A Travellerspoint blog

September 2009

Do I Need a Visa?

A guide to some of the best sources of information to answer the question of entry and exit requirements for countries around the world.

A few years ago, I was sitting in the Russian consulate in Toronto, waiting for my name to be called to head up and arrange a visa for a trip to Moscow. I was sitting patiently with my forms in my hand, occasionally flipping through them to make sure I hadn’t forgotten my invite letter, passport-sized photos or completed visa application form.

Castle Guard, Riga, Latvia.  Photo by kavanadb

Castle Guard, Riga, Latvia. Photo by kavanadb

Sitting across from me was man who had a lot more paper work that I did. He had a stack of paper at least 2 inches thick.

“Planning on going to Russia for a while?” I asked, jokingly.

The man laughed. “No, I work for a company that arranges visas. This is about 20 applications,” he said, holding up the stack of paper.

We sat quietly for another moment, and then the man looked at me and raised an eyebrow. “Are you getting an application for yourself?” he asked. “I mean, you and just you?”

I nodded. “Yes, just a tourist application for me,” I replied.

He laughed. “I didn’t realise people got these visas for themselves.”

When jetting off to exotic destinations, it can be overwhelming to figure out what, if any, hoops you have to jump through to visit the country. It can be tempting to just hand it all over to someone else to deal with, and I have done it a few times when jetting off to a location for work (and when my company was paying).

However, if travelling for pleasure and on a budget, money spent on having someone else handle your visa applications is less money for travel once you arrive. With a little research and some leg work, it is usually easy to arrange tourist visas on your own. To start you out, I’ve collected a few resources that can assist.

Where To Start

First up, why not start by checking out what your own government has to say about the entry and exit requirements for the country you want to go to? Below is a list of country advice from the Foreign Affairs departments of a few different countries. Most of these will have specific entries on every country. These travel-advice entries give general advice about a destination, and specific advice on the entry and exit requirements for the country, including any cases where you would need a visa.

Luminojos: road signs, Curanipe, Chile.  Photo by triptime

Luminojos: road signs, Curanipe, Chile. Photo by triptime

These resources are a good place to start, but most will include a warning similar to this from the Foreign Affairs Canada website on Russia:

It is the traveller's responsibility to check with the Embassy of the Russian Federation and its consulates for up-to-date information.

Check With Those Who Give Out Visas

Governments do occasionally change their minds about entry and exit requirements, so it is best to check with the source. If you are lucky, you might find a link from your country’s travel-advice page to the appropriate consular website. If there's no link available, a Google search should hopefully bring it up.

It is best to check with the Embassy, High Commission or Consulate of your destination in your home country before travelling. If you are a Brit wanting to travel to Paraguay, for example, the Paraguayan embassy staff working London will be best positioned to understand the entry and exit requirements for Brits headed to Paraguay. Sometimes you will find that another country is “responsible” for your country. For example, Australians wanting to speak with the Malawian embassy need to contact their embassy in Japan.

Governments do occasionally change their minds about entry and exit requirements, so it is best to check with the source.

Not all embassies and consulates have websites, of course. If you can’t find an online presence, check the phone book for listings. Larger and more popular countries will usually have embassies in their capital city, and perhaps additional consulates in larger population centres.

If you are still unable to find an embassy or consulate, check with the government of your destination. See if you can find a department of Foreign Affairs, or something similarly named. They should have a site listing embassies and consulates, or at least contact information so you can email or phone to ask.

When You Arrive, Be Nice

Even if you don’t need to get a visa ahead of time, you should nonetheless check the entry and exit requirements of the places you want to visit. Sometimes you will need to provide information upon arrival, like a confirmed place to stay or a return ticket--although even when you are “required” to have this information, custom and immigrant officers may not even ask. Even if a visa is not required beforehand, you may need to fill out a landing or tourist card and pay an entry fee.

To make things easy, I always keep any documents I need for entry in labelled folders--one per country--in my carry-on luggage. This allows me to easily pull out documents and present them to officials when required.

Also, some countries require that have at least six months validity on your passport from the date you are planning to exit the country. You'll want to check the expiry date on your passport before you leave.

If you are planning a trip further in the future, be sure to check entry requirements again about a month before you leave. These may have changed, and you don’t want to arrive at the airport--or, worse, at the border of a new country--only to find you can’t get in.

