There’s so much excitement involved in planning a trip abroad. From deciding where to go, researching places to stay, planning your itinerary, and determining what to pack, there are a million fun things to think about. While you’re lost in your planning frenzy, don’t forget to check if you need a visa for your trip. It’s not romantic or exciting, but if you don’t have the right paperwork, you can’t get to the fun stuff.
The purpose of a tourist visa is to let your destination country know why you’re there, how long you’ll be staying, and that you’ll be leaving. Americans typically don’t need tourist visas for Canada, Mexico, Western Europe and much of Eastern Europe, but if your next trip is taking you elsewhere, you can obtain visa applications from the country’s embassy or local consulate. Visit the U.S. Department of State website to determine if you’ll need a tourist visa for your trip.
If you do need a visa, check that your passport is compliant. Many visa applications require you to have blank pages in your passport. The State Department can add more pages for you if yours is full. Also, if your passport expires in six months or less, you’ll usually need to renew before applying.
There are two ways to obtain a visa: ahead of time or upon arrival. Do your research, while some countries offer an either/or visa option, some countries will only let you in if you’ve secured your visa ahead of time.
If the following apply, better to secure your visa beforehand.
Your destination won’t let you in without a pre-secured visa. Some places don’t offer the option of arrival visas. Better to have your paperwork in order than to be turned away at the door.
The country has strict and complicated travel requirements. Some counties, such as China and Russia, are difficult to obtain visas. In these cases, not only should you get your visa ahead of time, you may want to hire an outside company to help you through the process.
You’re traveling with small children or a large group. Having everyone’s visas ready will minimize hassle and time spent in customs/immigration.
There are also instances where an upon-arrival visa is the better option.
You’re planning a long trip, but don’t quite have it mapped out yet. Why buy a visa if your plans end up changing?
Visas expire. If you can only obtain a 10-day visa and effective as soon as it is issued, best to wait until you arrive to start the countdown clock.
It could save you money. Paying for your visa at your destination is cheaper than doing so through a consulate.
It’s also a good idea to pack extra passport photos, your immunization information, copies of your important information, and access to your proof of funds especially if you are planning on purchasing visas on the go. Happy travels!