BootsnAll indie travel guide

How to Sort Out Visas for an Extended Trip

Dealing with visas can cause a lot of headaches for first time, round the world travelers. Sorting out when to get what visas, figuring out all the necessary requirements, and getting a plan in place is a time consuming process.

Where to start

Indian Visa

Your first plan of attack is to research the countries you know you’re going to visit. Even if you plan on buying a one-way ticket to your first destination and winging it from there, chances are you at least have an inkling of some of the other countries you want to visit.

Here are some questions you want to research and find the answers to:

  • Do the countries you plan to visit offer a visa upon arrival?
    • If so, what else will you need besides your passport?
    • Do they charge? How much?
    • Do you need proof of onward travel?
    • Do you need proof of accommodations?
    • Do you need proof of immunizations to enter the country?
  • If they do not offer a visa upon arrival, what visas can and should you get at home prior to leaving and which ones can you get on the road (more on this in the Visas in Advance section)?
  • Are you planning on working (legitimately) in the country you are visiting? Requirements are different.
  • Are you a family who has children who will go to school in the country you are visiting. Requirements may be different.

Visas upon arrival

Visas upon arrival are exactly what they sound like – you are granted entry into the country upon arrival in that country. You may have to show proof of immunizations, an onward flight, and/or proof of accommodations prior to boarding your flight. You will then be given some paperwork on the plane that you’ll have to fill out before going through customs.

Proof of onward travel

What you’ll be required to prove varies from country to country and agent to agent – do your homework and be prepared, even though they may not ask for anything they’re supposed to ask for. Always carry your immunization card with you – we usually kept it right with our passports on travel days.

The onward travel requirement and proof of accommodations can be tricky when on a round the world trip, as often times travelers don’t have their next flight booked or plan to find a place to stay when they arrive. Even if the requirements state that you’re supposed to have these in advance, you may not be asked, but it’s important to be prepared regardless. Airlines can and will deny boarding on the flight if you don’t have proof of these.

Proof of onward travel

What should you do if you don’t have any of this booked in advance? There are a few workarounds for this dilemma – but keep in mind that you are taking a risk if you go this route. The best way to ensure that you’ll be able to board your plane is to abide by their rules and regulations. If you know you need proof of onward travel, then maybe you want to book your next flight for peace of mind.

We took this risk a few times, and it was no problem, but we were sweating each time we checked in for our flights. Here are a few options  to get around these rules:

  1. You can purchase a fully refundable plane ticket out of the country to show proof of onward travel. Make absolute certain that the flight is fully refundable, and if you go this route, take care of it prior to arriving at the airport. You don’t want to be scrambling while there and purchase a flight when in a hurry. That’s when you make a mistake and don’t read all the fine print and end up out a lot of money because that flight wasn’t actually refundable.
  2. Go to an online booking site, go through the normal process of booking a fight, get to the confirmation page, with your name, flight number, time, date, etc., but don’t actually book. Copy and paste this information into a word doc, print it out, and voila!, proof of onward travel.
    1.  Note: We did this several times, with success each time. I have no idea if the agent did, can, or would check to see if you are actually registered on that flight. We could have gotten lucky each time, and we were nervous each time we tried this.
  3. Some countries will ask for proof of accommodations, and if this is something you don’t have, the same thing can be done as above with the flight – it’s easy to create a confirmation page for a hotel or hostel as proof of your accommodations.
  4. If you are leaving the country overland, you won’t have proof of onward travel, so you will either have to sweet talk the agent if asked or provide proof that you will be leaving the country. That could be in the form of a bus or train ticket or accommodations.

Visas in advance

There are many countries who do not offer visas upon arrival, so you will have to deal with this before entering the country, whether before you leave home or while you’re on the road. There are a few reasons why you wouldn’t want to take care of this while still home:

  1. Visas are only good for a certain period of time, whether it’s 15 days or 10 years, and many will be valid immediately. If the visa is only good for one month and you don’t plan on visiting that country until 6 months into your trip, it won’t be good by the time you get there.
  2. Costs: Sometimes it’s much cheaper to get a visa outside of your home country. Do the research for each country you’re going to and look at all possibly options – you could save literally hundreds of dollars by waiting.

There are other times when getting a visa before leaving is a good idea:

  1. If the requirements are particularly stringent and difficult, you may want to pay a little extra for a visa company to handle it. China, Libya, Iran, and Russia come to mind.
  2. If the visa is good for multiple years and the cost is similar to getting it on the road, then take care of it before you leave. India offers a 10-year visa for US citizens, and the requirements can be a bit of a pain, so taking care of it while home will just save you time and hassle while on the road.
  3. If you have kids or just like things taken care of beforehand to minimize time spent on the road dealing with these things.

Getting visas on the road – what to bring with you

Passport

We visited 11 countries during our RTW trip, and we did not get a single visa at home prior to leaving. We also bought one-way tickets instead of a multi-stop flight, and because of this, we had to be prepared before we left.

Here are some things you want to have with you prior to leaving home:

  • Plenty of passport sized photos for everyone you’re traveling with. Many countries require passport sized photos as part of their entry requirements, and while you can get these on the road, it just makes sense to stock up and bring 15-20 with you – they take up little space and weigh next to nothing.
  • Proof of immunizations and copies stashed in different places.
  • Copies of everything – passport, immunization proof, social security card, birth certificate – scanned and emailed to yourself as backups.
  • Many countries require proof of funds and will want to see your latest bank statement. While you obviously don’t want to carry this information around with you, make sure you have easy access to it.

