The KEY to International Travel: Passports & Visas
September 20, 2015
Back in 2012, I set the goal of taking at least one international trip a year. Somehow, I managed to visit five countries this year: United Arab Emirates, Jamaica, Italy, Greece, and Egypt. You can have all the ambitions in the world to travel, but without a passport there are some places you just won't be able to see. I found out that September is National Passport Awareness Month and thought I would help spread awareness about the process of obtaining a passport. As some countries require a visa for entry, I will also offer insight into that process.
This process is estimated to take 4-6 weeks. Give yourself a buffer, and initiate the application process no later than 2 months before your departure (Allocate even more time, if you also need a visa to enter the country you are visiting). You do not want to be turned around at the airport by TSA. They are just doing their job, so really it will be your Scarlet letter to wear if you have to cancel your trip. If you really find yourself limited for time, opt into the expedited process (3 weeks). It will cost you a little more, but it is worth it if you are in a bind!
Now, that you have the passport part down pact, be sure to clarify if you also need a visa to enter by searching the country you are visiting in the "Learn about your destination" section on the main page.
You can quickly identify if you will need a visa by checking out the Quick Facts of the country you are planning to visit. As you can see for Jamaica, no visa is required for entry.
Egypt was the only place I visited this year that required a visa.
I learned more about how to obtain it by going to Entry, Exit, Visa Requirements section.
Based on this information, I knew that I could obtain my visa on arrival. You may have to do some research on where you can actually purchase the visa-- I found out I could obtain a visa at any of the banks right outside of exiting my gate. This turned out to be true.
One thing I did not expect is that I actually needed US dollars to make the purchase. This was a slight nuisance as I expected I could pay the equivalent in their currency. I had exactly $21 on me- I borrowed a few bucks from my friends and proceeded to make the transaction. The banker turned me away because some of the dollars were wrinkled. I went to the bank next door, who also wanted crisp dollars [I guess the wrinkled ones could get caught in the machine they used to count the money]. Fortunately, after explaining this was all the US money that I had, the banker accepted my money and gave me the visa. Whew! I recommend that you keep some [non-wrinkled] US dollars on you at all times for moments like this.
I also had the option of obtaining my visa from a Egyptian embassy or consulate prior to traveling (Boy, during my frenzy of finding crisp US dollars did I wish I had just done this). Washington D.C., New York, Chicago, Houston and San Francisco are some major cities that are home to many embassies and consulates. If you live in those cities, you can make an appointment with the embassy to apply for the visa. If you do not, you will need to find out which embassy serves your region. For instance, many DC embassies serve North Carolina residents. Find out if you need a proxy (family member, friend, etc.) to apply for you in person or if you can apply via postal mail. This process can take anywhere from 5-10 business days. Also, remember there is a separate fee to obtain the visa.
For many countries in Africa & Asia, obtaining a visa from the appropriate embassy or consulate prior to traveling is the only option. My boyfriend Jeff, who was visiting friends in Singapore, decided to travel to Vietnam. He was under the impression that he could get a visa- on-arrival, like he had been able to in other countries. Unfortunately, he found himself detained for eight hours and was re-directed back to Singapore. EEK! It is the policy of many of these countries to deny you entry without a visa. Some even charge you a fine. So, again, be sure to do thorough research of the country you are going to visit in advance; this may involve cross-checking sources to ensure that you have the right answers.
Traveling abroad can be a lot of fun, but it does come with a little bit of preparation. Once these logistics are taken care of, you are well on your way to fulfilling your ambitions. So, tell me, where is it that your heart desires to go?