When planning any travel, the idea of getting a visa does not rank high on the “fun” side of your experience. The word itself screams bureaucracy, long lines, money, and headaches. But getting through the process without stress and screaming is easy with a bit of research and patience. Understanding (and most important, following) the visa requirements and regulations will save you time and avoid the possibility of being denied entry.
Know Your Visa Requirements
The first step is to determine what visas are required. This is important to do well in advance in case you must apply for a visa before entering the country (i.e. Russia, Brazil, China). Even if you think you know you don’t need a visa, make sure you are aware of any regulations that may limit your time in the destination.
Did you know that most non-European citizens can only stay in Europe for 3 months due to the Schengen Agreement?
There are several sites providing great information on visa requirement, but be sure to confirm with the destination country’s own website for the latest information:
- Visa HQ - good information for all countries and citizens
- United States State Department - for US citizens
- British Foreign Office - for UK citizens
- Project Visa - another all around site with an easy interface
I suggest checking the visa requirements from a couple different sites just to ensure you have the most current information and requirements. Changes do occur in the requirements and procedures so finding the most current information is worth a few extra minutes in front of Google.
While I admit the list of steps, copies, and information required for each visa can be mind-boggling, following the instructions to the letter will save you stress and time. This is a scenario where hoping you can slide by or talk your way through is not the ideal plan for success. This is your vacation and adventure so why should you give anyone a reason to deny your entry into the country?
Follow every instruction exactly, bring the right type and number of copies, supply the right size photos (if required), and be sure to follow instructions exactly on your application form. The staff at the consulate or border will follow a set checklist and will reject your application, or at the least delay it, for the smallest things.
This point was once again brought home recently when we completed a 2 week gauntlet to get our Russian visas in Beijing, China. When we went to pick up our visas (and passports) we discovered they were on hold because we had not provided a piece of information. We had failed to include a fax number for our company, and apparently fax communication is critical to security concerns surrounding our to the country. Luckily it was only a 3 hours delay remedied by writing the words “no fax” in the margin. They were able to check the box and all was wonderful again.
Fill out the paperwork in advance. We’ve been so surprised by the number of people showing up at borders, consulates, and embassies with no idea what is required and with none of their paperwork in order. This is a recipe for a long day. Once you’ve done your research and understand the requirements pull everything together in advance and have it ready to go when you step up to the counter. Many borders require photos and/or copies but may not have easy access to facilities to make them. Arriving in a country where you don’t speak the language and needing to take photos will put you in the situation of running around tracking down places, while you could be enjoying happy hour inside the borders.
Instead, bring everything listed in the requirements and have the required forms filled out completely. Not only will this save time but will also eliminate those silly mistakes you may make after 28 hours on a bus across the mountains with very little sleep.
Be Friendly and Patient
You will quickly discover that your travel schedule is not the primary concern of the staff at the embassy or border. Every time we head into an office we see people standing there screaming about their great adventure to the person sitting behind the bullet proof glass doing their job. If someone came to your work and started screaming at you about how you were keeping them from a month long holiday on the beach, would it be an incentive to help them? Especially if you find out it was due to their inability to follow the instructions.
As with so much in life you can get much farther with a big smile, a friendly hello (ideally in their local language), and a willingness to help make their jobs as easy as possible. We all make mistakes and there may be problems as you cross the border. This is part of life, but handling it with a smile and kind word is far more likely to get you through than screaming creative obscenities in the border office. It will also reduce the likelihood of surprise cavity searches.
Crossing a border into a new country fills us with excitement each time as we consider what lies on the other side. With a bit of preparation you can breeze through the process and be enjoying a new experience and culture in no time. Don’t let the process stress you out, but enjoy the process and experience as even the craziest crossings will make for the best stories later.
About the Author - Our tripwolf Travel Blogger of the Month!
In 2010, Warren Talbot and his wife Betsy took off on an around-the-world journey. A year later, they revealed their financial and mental strategies in Dream Save Do, the definitive guide to funding any big dream. You can find out more about Living the Good Life on their website, Married with Luggage. He can currently be found on a train, bus, or camel crossing the vast expanse of Asia and Europe during their 18,000km journey from Thailand to Portugal.