For countries that don’t have visas upon arrival, you can get them while on the road from embassies, typically in large cities. We took a “visa day” while in Bangkok to get our Vietnam and India visas. While larger cities are more common places to acquire visas in advance, there are still plenty of smaller cities where this is possible. We got our Bolivia visas while in the small border town of Puno, Peru. We did have to part with our passports for a few days in each case, so keep that in mind.

Entering a country overland

There will most likely be times when you enter a new country overland, so make sure you know what you’ll need prior to boarding that train, bus, or car.

One of the things that surprised us on our travels was the currency with which you had to pay with. Many countries charge a fee for entrance, and some require a certain currency – don’t assume that it’s the local currency. It’s a good idea to have US dollars, regardless of what nationality you are, for this reason. Laos, for instance, only accepted US dollars, and they had to be in pristine condition – absolutely no tears or big creases. While this sounds ridiculous, I almost wasn’t allowed into Laos because my money was too worn. Make sure you either bring crisp bills with you from home (which are almost impossible to keep crisp while on the road), or go to a big bank prior to entering a new country and get some nice, new crisp, US dollars.

Be aware of the different rules for entering a country by land. Thailand, for instance, offers 30 day visas for people entering the country by plane but only 15 day visas for people entering by land. Make sure you know the rules prior to arriving.

Visa runs

You often hear of traveling doing visa runs. What does this mean?

Many countries only offer 15 or 30 day visas and don’t offer extensions. In the above Thailand situation, if you enter by land, you only have 15 days. What if you want to stay longer than 15 days though? Either change your plans and fly in or go on a visa run once there. A visa run simply means leaving the country, sometimes just for a couple hours, sometimes for a day, and re-entering, re-setting your visa and giving you another 15 days.

Working visas

All the above situations assume that person is traveling on a normal, tourist visa. But what if you plan on working while on the road?

Many countries offer working visas, and requirements aren’t much different than tourist visas. But most countries make it a bit more difficult to obtain a working visa than a tourist one. Make sure you do your homework and research if you hope to work in another country. Sure, there are many places who will allow travelers to work under the table without a working visa, but they are taking a big risk to do so, so your working options will be far more limited.

Many countries have agreements in place for working holiday visas, which is a permit that allows citizens of certain countries to work in another country for a specified period of time. There are usually several rules to these types of visas – namely age. For example, Australia has working holiday visa arrangements which allow travelers between 18 and 30 years old, from specific countries, to work in Australia for up to a year. Many countries offer working holiday visas, but the rules and regulations differ for each, so do the necessary homework.

Resources

We have a collection of articles and resources to help you out with all your visa needs:

Photo credits: Jon Rawlinson, mararie, jaaron

Comments on How to Sort Out Visas for an Extended Trip

KMM
22 February 2013

If traveling to the Middle East, I’d also recommend checking what visa stamps you don’t want in your passport. Many countries won’t let you in if your passport has been stamped by Israel, for example. For Americans at least, you can apply for a second passport and use that to gain entry into places like Iran, where an Israeli stamp will preclude you from entering, if you can’t get around the Israelis stamping.

Hannah @ Getting Stamped
22 February 2013

Great article! We plan on getting our Vietnam and India visas in Bangkok. We wont have hotel accomadation ever booked but we will have a future flight, it might not be departing from the country we are getting visa for. Thanks for info!

Christin
22 February 2013

My “favorite” overland visa experience was Zambia. Arriving from Namibia with a car, I had to pay several fees. One of them only accepted the local Kwacha. Problem is, you’re not allowed to take Kwacha out of the country, so upon entry into the country, there is no way you can have Kwachas legally. There was no ATM, the nearest was in a small town 5 minutes away, and a police officer escorted me there in a taxi. Off course, it but didn’t work. The next one was in Livingstone, a good two hour drive away. However, both the empoyees and several “freelancers” that hung around would exchange money with you, both US and Namibian Dollars. Quite sure that’s not your best deal. However, my problem was no currency, so I had to go back to Namibia. Thank goodness, a few phrases in one of the major, local languages made them extremly friendly, so they just let me right through back and forth, and I didn’t have to buy anouther single entry visa (50US!) when I returned.

Stephen
22 February 2013

Central Asia is a bit of a pain, especially if you want to try to do it without a Letter of Invitation. I’ve spent weeks, before, trying to get all of my -Stans in order before a big trip that way!

Jody
22 February 2013

For working holiday visas, definitely do your research before leaving home.

Some of them can’t be obtained on the road (you must apply in your home country), and some have very strict requirements (notarized bank statements, documents from your government, etc.).

Passport Dave
28 February 2013

Awesome article. Covers the basics pretty well. I am planning on leaving this year myself and am still debating on which way to setup my visas. Will probably get a 2 month Thai and 10year Indian visa at home and the rest on the road.

Naomi
06 March 2013

Hmm, the Thailand example isn’t a good one because the 15 and 30 day options are actually a visa free waiver period. People do visa runs in Thailand to get a real 2 month visa. Similar for USA, 3 month visa free waiver period but if you want to stay longer you have to apply for a visa.

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