Passport and Visas

America has the lowest number of passports issued per capita than most other developed nations at only 38%. Compared to Canada and Europe at 60% or the UK at 71%, American travel habits outside of our own country is mostly limited.  So it is time for you to be one of the few in our country that owns one.

Firstly, because of the new requirements put into effect by homeland security, getting a passport can take up to eight weeks or more.  You need to apply for yours pretty quickly once you make the decision to strap on your backpack and travel abroad.

Now you may asking the question, where do I get a passport for travel?  Well believe it or not almost all U.S. Post offices will have the ability to process your passport request.

You can search here to find a passport facility near you for a US Passport. For Canada or the United Kingdom click the country to get to where you need.

So the requirements for a US passport are very straight forward. You will need:

  • A passport form:  You can download one here
  • Photo Identification (drivers license, student ID, etc)
  • Proof of US citizenship, which in the US is a birth certificate
  • Two qualifying passport-quality photos of yourself.  Most post offices can take these for you and if they do not there will be a place in your town that will take them.  Be sure to let the professionals take these, there are specific rules to a passport pictures and they will know them.

Visas

First off what is a VISA?  In short a visa is a stamp or a page size sticker that goes inside your passport that allow you to enter a country.  There are countries, such as the majority in Europe, that do not require a travel visa at all, while there are other countries, such as Vietnam and China that require you have a visa already issued prior to your arrival.

Without trying to worry you, Visas can be one of the more confusing and scarey parts of travel that there is if you don’t prepare.

First thing you need to see is if you require a Visa for your travels.  So lets look! For US citizens check here for the Visa requirements for each Country. Be sure to do this near when you plan to travel because visa requirements can change for countries every year or so.

Another way to check out the Visa requirements for each country you want to travel is to go to each destination’s embassy website to see the visa requirements for your country of citizenship.

There are Multiple types of Visas you can get so lets discuss a couple of these in a little detail:

Visa On Arrival (VOA) These Visas are given upon arriving at a countries Airport, Seaport or Land Crossing Border.  These Visas will normally be valid for a month or so before you will have to leave the country.  This can vary depending where you came into the country as well, for example: In Thailand if you arrive from the airport your Visa is good for 1 month but if you cross via Land form another country, it is valid for only 15 days.  These Visas can be free or can cost up to $100 USD.  Remember to research the time and cost of each Visa prior to departure so there are no surprises.  Sometimes it is better to just get your Visa in your home country than getting it at the border.

Prior to Arrival Visas – These visas are required to be in your passport prior to you arriving at the border of that country.  There are 2 ways to do this 1) Get this from an embassy of that country before you start your trip (This is best when your dates are fixed and you know you will be in that country on those dates) or 2) Get this Visa from the countries embassy in a neighboring country while you are traveling. (This is preferred if you do not know exactly when you will be visiting that country) This can take a few days but is better than finding out that the Visa you paid $90 is useless because you spent an extra month on the beach in Thailand (OK yes this happened to me, I got my Vietnam Visa in the States but took a bit too much time in Thailand and had to get a NEW Visa in Laos for Vietnam for another $80 because my original Visa was set to expire in 1 week!)

Electronic Visa For this Visa, it is stored in a computer and is electronically tied to the passport number; no label, sticker or stamp is placed in the passport before travel. Australia pioneered electronic visa issuance with the Electronic Travel Authority for tourists. Recent changes in immigration law mean that almost all visas (including those for permanent residency) are issued electronically by default unless a label is required (for example to board an airplane). New Zealand is now also issuing some visas electronically.

I have to agree that this is a little daunting but with proper planning this process is not as scary as it seems.  These days, to be honest, you can get most of your Visas on the road either on arrival or from a neighboring countries embassy.  But just to add spice to your trip you will find embassies closed for obscure holidays, visas that you all of a sudden can’t get at this border crossing and you will have to travel 100 miles to now get the visa there.  You will find  it takes a week to get your Visa back from an embassy and you will find other crazy things happening as well.  (If you really want to read about some real crazy Visa stories, head over to my friend Graham Hughes’s Website here.  This crazy bastard traveled to every country in the world WITHOUT flying.) Just remember to take it in stride, relax!  You have researched, planned and you are armed with what you need to keep your travels moving forward!

So now that we have all this fun out of the way its time for some more fun! We know where we are traveling now lets make sure we are traveling safe! Let’s talk about Vaccinations!