 20-28?... Alex"
If she resists, "But my dear Alex, the tour company does this all the time, it will be easy... Why not?..." Just say "I'm sorry dear, I'm more comfortable visiting Poltava first." DON'T LET HER SET THE TERMS. And frankly, the harder she resists, the more sure it is that she's a scammer.
If she's agreeable, then plan the trip!
But plan it in a way that has a built-in backup plan. For example, see The Alice Agency. Click on "Personal Tour". There you'll see that their personal tour is 100 euros (about $136 USD at present) per day and includes apartment, office support (which you WILL need), and unlimited intros (and this agency has many attractive ladies).
But you're only using the agency for the lodging and transportation support. The "unlimited intros" feature is just in case Eva turns out to be less than you hoped. So before you go, write up a general introduction letter, collect a few good pictures of yourself, and look through the list of ladies at this agency and make a list of those you would want to meet if Eva doesn't work out. Store all those away in a safe place and hope you won't need them.
But if you DO need the backup plan, just call the agency and give them your intro letter, pictures, and list, and they'll get right to work filling up your schedule... all for no additional cost!
To me this plan is a win-win-win. Assuming she responds positively to the first meeting in her city you still won't be scammed. And if she turns out to be a scammer or in any other way isn't the one for you the trip isn't wasted.
Hope that helps!