One of the benefits of being a United States citizen is it’s relatively easy to get into most countries. In most countries, US Citizens do not require a visa – or the visa can be obtained as you go through the destination country’s airport customs/immigration desk. These types of entries are generally considered Tourist Visas – meaning you can usually stay for 30-90 days as long as you are not working or going to school. In a few countries, there is a small fee to be paid in cash in the immigration office for the tourist visa (Egypt is one).
In other countries – a visa must be applied for and granted prior to you arriving in the country. This means if you arrive at the airport in one of these countries without an approved visa – they will place you back on the boat or plane you arrived in and send you back to wherever you came from. As most US airlines are aware of this – they generally won’t even let you board the plane if you don’t have a confirmed visa.
Don’t Make My Mistake
I’d been planning a trip to Australia for 3 months and talked about it incessantly throughout that period. I’d spent a considerable amount of time researching things to do in Sydney, Cairns (the Great Barrier Reef), and Melbourne – not to mentioned a good deal of money on the entire vacation. I had already looked up the entry and exit requirements from one of the online travel guides (which said I could pay at the airport) and was confident everything was in order for me to leave.
The day my flight is supposed to depart I attempt to print my boarding pass, but the airline’s website won’t let me. Hmmmm. I call and they eventually tell me they don’t have my visa on file.
“Oh no lady – you must be mistaken – I checked, and there’s no visa required for Australia”. She proceeds to point me to airline’s Australia page – which linked to US State department. Turns out – you do need a visa to enter Australia and it has to be approved prior to arrival in the country.
I’d heard about China visas taking 2-4 weeks to process and Brazilian visa taking forever and 3 days – this was 5 hours before my flight was to leave on a Friday. F***********CK!!!. There goes a boat load of money down the drain, all that planning, time, the embarrassment…….
US State Department
The story above illustrates an important lesson learned – Always use the US State Department as the resource for entry and exit requirements around the world. While travel guides and personal communication between friends may be easier – the database of record is the US State Department. At the end of the day, you are responsible for obtaining the proper entry/exit credentials. The US State department’s relevant information pages are updated daily and will always have the most accurate information available. In addition to the entry and exit requirements, the State Department’s site also has travel advisories, embassy locations around the world, and of course – passport information.
Understanding the entry and exist requirements is an absolute necessity before you even purchase your ticket. In many cases, travel agents will inform you if the requirements and in some cases, obtain the visas on your behalf. Beware, not all travel agencies will inform you of the requirement – particularly for China. As you are responsible for having your papers together – remember the US State Department is your friend.
PS… I got lucky. Turned out Australia’s Visa system is online and can be approved instantly using a credit card. 10 minutes later and $40 lighter, I was cleared to go to Aussie Land – and had a marvelous trip!