Visas: planning ahead can make your trip smoother

Of all the things that go into planning a long trip, the least glamorous — and yet potentially most important — is the visa. It might be tempting to just obtain a visa for your first destination and then get the rest in local embassies.

That is a viable option in some cases, but in others the local embassies can be a bigger headache than filing the paperwork ahead of time. Having spent well over two weeks worth of unplanned extra days in various countries around the world, I can assure you that local embassies are not necessarily the most efficient, or easiest places to get a visa.

Even if you do go the local route, you should still do the requisite research to make sure that the country you’re headed to actually has an embassy in the country you’re leaving from, and make sure that there aren’t any special requirements for obtaining a visa.

The most commonly overlooked visa requirement is immunization records. This is especially true if you’re coming out of Yellow Fever areas in equatorial Africa. Many countries will issue a visa without asking, but then require you to show proof of Yellow Fever vaccination before they let you through immigration. To avoid ending up like Tom Hanks’ character in The Terminal, make sure you have proof of all your immunizations.

So how do you sort all this stuff out? Well, there’s always the guidebooks, which generally offer basic visa overviews and note any special circumstances or requirements. But guidebooks are two to three years out of date even when they’re fresh off the press, so the information on visas may be incomplete. Guidebooks also may not cover every nationality, and remember that visa requirements vary radically according to your citizenship.

One of the best ways to find out about visa requirements is by visiting a country’s website. Generally speaking, the information on the sites is more up-to-date than guidebooks and will let you know about any special restrictions unique to visitors of your nationality.

Another good place to look is your own country’s State Department or equivalent, which often provides valuable visa info and special restrictions imposed by other countries (U.S residents can check out the State Department’s surprisingly helpful visa requirements website).

It isn’t the most exciting part of planning a trip, but making sure your papers are in order, and that you have everything you need to get into the countries you want to visit, can make for much smoother, less stressful journey.

[photo by hjl, Flickr]

Posted by | Comments Off on Visas: planning ahead can make your trip smoother  | November 11, 2008
Category: General

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