Do I need a visa?

Sample Myanmar Visa

Visas can be complicated and troublesome for even the most organized of travelers. Not all countries issue visas on arrival, so it’s important to research which countries require you to apply for visas before you get there. China, India, and Vietnam are some examples in Asia for U.S. passport holders. It’s also worth knowing whether different visas are granted for air travelers and overland travelers.

Project Visa is an immensely helpful website for this purpose. It has good information for most countries you’d like to visit. However, it’s important to follow up by checking the website of the country’s embassy/consulate in your own country for the most up-to-date rules. For looking up contact info, see Embassies Abroad.

“Gateway cities” are often the best places to get visas for certain countries, as there’s a higher volume of travelers transiting through that city en route to the final destination. Regional big cities are a good bet, because they’re more likely to have a lot of embassies. For example, Hong Kong is probably the best place to get visas for China. Bangkok would be good for Southeast Asian countries. Many travel agencies on Khao San Road offer visa services.

On a side note, U.S. passport holders tend to pay higher visa fees than holders of other nations’ passports. These fees are priced on the principle of “reciprocity”: if the U.S. charges US$100 for a visa, then you’ll pay the same amount in baht, yuan or whatever for that country’s visa.

Another important decision is whether to apply for the visa by going to a consulate yourself or having a travel agent do it for you. I’ve mostly handled visas on my own, without any major problems. But I’ve heard embassies in certain countries can have long queues. In that case, sending an agent to do it for you can be more convenient, but usually more expensive.

For example, I was quoted 500 Hong Kong Dollars by a travel agent to get a Myanmar (Burma) tourist visa. But by going directly to the Myanmar consulate in Wan Chai District, I was able to get the same visa for only HKD$150. Even better, if you submit your application before 12 p.m. noon, they’ll process your visa the same day for no extra charge!

Hot tip: have lots of 2″ x 2″ passport-sized photos.  You can never have too many. Sometimes it helps to have a recent bank statement, to show you have sufficient funds to pay for onward travel.

Having the address of a local hostel/hotel is also handy, as I’ve seen many visa forms that asked for where I was planning to stay while visiting their country. In rare cases, I’ve also been asked for a business card from my company.

It’s also good to have some U.S. dollars in small bills, to pay visa fees.  When I was applying for a visa on arrival at the Vientiane airport in Laos, some travelers had problems because they didn’t have any U.S. currency.

Posted by | Comments (1)  | February 13, 2009
Category: General, Vagabonding Advice

One Response to “Do I need a visa?”

  1. joan Says:

    im a filipino citizen i want to know if i will visit hongkong for 3 days do i need visa?
    and what are the requirements?thank u