Get this right or you’ll stay home!
In the last 30 years I’ve seen the number of countries requiring visas reduced considerably. But for any country in the world where a visa is required, you must get it right or suffer the consequences. Here you get the benefit of my many years at the coal face.
1. No visa – no entry. So take this very seriously. Yes it can be a pain in the neck to have to provide all the information that some countries require. But if you want to go to their country, then you have to meet their requirements or go elsewhere. Remember that we do the same to many others wanting to come to our country!
Recently some travellers to Russia forgot to obtain a Russian visa before leaving their home country. They got to Helsinki and realized they needed one. The Russian embassy there refused to issue them as they were not in their country of residence. Their Trans–Siberian rail journey went out the window together with AUD 22,000!
2. You will be without your passport whilst obtaining visa/s. It will be at the embassy or consulate – or several. The visa is attached inside your passport, so don’t plan any overseas trips whilst obtaining the visa/s. This one is often overlooked.
3. Check which countries will require you to have a visa. This includes the countries through which you may be passing. This is a BIG BIG TRAP.
If a flight even makes a just a brief stop in a country, you may require a transit visa, even though you are not staying there. If you fail to have the visa then the airline will refuse boarding. There are heavy fines for carriers who transport passengers into a country without a visa.
I heard of a classic case recently when a traveller booked himself on–line from London to Vancouver, not noticing that it had one stop en route in Chicago for just for an hour. In London he was refused boarding by the airline – with his particular passport USA authorities required him to have a visa. After big cancellation fees and delays, he was finally booked on a direct but far more expensive flight.
Travelling by train? Again check the countries through which you will pass. Travelling from Poland to Russia by rail? You will pass through Belarus! No Belarus visa and you will be unloaded at the border. Nuff said?
So check your itinerary very, very carefully. If you book through a travel agent who advises you about visas and gets it wrong, then they are liable for your financial losses. If you are your own travel agent, then the travel agent still pays!
4. Check to see if the country that you are visiting has representation in your own country and issues visas there. If not, in some cases your passport may have to go overseas, or you may have to make arrangements to stop enroute at a city where a visa can be issued. It all takes time. Sometimes a visa can be issued on arrival at the country’s main airport, but if you are arriving by train that generally will not apply.
5. Check carefully the intended times of entry and departure from the country in question. If your flight leaves at 0015, or you cross the border by coach or train at a similar time, then you will need the visa to extend to that day. If your visa has expired there can be big fines and delays.
6.Ensure that your passport has at least 6 months validity after you leave the country in question. This is a common requirement. If in doubt, renew your passport and give yourself plenty of time then to obtain the necessary visas. Retain old passports – some countries need you to list the countries that you have visited in the past 10 years or so.
7. Obtain the CURRENT visa forms and all information about their completion. Embassies regularly change the visa application forms. If you complete an old one, then it will be rejected, sent back, and you start again – lots of lost time! Many forms must now be completed online and then printed on completion. Complete the forms carefully and check, check, check – no blank spaces. And don’t forget the photos in the required format, and ensure that you send payment as they require it to be made.
This is no place for a “She’ll be right mate” attitude.
8. Delivery to embassy or consulate – and collection. This is SO important. The last thing that you want is a lost passport. If feasible, you can deliver and collect yourself. Otherwise I suggest that you use a specialist courier company – there are a couple of them. Under no circumstances would I use Express Post and not even registered mail. I have several horror stories!
The specialist visa courier companies are not cheap, but they offer a number of important advantages. Your passports are secure with them, and at any time they can tell you exactly where your passport is located. It is a speedy process of delivery as they call on major embassies and consulates daily, and are well known to them. More importantly, if you need more than one visa, then the passport goes directly from one issuer to another which saves a huge amount of time. It is a service well worth the extra expense.
9. Calculate carefully the amount of time involved to secure all visas. Embassies and consulates will tell you on their websites the normal expected time delay in issuing visas – usually in a number of “working days”. Be careful of public holidays, and not just ours but also theirs. And be aware that some countries have lots of holidays!
As a rule of thumb, add at least 50% to the time stated and 100% if securing the visa yourself. Cut it fine and you’ll know real stress if you’re waiting for your passport to be returned the day before you depart! And you cannot hurry these government officials no matter how many times you telephone. Urgent visas can often be issued, but there are very hefty late fees.
10. Upon receiving your passport with completed visa/s check to ensure that the dates are correct. Mistakes do occur in issuing visas, and the embassies and consulates take no responsibility if they get it wrong. If more than one person is travelling, then check ALL passports carefully. Remember that the airline will refuse boarding if you try to arrive in the country of destination before the date on the visa.