Sunday, May 21, 2006

Dealing with Passports and Visas

Boy, we never dreamed that getting passports and visas would be so time consuming and expensive. We decided that we would begin to deal with these in advance and are we glad that we did.

In talking with one of our travel agents, we decided that on a trip to Washington DC to meet with a visa service company. First thing he asked was what countries are you traveling to and when are you going. The itinerary is very important because how countries deal with visas differ from country to country

  • Some countries' visas are effective from date of issue. Others are effective from date of travel
  • Effective time period of visas are limited - some as short as 30 days
  • Some visas take 2-3 days to process while others take 2-3 weeks to process
  • And all applications for visas require that you give up your passport for the period of time the visa is being processed
  • Plus the number of photos you need vary according to country

The effective time period is important because depending on the length of your round the world trip, you could be gone on your trip before you can apply for your visa without it expiring before you visit the country and guess what - you need your passport to travel!

So this is what we have done so far. Met with Travel Document Systems only because they were recommended by our travel agent. Going there is not necessary, but was very helpful. You can find the information online, usually at visa service company websites or at the embassy website. Travel Document Systems provided us the following

  • A list of the countries we are visiting which require visas
  • Application forms for each of those countries
  • Photos requirements for each
  • Other information required for that country's application such as self addressed stamped envelope, your itinerary, copies of application. We are choosing to use FedEx where we have an account. Applying for an account is simple and saves on estimating and obtaining stamps. Also allows you to track the package once it leaves the consulate/embassy
  • Number of days required to process application. Some countries will expedite application if you pay an extra fee. It was recommended we do this so that your passport is gone for as little time as possible to allow for processing of other visas
  • Effective period of the visa
  • Need for multi-entry visas (this is important when you are traveling in a region and will start and leave from one country)
  • Fees associated with visa application for specific country

We learned that we should apply for a second passport. This allows us to use a passport while we travel and leave another in the U.S. to apply for visas in countries that have very limited effective time periods. The visa service can apply for the visa and send the visa to you. We have someone joining us later in the trip so they can bring the visas to us.

To apply for a second passport, you need the following. I am assuming you already have the first passport

  • Complete Form #82 from the State Department. You can complete it online at
  • Write a letter explaining why you need a second passport.
  • A copy of your itinerary from the airlines/travel agent
  • An expired passport
  • 2 passport pictures
  • Check for $67 made out to the U.S. Department of State (fee as of 5/20/06)
  • If you want to expedite the passport process, an additional $60 plus overnight delivery costs (both ways is strongly suggested). Multiple passport applications can be mailed together, but the return of passports must be separate mailings. Expediting still takes about two weeks to process according to their website. Otherwise, it takes about 6 weeks to process the application

Take all of this to a post office that processes passports - not all of them do as we quickly found out. You cannot do this through the mail. The post office must verify the application and you have to sign some paperwork. They will require you to show valid government id like your driver's license - can't use your expired passport. There will also be a fee for processing the passport at the post office if you can believe that. In total it cost us over $350 for two of us to get the second passport.

That being out of the way, we are now starting the visa process. We decided to process as many of the visas ourselves. We found that visa service companies charge anywhere from $45 to $75 per application per person. With 9 countries needing visas, that is very expensive. We'll let you know how it goes.