Passport to adventure.  Photo by tomstrick1

Passport to adventure. Photo by tomstrick1

Finally, even if you make all necessary checks beforehand and think you have everything in place, customs and immigration can be a mystery. As the Foreign Affairs Canada website says, “It is the sole prerogative of each country or region to determine who is allowed to enter,” and custom and immigrations officials can deny you entry--even if you have a visa and all your paperwork appears in order--with no means for appeal. Getting put back on a jet and sent home is a waste of time and a huge waste of money.

Therefore, when speaking with custom and immigration officials, remember to be polite and answer their questions honestly. Don’t provide them with information they don’t require, and don’t joke around. A professional attitude with concise answers will help them do their job easily, and will increase your chances of gaining their stamp of approval.

Next time you are thinking of heading off some place, take some time to check visa requirements in advance and make sure you have all the appropriate documents--then check the requirements again before you leave to see if there have been any changes. Upon arrival at your destination, be professional and courteous when dealing with immigration officials on both entry and exit from the country.

With a little investigation and a small amount of elbow grease, you can maximise your chances of having all the right paperwork and approvals to make border crossing as easy as possible.

If you have any tips or tricks to share on getting visas, please post them in the comments. If you have other tips and tricks for your fellow travellers, then join us in educating travellers worldwide. To get started, send our editors an email at unravelled [at] travellerspoint [dot] com. Let them know a bit about yourself, and maybe include some writing samples and ideas for entries. They will review your submission and, if you fit the bill, they will welcome you to the team.

Posted by GregW 09:26 Tagged preparation Comments (5)

Getting Lost: How to Make The Big RTW Decision

What to think about when you're planning that BIG trip

A friend recently decided to go travelling for a year, and one Friday night she invited me for drinks to grill me about destinations, routes and where she should go. As a first-time solo traveller, she was hesitant about where to start and she wanted to see it all. So she decided that lacing me with wine would get her some solid advice. She’s not the first one; over the years, I’ve been approached by a lot of people wanting to know where they should take off to, what was realistic and what they should consider. I, in return, have developed a quick set of questions to help them come up with their ideal destinations.

Road to Nowhere in the Peten Guat by Shmips

Road to Nowhere in the Peten Guat by Shmips

THE FACTORS

Your personality. Travel tends to bring out the best and worst in people, so have a quick think about your personal positives and negatives. Get anxious when the tap in the public toilets is broken and you can’t wash your hands? Then India might not be for you. Love the great outdoors, hiking and being in fresh air? Jot Peru onto your wish list

Travel tends to bring out the best and worst in people

Your interests and hobbies. Travelling is a great way to explore new hobbies and expand your knowledge of your existing ones. If you are the proverbial culture vulture, Europe would keep you busy. Love food and gourmet experiences? Africa might leave you wanting for more. Always wanted to try some extreme adventures? New Zealand would have you screaming for more.

Your budget. Money is, unfortunately, a big factor when travelling. I always find it hard to answer people’s queries about budgets because people’s spending habits are different; some shop, some party, some do neither. Sure, if you are on a shoestring budget of about $15 a day, then going out in Oslo is a bit out of your range, whereas you could probably have a perfectly nice night out in most of South East Asian destinations. Lots of countries are camping-friendly, but a lot of backpackers aren’t. Be realistic about your expectations. Although you have a tent and a sleeping bag for that 6-week trip around Western Europe, you might not want to sleep in it every single night. Similarly, a nice meal in a mid-range restaurant will cheer up the daily bread-and-cheese routine tremendously. The same amount of money will last a lot longer in Asia, Africa and South America than it will in Europe or North America.

