It is time to start my visa application process. What is a visa and why do you need it? I thought you just need a passport to travel outside the country? How do you get a visa?

A visa (from the Latin charta visa, lit. “paper that has been seen”) is a document showing that a person is authorized to enter the territory for which it was issued, subject to permission of an immigration official at the time of actual entry.

Think of it as a matter of respect. You are politely knocking on your neighbor’s door to see if it is ok for you to come in the house. Its good manners and whether you need a visa for your next destination is dependent upon the relationship your passport country has with the country you’d like to visit.

For those of who are on a US, EU or Canadian passport, we have it pretty sweet. US, EU and Canada have a visa exemptions with a lot of countries, permitting the traveler to enter without needing to apply for a visa. The visa exemption encourages travel, reinforces trade relations and business development. Think of these friendly countries as your best friends house where you know you don’t need to call ahead and can show up unannounced.

There are many different types of visa you can apply for, transit visa, tourist visa (most common), student visa, business visa and more. Each has different requirements and fees associated with it. Another common visa practice is visa on arrival. Turkey for example is a country where you don’t need to apply for a visa in advance but can get one on arrival. Usually visa on arrival is straightforward, you fill out a form, stand in line, pay the fee and you will get a visa stamp / sticker in your passport in no time. For visas that you need to apply before hand, it is also a matter of a series of paper work, getting passport photos, writing a check and sending in all the required papers in along with your passport.

Some visas are notoriously hard to get. Russia and Brazil are two somewhat tricky visas to get on a US passport. Russia requires a letter of invitation as part of the visa application. For these types of multi-process visas, I would re command going through a visa service agency and just have them do the work for you. Normally if I only need a single visa, I would just fill out the forms online, send in the pictures, passport and fee and quietly wait for the return of my passport via FedEx.

However, for The Mongol Rally, I need to apply for visas for Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Russia before hand so I will be using Travisa to help me process all the different applications.

I’ve also applied for a second passport as well (more on that later) just so I wouldn’t be without a passport while I am in the middle of the visa process.

Applying for visas are nothing new to frequent travelers, nor are visa extensions (a tourist visa is usually only good for anywhere between 30-60 days, an extension is required if you intent on staying in the country longer). Occasionally even the best of us gets caught off guard with which countries we need a visa for and which ones we don’t. I suffered from a moment of American hubris, thinking with all the trade US conducts with India that we don’t need a visa. I was wrong and had to re-route the second half of my trip in 2010. It is always double check before hand. A simple Google search will tell you if you need a visa for your next destination.

For those of you who are preparing for long-term travel, it is a good idea to bring some extra passport photos with you. You don’t want to be scrambling to find a place to have your passport photos taken so you can head to the embassy to apply for your visa.

Another day closer to kick off…..

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