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How to avoid visa woes

If you’re planning an international vacation, start researching early to avoid running afoul of entry requirements that can trip up even experienced travelers.

“You can never be too prepared,” says Christopher Elliott, author of “How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler (and Save Time, Money, and Hassle)” (National Geographic). “When you’re traveling overseas, ignorance is definitely not bliss. You could find yourself deported or locked up overnight.”

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The following steps will help ensure that you don’t end up all packed with nowhere to go.

1. Confirm that your passport is valid for at least six months after your trip. Many countries bar entry to travelers whose passports are nearing expiration. Check the passport’s physical condition. If it’s torn or mutilated, you may be rejected at the border, so you might need to replace it before you go.

2. Find out which vaccines are required or recommended for the countries you’ll be visiting. Your family physician will not be able to offer every vaccine. For example, if you’re visiting certain regions of South America or Africa, you’ll need yellow fever inoculation, which is available only from travel medicine specialists. Remember to present your vaccination certificate with your visa application.

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“Sometimes countries will accept a letter written by a physician for those who cannot be inoculated for whatever reason,” says Fatemeh Le Tellier, chief marketing officer of Travel Document Systems, a visa processing company.

3. Know what documentation must accompany your visa application. The US State Department’s website and those of individual countries’ embassies and consulates list such information. Typical requirements include proof of arriving and departing flights; confirmation of hotel reservation; and a current bank statement that shows you have the funds necessary for the trip. Call to confirm that the information on the website is up to date. If the processing fee has increased, it’s best to know that before you get a certified check or money order.

Calling will also help you determine if procedures are slated to change. For example, US citizens need a visa to visit Turkey. “Today, you can get that visa when you arrive. But on April 10, you’ll have to do that in advance,” says John Pittman, vice president of industry and consumer affairs and research at the American Society of Travel Agents.

4. Check your airline’s rules, especially when you’re traveling to a country that allows you to obtain your visa on arrival. “Airline policies may differ from published requirements based on the specific experiences in the destination country,” says Perry Flint, head of corporate communications for the Americas at the International Air Transport Association.

That’s because the airline can be fined heavily if it transports passengers who do not have their paperwork in order, Le Tellier says. “Airlines now face very high penalty fees, tens of thousands of dollars, so they’re not going to board the traveler” if there’s a risk of being denied admission into the country.

5. Research the country in advance. This will also alert you to any special requirements or processing quirks that you’ll encounter. Pittman notes that visitors to South Africa can be turned away if they don’t have two consecutive blank pages in their passports. Le Tellier offers another example: If you’re traveling to India or Brazil, your visa application must be processed in your home state. And several countries that don’t require a visa do impose a “reciprocity fee” on US visitors, so make sure you’re informed about all entry requirements, not just those related to visas.

Randy B. Hecht can be reached at rbhecht@aphra.com.
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