Well, in a bizarre and yet unexplained series of events, this post (originally published on 06/06/2015) was somehow deleted from this site for good. Poof, just like a magic trick. I have my hosting company on the case and my gut feeling is some sort of foul play, making me a little weary to repost this. Nevertheless, I can't let an unexplained freak of (digital) nature stop me from adding my content. It's a good thing I keep a backup of everything!
All right, here goes.. again.
2015 has seen my fair share of travel fails, costing me trips to Japan, Italy and Spain. It has to do with that dreaded 4 letter word that starts with a 'v', ends with an 'a' and has 'is' in between. As a Philippines Passport holder, my travel freedom (ability to visit a country without a visa) is quite limited compared to a lot of others, such as someone with a US passport.
According the > Visa Restrictions Index> from 2014, the Philippines ranks 68th in the world in terms of travel freedom with access to 62 countries, while the USA ranks 1st with access to 174 countries.
In order to pull off an around the world trip next year, I'm going to have to get quite a few visas and I have learnt a lot about the visa process from all the visas I've gotten in my lifetime thus far.
Here are some best practices for getting a travel visa for an international trip:
1. Planning In Advance
You want to give yourself as much time as possible to prepare for an international trip. How much time exactly? I strongly recommend looking into getting a visa for a trip at least 6 months away. I realize that this a very long time to look forward to an amazing trip, but I implore you to plan ahead this far. Not heeding this advice was what caused me to have to cancel my trips to Japan, Spain & Italy in 2015. :(
2. Finding Out If You Need A Visa Or Not
So, you want to go to an international destination, eh? The very first step is to determine whether or not you need a visa to visit that country. I recommend using VisaHQ's simple form on their homepage to quickly find out!
If you don't need a visa, breathe a sigh of relief and begin planning a great time! The rest of this article won't apply to you, so why don't you check out the rest of my website!
3. Determine where the nearest Embassy (or Consulate) Is
If you have made it this far, you probably need a travel visa to visit your desired destination. Visas are issued by the Embassy of the destination country, and you need to find where the nearest one to you is.
If you live in a large metropolitan area or capital city (such as New York City), it is likely that the Embassy you're looking for is in town. However, you may have to travel out of town to visit an Embassy, but before you set off, make sure you're visiting the one that services your area because larger countries (eg. United States of America) may have multiple Embassies serving different regions.
A person who lives in Texas, USA and needs a visa to visit Spain will need to apply for a visa at the Spanish Consulate in Houston, Texas that has consular jurisdiction for Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi.
4. Preparing The Visa Application
You've identified where you need to go, but what goes into your visa application? Paying a visit to the Embassy's website will usually list out all their travel visa requirements.
For the most part, a typical visa application contains:
Visa Application: A simple form outlining your demographic information and your previous travel history to that country. I've seen this form in the native language of the country, and if that is the case, do your best to fill it out and use resources such as Google Translate to help you.
Application Fee: Fees will differ depending on the type of travel visa you are applying for (transit, single entry or multiple entry), but the key point here to find out what the acceptable forms of payment are. Some embassies only accept cash; while others only accept money orders, so make sure you have that payment ready in the right form.
Round-Trip Airfare: It is the Embassy's main job to determine that you are visiting the country with the intention of tourism exclusively, and there's no better way to prove that than with an airfare itinerary with your name on it, clearing showing arrival and departure dates. The main point here is to not purchase the ticket, but to produce an itinerary. The best way to do this is to price out an itinerary and purchase it using a hold, or purchase it outright but cancel it within 24 hours for a full refund. Whichever way you choose, make sure you print out the proposed flight itinerary and double check that it has your name on it! Most Embassies actually suggest applicants to not purchase airfare until after the visa is approved.
Accommodation: Along with evidence of airfare, you must show where you plan to stay during the entire duration of your visit, whether it is with a hotel, or if a friend of yours in the destination country plans to host you.
- If you plan on staying at a hotel or hostel, I recommend purchasing accommodation that does not require pre-payment up front and has favorable cancellation policies. Booking with Hostel World allows you to make a hostel reservation with a very small deposit that you will get back if you need to cancel.
- If you plan on staying with a friend, kindly ask your host for a Letter of Invitation clearing stating:
- Their full name and where they live
- Their relationship to you
- Dates of the proposed stay
- Statement making them fully responsible for your accommodation during the entire duration of your trip
Proof of Funds: The Embassy must deduce that you can actually afford food, entertainment and shopping during your visit with your most liquid assets (i.e. cash). More expensive countries, such as France and Germany, will need more than less expensive countries like Thailand or Peru. Just like accommodation, you will need to prove that you can realistically afford being in that country for the entire duration of your visit. You can show proof of funds with the following:
- Letter of employment stating your annual salary, position and tenure with the company
- Bank statements for the past 3 months
- Paystubs for the past 3 months
Photos: an application isn't complete without a passport photo (or two). Make sure you check on the Embassy's website for their specific photo requirements.
DISCLAIMER: The above requirements are a general guideline from the many visa applications I've filled out. An Embassy may have additional requirements or documentation. Please consult the Embassy's website for a full set of requirements for your visa application.
5. Apply In-Person or By Mail
While most Embassies require you to apply in person, there are some that allow you to mail in your application.
- Applications By Mail: It can seem very scary to send your passport in the mail, but to calm those nerves, make sure you send it via certified mail (where the Embassy will need to sign in order to receive it), and also include a pre-paid expedited (preferably overnight) self addressed mailing envelope with tracking for the Embassy to get your passport back to you as quickly as possible. Expedited shipping also has some insurance built in to its cost, which will come in handy if your passport gets lost in transit.
- Applications in Person: It is safe to say that most Embassies require you to make an appointment in advance. Appointments are usually made online or through an appointment hotline. This is where preparing well in advance will come in handy because you may not be able to get an appointment for 1 or 2 months! Once you have a confirmed appointment, print out the confirmation and add it to your application package. On the day of the appointment, make sure you arrive at the Embassy at least 1-2 hours in advance to get through the their security protocols and make your appointment in time.
There you go! Hopefully this guide helps you navigate the red tape that comes with applying for a travel visa. Once you receive your visa (may take up to a week following approval), book your airfare and start getting excited!
Nico Atienza is a Philippines born, Sri Lanka raised traveler who sold everything, quit his job and escaped the rat race to travel the world in 2016. Apart from his love of travel, he is an award winning volunteer, miles + points aficionado and perpetually epicurious story teller. You can peer into his life by following him on Twitter, Instagram or send him an Email.