Going places: Let’s talk visas.
By MARILYN ROBITAILLE
If you’ve ever decided to leave the country for vacation, you know you’ll be confronted with several additional, and sometimes time-consuming, concerns. One of those has to do with being allowed in when you arrive. Most everybody knows passports are required, and we’re about to be hit with vaccination requirements for entry, but don’t forget about a visa if the country you’re visiting requires one for entry by U.S. citizens.
Simply put, a visa is a required (only in some cases) sticker that will be placed in your passport and issued by the host country. It lets the officials of the host country know that you’ve undergone a screening process, that you’re not a felon coming to pillage, and that you can support your visit while you’re in-country, returning home by a specified date.
I once attended a conference in Moscow where one of the guest speakers didn’t arrive for his place on the program. We later learned that he’d been denied entry into Russia because he’d failed to secure a visa before he left the U.S. No last-minute chances were available.
His only option was to return home on the next available flight. Not a pretty choice since he had to foot the bill for the ticket change and face another grueling flight schedule before he’d even thought about the current state of his jet lag.
In a more perfect world, visas would be consistent. This isn’t, and they’re not.
I always err on the safe side and do a little research when I’m heading off the beaten path and into foreign lands. Land on the embassy website of the country you’ll be visiting. Be sure you’re on the actual embassy website and not a look-alike big fee agency. You may need to turn to one of those eventually, but don’t start there.
Where you’re going, where you’re coming from, the length of your stay, and the reason for it all play into the situation regarding whether or not you’ll be required to have a visa. Most consulates and embassies have a phone number, but they don’t always answer it.
Rule number one: give yourself ample time, several weeks at a bare minimum and a month or so if you can swing it. The forms can be daunting, but you’ll find translations if you’re visiting a non-English speaking country. In a few rare situations, (for an extended stay beyond a tourist visa in the Czech Republic, for example, you have to hire a Czech translator to validate one of the forms. We found one in Cleburne.)
Fill everything out carefully and truthfully. And I do mean everything. A single mistake can cause long delays, missed communications, and extra fees.
In many cases, you’ll be asked to provide a copy of your round-trip air tickets, proof of insurance, and proof of funds. You’ll send in all the required documents along with your passport. If you’re the least bit squeamish about trusting the mail service with all this confidential information and your passport, in many cases you can secure a visa in-person by driving to Houston to the host country’s consulate.
Of course, appointments are required. A few consulates are located closer in Dallas, so read the current information on the embassy website carefully. Not every consulate (embassies are only in Washington D.C.) will allow walk-ins.
In some situations, especially if time’s a factor, you might want to take the easier way out and enlist the help of one of the many agencies who will be happy to take your money and save you some trouble. It’s even possible for an agent to “walk through” your visa application in-person on your behalf, but you’ll pay dearly for that service.
Some countries allow you to purchase your visa upon arrival. Don’t depend on your credit card for the immediate payment required. In the event your bank’s not awake, you may not have a way to pay, and you’ll be waiting things out at the airport. I always travel with a small amount of cash in the country currency (usually about $100) for situations when you don’t want to depend on your credit card or if you needed to jump into a taxi that doesn’t take credit cards.
Knowledge is power, so learn a lesson from the Boy Scouts where visas are concerned: be prepared.