Ahh, the visa process, no we're not talking about the kind of visa that let's you buy your plane tickets or that Prada bag, no this is the kind of visa you need to travel to other countries.
A visa is a stamp or endorsement placed by officials of a foreign country on a passport that allows you, the bearer to visit that country. Visas are obtained from the proper embassy or local consulates of the country to be visited. A visit is defined as the reason for entry to the country, usually business, tourist or transitory. There are over 270 countries that offer visas and literally thousands of different types of visas available based upon country, type of visit, and length of visit.
The purpose behind the travel visa is simple. You are communicating to the country of destination that you would like to visit, the purpose of your visit, the duration of your stay and that you will not become a burden on the government of that country should you fall ill or experience a mishap. It sounds pretty simple, right? It certainly should be but it rarely is. Getting all you need, completing it accurately, finding and DEALING with the consulate can make what should be an exciting adventure a real nightmare.
Here's an example:
I was processing visa applications for a country in South America, which shall remain nameless, for my boss and her boss, the vice president of the company. I submitted the applications, letter, passport and fee precisely to the specifications of the consulate. Days later I got a note back saying that my boss's application was fine, but the vice president's application didn't have an original signature. WHAT? Dead panic set it as the trip was now days away since the consulate had taken so long with the processing. "Why would I send you a non-original signature?" I said. Basically, I could have signed the application myself if I couldn't get her original, they wouldn't have known the difference. I ended up going twenty plus miles to the consulate's office where the woman was so incredibly rude, I was literally in tears. But I got the visa. What's the moral of this story? Use a Travel Visa service.
This story shouldn't scare you away from traveling abroad or attempting the visa process yourself, but the planning of an overseas trip is a fairly daunting task. It should be pleasantly so, there are so many things to do and to plan that the last thing that should give you concern is your visa needs. After my visa experience and because the company I worked for was doing quite a bit of global traveling, I was recruited to give the other administrators and staff the lowdown on travel visas. Here are some key tips that I share with my groups:
1) When planning your trip, do not make the mistake of thinking your travel agent or the airline will be able to tell you if you need a visa. Make sure you find out for yourself. You can find out if you need a visa by going to the U.S. State Department website: http://travel.state.gov/visa/visa_1750.html, there is a lot of terrific information to be found here including notes for Americans on safety and security overseas.
2) Make sure your passport has at least 4-6 blank pages, your visa won't need that many but many of the consulates require at least two blank pages; this is an easy excuse for them to give you a hard time. If you need more pages they're easy to get through the National passport processing office. You can find information the process on the State Department's website.
3) Make sure your passport isn't going to expire for a while. The passport's expiration date must be greater than six months from the date of entry for the visa you are applying for. If your passport does not meet the requirements, you must renew your passport.
4) Your visa application. This is where you really need the assistance of a good travel visa service. You'll find that many of the visa applications are quite confusing. There are language usage differences that may have you scratching your head. If you are not sure, ask, do not guess, errors on forms can be costly.
5) Passport photographs. This is one I had a particularly difficult time getting my boss to do. Go to your post office or perhaps you have a drug store or photo processing store that takes passport photographs, get them, and if you are traveling a lot get a lot of extra photos. Most often you are required to submit two passport photographs with your visa application. You may get away with only providing one, you may get away with submitting a digital you took and printed on photo paper. It's not worth the risk. Get the extra photos.
6) Include your travel itinerary. Most applications require you include your travel plans as proof of entrance and exit dates. This would be the itinerary you get with your tickets or from the airline/travel agent.
7) Make sure you make copies of everything you send the consulate or visa travel service. This doesn't include your passport of course, but it's a good idea to make a copy of the first page in your passport just for your records. You will be sending your passport with your visa application and other paperwork.
8) Include a copy of your driver's license. This isn't a hard and fast rule, but just good policy. A lot of times a country may require this but neglect to mention or they may decide they want more identification information. This is a "Just in Case" preventative measure.
9) Do not forget the fee. If you are using a visa travel service, most likely you can simply provide your credit card number. If you are not, you will most likely have to provide a check for their fee as most of the consulates do not take credit cards.
10) A key challenge is the decision to appear at the embassy or consulate or simply overnight your application and materials to the appropriate place. In many cases, there won't be an option as the embassy or consulate is too far to travel to. If you are doing this on your own and are able, it may be prudent to go to the embassy or consulate yourself. Base your decision dependent on your time and patience level.
11) Finally, hire a travel visa service. These services are reasonable, quick and experienced. You do not save money doing it yourself and you certainly don't save hassle. Your travel visa service is there to help you with everything from completing forms to emergency turn-around times. Don't just go with any service. Investigate. I recommend Visa HQ www.visahq.com, for their experience and customer service.
HAVE A GREAT TRIP!