Thursday, September 29, 2016

God Bless America
By Michael

Me climbing a coconut palm back in American
Samoa. I didn't make it past that bend
in the trunk.
We recently found ourselves in Fiji and in need of getting our signatures notarized on U.S. documents.

“Let’s go to Suva, to the U.S. Embassy.” I said to Windy.

“Suva? Why not just get them notarized here, they said a Fijian notary would be fine.”

She’s was right. We were told a Fijian notary would be fine. But what if that was bad information? These docs were urgent and we were already pushing it with the shipping timeline. So I googled it. I learned that Fiji was part of a Hague convention in 1961 that allows reciprocity for notary services. But it didn’t seem that simple. The word apostille kept popping up. In fact, that Hague convention was the Apostille Convention. An apostille is a separate piece of paper I’d never heard of and I wasn’t clear about whether we needed that in addition to the notary for everything to be valid.

“Why take a risk? If we get them notarized at our embassy, we know it’s good. Plus, we’ve paid our taxes over the years, it’s our due.”

“Maybe, but it also means renting a car and driving three hours each way, to Suva and back.”

“It’ll be an adventure, and we’ll not have to worry whether our signatures pass muster.”

“I’m not worried, you are.”

We found a dirt-cheap rental car in Port Denarau and then got upgraded to a snazzy ride after they ran out of economy cars. We got lost after the first hour, but still made Suva by lunchtime.

“Do you have an appointment?” the guard in front of the embassy building asked.

“No. We’re U.S. citizens here to sign some docs and have them notarized.” I gave him our passports and we waited on benches outside on the stately grounds.

Twenty minutes passed before he motioned us through a glass and metal door that must have weighed four tons. Inside we were quizzed briefly, processed through airport-like security, and directed through a back door, outside again, but within the embassy compound.

“So this is the United States girls, a tiny little piece of your home country, here in Fiji. Isn’t that weird?” I felt instantly relieved of the constant traveler’s feeling of being a guest, always a transient, often hamstrung by language and culture. Here I was home and could relax. “This is a government building, our government. All the people you see here work for us, citizens of the United States.”

“We know Dad.”

The door to the next building was also fortified and once inside, we again had to go through airport-like security. Once through that, we were directed to a tiny, vault-like room and a door was closed behind us. On the wall was a small window with glass and a pass-through, like a bank teller.

I leaned in. “Hi, we just need to get our signatures notarized on some documents.”

The clerk reviewed all our paperwork, putting colored tabs on the signature lines I indicated. “That’s three times the consular official needs to sign.”

“Uh, yeah, yes, three times.”

“It’s fifty U.S. dollars per signature, payable in cash only. For three signatures, that’s one-fifty.”



“I was just telling my girls it would probably cost us nothing, being U.S. citizens and all—I guessed I imagined notary services would be free.”

“No sir, that’s what we charge, by law.”

“Let me ask you, can we get these notarized by a Fijian? Do you think that would be okay?”

Frances watching the sunset
from the boom in Fiji.
“Probably not, I’ve had lots of people try that and then have to come back when their notarized signatures were not recognized—but you’re welcome to try sir.”

I looked at Windy. She shook her head, “I think we should find a Fijian notary.”

I turned back to the clerk, “What about the Hague convention, 1961? Do you know about that?”

“Yes sir, I do. You’re welcome to have a Fijian notary help you, I can only tell you it hasn’t worked in the past.”

Windy was still shaking her head. “It only has to get by a county clerk in Arizona and they said it’s okay—I say we go.”

I turned back to the clerk. “Thanks, we’re going to try our luck.”

Outside, near the street, I posed near the U.S. Embassy sign by the road on our way back to the car. Windy raised the camera. An embassy guard started shouting, running down the driveway towards us, waving his arms. “NO! NO! NO PICTURES!”

“Seriously? Not of this sign? We’re practically on the sidewalk. Why not?”

“No pictures, not allowed.”

We drove back downtown, parked, had lunch, and found one of only two notaries in Suva. Attorney Singh was relaxed and welcoming in his modest second-story office. He charged a third of what the embassy wanted and chatted us up while he notarized and made copies for us. It kind of felt like home.


Since arriving in Fiji, we've been amazed how much it's
defied our expectations, in terms of landscape. Even from
offshore, we often see California. Couldn't the photo
above be California? Crazy.


California for sure--it was a head trip driving to Suva.

Some dude and his kid. You may have noticed on this blog that we
take few candid shots of locals. I like those pics, but we
both feel awkward taking them. And by the time we ask permission
for a photo, the image is gone, and definitely not candid. I don't
know how the Bumfuzzles do it, but they do it well.
We grabbed a snack at the Royal Suva Yacht Club. It is
a very cool place, storied and not pretentious in any way.
This café was the spiffiest part. We'll drop in again in
Del Viento as we're headed that way.

So they had a few typewriters on display and the girls
were fascinated, never having seen one in person.
They couldn't believe Windy and I actually owned
and used them in high school and college.
I can't either.
Downtown Suva.


  1. Being an expatriate (not from the US) I can tell you that embassies, or more precisely consulates are the most pompous and difficult part of you home-land to deal with. Things that's moderately easy at home when dealing with officials suddenly become a torture when handled by the consulate employees. I don't want to think how this must be when a foreigner wants something from them.

  2. "We know dad." Bwahahahaha! My favorite line in this post! Sorry you had an American adventure. What an eye opener. Our tax money...not at work.

  3. $50 per signature?! Holy crap, how ridiculous!! Must be signed with some nanotechnology engineered ink or something. I'm sure I would have made the same assumption you did. Oh well - at least you had a nice drive.

  4. $50 per signature?! Holy crap, how ridiculous!! Must be signed with some nanotechnology engineered ink or something. I'm sure I would have made the same assumption you did. Oh well - at least you had a nice drive.

  5. Thanks for the story, Michael. Well put together. Made me smile.

  6. Michael,

    Long time reader, fellow cruiser.

    "User Fees" -used to be rare in the Federal government. Bill Clinton came to the presidency with about a decade's experience as governor from a state that requires a balanced budget; the only way to make it balance in his time as governor without increasing traditional taxes was to increase fees for government services.

    Remember when most national parks used to be accessible free of charge? That was before Clinton and user fees. Public Law 104-134, 1996.

    Also: visas. You see, U.S. visas used to be free or nearly so for foreigners. I should know, I first traveled to the U.S. in 1987. Then Clinton came, and now a foreigner has to pay $140 or more to get a U.S. visa. Fine, they are foreigners, right, who cares!

    Only problem is, most other countries noticed... and started charging visa or "tourist" arrival fees to people from the U.S. Sometimes it is just $10, but places like Brazil and Chile apply full reciprocity... and charge $140 or more to people from the U.S. Europeans still get in free.




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