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Cracking The Visa Code For U.S. Citizens

November 24, 2013

Underwear, guidebook, flashlight, passport. When making the packing list for your next international trip, you’ll want to add one more thing—a travel visa.

Luckily visas aren’t required for U.S. citizens visiting many countries around the world, but if you need one it can be tricky to figure out the requirements. Does your country require a visa? Who do you need to talk to? How much will it cost you?

Take a look at the map and see what’s needed for your destination country, then we’ll decode some common visa requirements.

No Visa Needed

Most countries in Western Europe and the northern tip of South America don’t require a visa for U.S. citizens. But don’t think you’re in the clear yet—many countries require you pay a fee when leaving their borders. The amount is typically between $20 and $30 U.S. dollars and is often included in your airfare cost.

Even without the official paperwork, most visa-free countries put a limit on how long you can stay in their country. For example, U.S. citizens just need to show a passport to get into Guatemala and can stay up to 90 days. Anything longer than that needs to be cleared with the Guatemalan government. Registering your trip with the U.S. Embassy and checking in with them can help greatly in the process so you don’t get locked in or out of country.

Visa Upon Arrival

Many countries require a visa before you can officially begin your stay. In those countries, there is normally a visa office at the airport that you must visit before hitting baggage claim. Before you go, check with the embassy of the country you’re going to and see if you will need any special paperwork, such as an International Certificate of Vaccination. The airport or border crossing visa offices are usually pretty quick, but plan on bringing some cash to make it official.

Visa Required

Even in countries requiring a visa before your travel there is still a lot of variety in their requirements. If you have ancestry from the country, you might get waived from needing a visa entirely. Otherwise, plan ahead and start the process well before your plane departs. Most countries require visa paperwork to be submitted at least three weeks before your trip or six weeks during the busy season. But with bureaucracy and red tape, its best to submit your request as soon as you set your travel schedule.

In most visa-requiring countries, such as India, landing on their soil without one will get you immediately deported. Visa requirements can change at any time and can even vary depending on who is applying. For the most up to date information, check with the country’s embassy in Washington, D.C. or a consulate near you.

And don’t be dumb with your visa. Just because you got into the country doesn’t mean you’re home free—most countries want to see your visa before you leave the country as well. Carry a copy of your passport and visa separate from the actual documents.

More resources:

The State Department’s travel website is up to date with the most recent information for each country.

Good old Wikipedia is generally reliable about travel info.

So plan ahead, be prepared, and good luck cracking the visa code. Log onto Trekeffect and plan your dream vacation!

-Michelle Kaiser

Michelle Kaiser