I’m the first person to say there are no rules of travel.
But there are a few “commandments,” if you will. These are things that aren’t negotiable. Here’s one:
You are responsible for having the right passport and visa for the place you want to visit. Period.
Researching Your Visa Needs
Look into visas as early as possible. Some countries issue visas on arrival. Some let you apply and get an e-visa online. Others require you to mail your passport to a consulate. Still others require someone to apply in person at a consulate or pay someone to do that for you.
Here are my first steps:
Check Frommers.com: Frommers has really basic visa information for most countries. They can help you understand whether or not you need a visa and how difficult getting one will be.
Review the U.S. State Department Website: With a page for every country, the site has more detailed information on requirements for Americans. If you aren’t American, check with the counterpart in your country.
Confirm on the Country’s Website: Do not Google this. Do. Not. Google. This. Some countries don’t have the best websites and if you Google it, it’s hard to tell if you have the actual government site or a snazzy-looking site run by a private company. Link out through a reputable website, such as the U.S. State Department Website (even if you’re not American!). Don’t believe me? This is the official visa site for Cambodia.
Plan From There
Review timelines for the visa and when you plan to travel. If you have to apply for a visa ahead of time, calendar a reminder.
Validity from Date of Issue: Some countries, such as India, have visa validity from the date of visa issue, not when you travel. This means you can’t apply right away but need to wait until closer to your trip to get it.
Do You Have to Send Your Passport? If you need to send your passport in or drop it off at a consulate, make sure you plan for when you won’t be needing it. We had a 4-month window between trips this summer and needed to ship our passports off for a visa to use at the end of the year. I made sure we had our passports sent off to get the visa well before we left again.
Going Lots of Places? Just plan it. All countries have different rules and it can be confusing if you’re hitting a lot of places on your trip. Just go over them one at a time, write it down, then plan what dates you need to do which things.
Other Important Things to Consider
Do You Have Enough Passport Pages? Some countries require one full page or even two full pages. Review the requirements and make sure you have enough pages. We had extra pages added to our passports this summer to give us more wiggle room.
When Does Your Passport Expire? Countries have rules about how long your passport has to be good for on your date of travel. Six months is a good rule of thumb but check to make sure. If your passport is close to expiring, they may not let you in.
Print E-Visas/Confirmations. Even if the country issues e-visas and doesn’t require a printed visa, print it anyway. Even if it’s just a confirmation page, print it. You never know when an airport employee or border agent will ask for it. Australia issues e-visas but when I got to the airport, the check-in agents didn’t understand that and didn’t want to check me in unless I could show them proof I had a visa. Thank goodness I had the printout!
Even if you are paying someone to do it for you, you should still take the time to make sure you are following the rules. Again, you are responsible for making sure you have the right visa and a border agent isn’t going to care if the tour operator said they’d take care of it.
This can be intricate, but it’s totally doable. Just take the time to read up on what you need to know and you’ll be fine!