A genuinely scary moment when I departed Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar: immigration officials thought my passport was fake, detained me, and interrogated me.
Detained In Doha, Qatar – Was It My Horrible Passport Photo?
In my travels to 140 countries around the world, I’ve had passport trouble in Belarus, Cuba, Iran, and Kazakhstan. It’s not like this was a new experience. But it was my first experience in several years and I’m really not being overdramatic in underscoring how scared I was when detained while trying to leave Qatar.
I checked in for my flight to Copenhagen (with onward connections in Helsinki, London, and Chicago) at the Qatar Airways premium check-in and then proceeded to immigration. It was around 8:00pm, which is a quiet time between departure banks. As I approached the agent, there were no other passengers around.
The agent took my passport and scanned it. He then ordered me to remove my mask, which I did. For literally five minutes he kept holding up my passport, looking at my face, and shaking his head.
He picked up his phone and made a call. No one answered. He called again. No one answered. He called a third time and someone answered and an extended conversation in Arabic ensued. He kept picking up my passport and pointing to my picture.
After hanging up the phone, he looked at me and said, “Do you speak Arabic?”
I shook my head.
He went on to ask about why I was in Doha (holiday) and if I was military (no). Once again, he asked if I spoke Arabic (no). Then he asked me if the passport was real (umm, yes…).
I asked him what was wrong and he ignored me and made another phone call.
He then ordered me to a rear area and told me to take a seat.
And so I waited. And waited.
As the minutes ticked by, my anxiety was growing. I prayed. What was possibly going on?
30 minutes later, the guy reappeared with my passport, handed it to a female colleague, and walked away.
She signaled for me to come over, stamped the passport, and handed it to me.
I felt it was prudent to hold my tongue, but couldn’t help but to ask what was that all about?
She simply said, “Oh, it was nothing….”
What Really Happened?
I have to admit, I have a real horrible passport picture. When I got my passport renewed weeks before the pandemic began in-person at the Los Angeles passport facility, I brought along a decent passport photo I had taken in Germany. The trouble was it was sized for a European passport and it was rejected. I had to go upstairs where there was a ratchet setup with a Polaroid camera. I wasn’t dressed well and my hair was not neat…it’s a horrible picture to grace my passport for the next 10 years or until I fill it up with stamps.
The way he kept holding up the passport, looking at me, and shaking his head convinces me that he thought the passport wasn’t me or fake. Plus the question, of course.
I suppose it could be the guy was just a bored jerk who wanted to mess with me.
Maybe my strange itinerary showed up on his screen, which prompted skepticism (though no question from him on my upcoming flights).
I don’t really have any amusing stamps in my passport, though I do have an Algerian visa.
Will I Return To Qatar?
I have to be honest, I’m I no rush to return to Qatar (though I have transited through since this incident took place). When I get to my trip report, I’ll share about the nice week I enjoyed here, splitting my time at the Four Seasons and Park Hyatt. In many ways, it’s a wonderful place. But that whole incident really rattled me.
I had a bit trouble of leaving Qatar…it seems the agent thought my passport was fake or not mine and detained me because of it while he investigated. Or maybe he just wanted to mess with the dumb American.
No matter how seasoned of a traveler you are, it is always scary to be stopped at the immigration counter in a foreign country.
Have you ever had any incidents leaving Qatar?