Time. How long do you have? There’s no point in planning a round the world trip if you only have 3 weeks of annual leave. There are still a lot of places which are hard to access easily and therefore need more time to be reached. I’ve deliberately left some fantastic cities in Europe un-visited, figuring they were close enough to visit later on when I might have a permanent job and less time off- doing an overland trip in Central Africa would be hard on a short holiday, but doable now

Local Customs and culture. Fancy going out clubbing every night, sampling beers? Not so easily done in Iran. Love the beach life? Try Australia. I spent six months living with a Zambian family who simply could not understand why I sometimes wanted to be alone, as it is common to do everything communally in most African cultures

Crossing to Australia by Ofelia

Crossing to Australia by Ofelia

THE TIPS

Fantasise and dream. Borrow a few travel guides, read a few travel stories, browse through the blogs here at Traveller’s Point, watch a few travel programmes on TV. You might just find you have developed a desperate need to visit Burkina Faso (like me) or Alaska (my best friend)

There are no must-see destinations in the world, only the ones that are a must-see to you


Don’t follow the flock. Travel agencies tend to pre-design packages with their most popular destinations and recommend those, but there’s more out there. Where did you dream of going to as a child? A vast majority of the world is accessible to the average traveller- don’t be fooled into thinking that nothing exists outside that package presented to you at the travel agent’s, and don’t be afraid to include a less than usual destination, such as Central Asia, to your list. There are no must-see destinations in the world, only the ones that are a must-see to you

Do some research. Although I am not a huge fan of planning, some research is good, such as seeing if you need visas, if some routes are ok to travel, and to give you an idea of the time/money required. An Australian friend turned up at a London airport a few years ago, on her way to the Czech Republic, but without a visa; she missed Christmas in Prague and had to stay in London alone. Some research to your destination is advisable

Be realistic about your expectations. It is impossible to see it all, and it’s very easy to get greedy when planning your trip. Always calculate a bit of extra time for things like getting ill, possibly missing your bus/flight/train, and simply for meeting new people whom you just want to hang out with. Travelling is not a race to see as much as possible, and if you make it into one, you’ll stop enjoying it. Narrow it down to the things you really want to see, and add a few more if you have the time and the money

Don’t listen to other people too much. Travelling is very much a subjective experience, and every place has its good and bad points. If your acquaintance got her wallet stolen in Ecuador, she might be less than likely to recommend it as a travel destination. I spent most of my time in Bolivia ill, and therefore hardly ever recommend it- not because I dislike it, but because I cannot suggest much to see or do there. Take all advice (including mine!) with a pinch of salt.

Sunset at Easter Island by Ofelia

Sunset at Easter Island by Ofelia

Or you could simply do what I did- Unsure where I wanted to go on my first long trip, I opened the atlas at random, and China it was. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a cheap deal there at the time, and after a few frantic last-minute calls, I found myself on a plane to India. There’s something to see everywhere- go and experience it for yourself.

Posted by Ofelia 10:22 Tagged preparation Comments (0)

I GET THE HEX!

My Dick Fall Off and I Wake Up Dead.

First off, I need to thank Robert Townsend for that great "lead-in" line - taken from the movie The Mighty Quinn (1989). It's a great movie. So what if neither he, nor Denzel Washington, can hold a Caribbean accent for more than a line or two. It's still entertaining. Watch it.

Australia - Hippie Campervan, by stacestu

Australia - Hippie Campervan, by stacestu

I GET THE HEX!

Hop into my Way Back Machine then give that dial a spin! Oh look! It's 1968 and I am all of 15 years of age. The "Summer of Love" came and went twelve months prior, but it has left its proverbial footprint in the sexual sands of time. Life is good. Taboos are thrown on raging bonfires, alongside bras and draft cards, while everyone watches the smoke mingle with the clouds. Pot is cheap. Sex is free. Both are everywhere--along with a few other goodies. "Share the Love" takes on a whole new meaning for a whole new generation. Oh, and don't bogart that joint, my friend. Hand it over to me...

Little did most of us enjoying the fruits of the sexual revolution realize what "seeds" were actually being sown. Sure, pregnancy was one of those "seeds" but with the upstart of free clinics handing out free birth control pills... a minor consideration. Syphilis and gonorrhea (the BIG STDs of the day) were easily cured with a few penicillin injections. Sex had become a true contact sport with many players and didn't require protective gear anymore. Life just kept getting better.

My Dick Fall Off and I Wake Up Dead.

Where to next? Oh, just give that dial another spin! Ah--1981 and I am all of 28 yeas of age. I have just gotten divorced, so I know it's going to be a good year! Wait. Something isn't quite right... I am also engaged in a battle with Secret STD Agent - Chlamydia Trachomatis. My Consultants are telling me Chlamydia launched Project PID at some point in an attempt to destroy any chance of my reproducing offspring. (What a cruel plan!) They also explain to me that, being a good little Secret Agent, Chlamydia allowed no symptoms to be detected until now. Whoa!

