People walk in front of the skyline after a rain storm in Toronto.

I love travelling. So when my sad friend in Canada (recently divorced, landing alongside me in the single parent ranks) invited me to visit, I was sorely tempted.

“Let’s take the kids to Toronto, then we can head off to Montreal for New Year and after that you guys can come home with us to Winnipeg,” she suggested.

But the joy, the elation that comes with planning a holiday, was quickly dampened when I was handed a wad of printed information that I would need to apply for Canadian visas for my six-year-old and I.

Opting not to pay R1 400 to an agency to do my application, I thought I’d tackle it myself. How hard could it be?

So, what documentation is required?

Valid passport for the applicants. A photocopy of the picture page. A copy of your itinerary. Proof that accommodation has been booked and paid for. A letter from your employer to say you have been granted leave, that they know you are going to Canada and, yes, you are expected to report back after your holiday. A letter from your child’s school stating that the school is aware of her plans to holiday in Canada, but that she is registered to start Grade 1 in the new year. Three months’ bank statements – originals, not copies. A letter of invitation from your host containing all the trip details and dates, properly signed. A copy of your host’s passport and a copy of her utility bill. Two photographs of each applicant, fitting particular stipulations such as no smiles or head tilting etc.

I consulted the website – – and found the forms I needed to download, and the instructions on how to apply. And there I found a phone number, with an invitation to call if I needed any assistance. But all I got was a pleasant voice recording telling me that everything I needed could be found on the website.

The cost for two single entry visas is R1 040. But, I was warned, I could not pay by internet transfer and they don’t accept cash or cheques. I had to get a bank draft made out to the Canadian High Commission. Bank charges on this transaction were R55.

This entire application bundle, now nearing the weight of a brick, has to be delivered in person to the Canadian High Commission in Pretoria on a weekday between 8am and 10am.

Applicants are accepted one by one, and the bright-eyed woman ahead of me informed me that the process ahead is simple and you get your visa in a day.

In the guardhouse I was searched and scanned with a hand-held metal detector. My bag was searched. My phone was taken and locked away.

I braced myself as the friendly woman behind the counter called me. She went through my heavy pile, said it was all in order and I could come back to fetch the passports and visas… in a week. Not four weeks like the travel agent told me. Not six weeks like the website warned.

A week later it was faster and easier. People were served quickly. When I was helped I gave only my name and was quickly handed back our passports with a smile.

The relief was great.