It had taken up residence in my reproductive organs while evading detection for several years. It was also hell-bent on a campaign of mass destruction. I was diagnosed, misdiagnosed, told I was crazy, put on an anti-depressant which "supposedly" helped with "phantom" pelvic pain, etc, etc. There was nothing phantom about it and I had surgical reports to prove the original diagnosis: pelvic inflammatory disease... Chlamydia (source of origin). Because I didn't present with the classic symptoms, it was all in my head. (Thank God I didn't have a dick. It may have had to have fallen off in front of someone to prove something was really amiss.)

For the next eight years, I waged innumerous wars against PID. At the time, no doctor would perform a hysterectomy because of my age and the contradicting diagnoses. Thankfully, I worked in a profession where my colleagues (MDs) would treat me with Demerol™ for the pain so I could keep doing my job. I would eventually spend one week a month in hospital on IV antibiotics when Agent C. attacked again. In 1989, I underwent a radical hysterectomy at age 37. The surgical report states I would have been admitted for emergency surgery within a few weeks because other organs had come under attack also. (Hey, at least I didn't wake up dead.)

Amsterdam - Condoms, by LizaBrooks

Amsterdam - Condoms, by LizaBrooks

HOW TO AVOID THE HEX!

Yes, I realize I have probably given you way too much information about my personal life. As payback, you can share with me one of these days. But these blog entries are designed to make travelers better and safer travelers. We do that by sharing experiences. So, as with most things, being forewarned is forearmed even when it comes to sex. Here are some tips (no pun intended - really):

  • Abstinence - Refraining from sexual activity.

True abstinence pretty much guarantees you will not encounter any of the pesky STDs. By true abstinence, I mean NO sexual contact, which includes oral and/or digital stimulation. Several of the STDs, such as Herpes simplex, HIV and Hepatitis B can be transmitted through oral sex. Sorry, but if you are engaging in any type of direct genital contact with a partner, you are engaging in a sexual activity. Sex does not mean intercourse only.

  • Condoms (prophylactics) - A device, especially a condom, for preventing venereal infection and conception.

The (latex/polyurethane) condom is your friend when it comes to sexual activity. It will not protect you against genital herpes or genital warts, as these infections also manifest themselves in areas not covered by the condom. But they are great for protection against many other STDs, including HIV/AIDS. Please use them. They are cheap. They also come in many colors, flavors and styles. (The price of a condom is nothing compared to the medical bills associated with an STD. I speak from an expensive experience.) The use of "natural" condoms is not advised. Natural condoms are constructed of animal tissue which will stop sperm but allow bacteria and viruses to pass through the membrane.

  • Vaccines - A preparation of a weakened or killed pathogen, such as a bacterium or virus, that upon administration stimulates antibody production or cellular immunity against the pathogen but is incapable of causing severe infection.

Presently, there are two vaccines available for the protection against 4 of the 15+ Human Papillomaviruses (HPVs) which are associated with cervical and other genital cancers. Gardasil™ and Cervarix™ are available in over 80 countries, but it must be noted that both of these vaccines and their side effects are under investigation at this time.

  • Common Sense - Sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts.

Common sense is your ultimate best friend. (Condoms rank second.) Alcohol, recreational substances and/or just that "hot guy/girl in the corner of the room" can cloud one's judgment. I understand that completely. But use your brain before using anything else. Regardless of your gender, carry condoms if you are sexually active. Never rely on the "other person" to do the thinking (like bring condoms themselves) for you. Find a reason to use the bathroom to wash before and after the encounter. (That tip alone is worth its weight in gold, as "cleaning up" washes away bacteria and viruses.)

Okay, I could continue but I'm sure you've gotten the point. Think and be safe.

Do you have some tips and tricks for your fellow travelers? Then join us in educating travelers worldwide. To get started, send our editors an email at unravelled [at] travellerspoint [dot] com. Let them know a bit about yourself, and maybe include some writing samples and ideas for entries. They will review your submission and, if you fit the bill, they will welcome you to the team. Each entry published on Travel Unravelled will earn a $5 donation to the Travellerspoint Foundation.

Posted by Isadora 12:09 Tagged health_and_medicine Comments (0)

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