Getting Used to the Idea of Needing Visas
I have been in the visa expediting industry for over a decade and have seen every problem that there is to see when it comes to visas. Swift Passport recently contributed an article to the Huffington Post regarding the issues that got us here in the first place; US Passport holders are on the verge of needing a visa to enter the European Union.
Here is what my team considers the top 5 misconceptions about visas for Americans
- The issuance of a visa is not guaranteed. Visas are issued at the sole discretion of the foreign consulate. As Americans, it is not our right to enter any country we want unless we qualify ourselves to the standards of that government. For example, having a DUI or criminal record is means to have your visa application rejected with some countries. This is not explicitly explained on most visa applications. Some consulates will also “discriminate” against certain religions. There are middle eastern countries that make unmarried women under the age of 30 jump through additional hoops to get a visa. You could be an upstanding citizen in the US, and still be rejected when you apply for a visa; each country has their own application requirements and standards.
- Just because you have a trip scheduled doesn’t mean that a foreign consulate will expedite your visa process to accommodate your travel plans. Every day I have people come into our office requesting sameday visa service (typically to China). When I tell them that visa processing will take at least 2 days, they reply with “oh but that won’t work because I am leaving in the morning.” Well guess what? Most consulates are not sympathetic to your travel plans and have set processing times, they don’t care if you plan to leave tomorrow! This has been a particularly big problem with Brazil Consulates. Brazil Consulates are jurisdictional, meaning if you live in IL, WI, MI, you must apply in Chicago, but if you live in northern CA or WA you must apply in San Francisco. Each Brazil consulate has their own processing time ranging from 1 week to over 6 weeks. This past year people in the SFO jurisdiction really struggled, as it was taking 8 weeks to get a visa in that jurisdiction. This makes a last-minute trip to some countries near impossible!
- Sometimes, you need MORE than a passport or visa to enter a country. Different countries have different visa AND passport requirements. For example, to enter Italy, you Must have at least six months validity beyond your planned date of departure from the Schengen area. This means that even though your valid passport still has 3 months before expiring, you may not enter Italy. The worst situation is when the airline doesn’t catch this, and they allow you to board the plane. You might get all the way to Italy only to be turned away at customs. Other countries require a specific number of blank visa pages in your passport. The last few pages in a passport are NOT visa pages, and a lot of people don’t know this. Before I was in the visa industry, I arrived to South Africa with no blank visa pages. I had to pay a fine and they threatened not to let me into the country. This is a serious matter that most people don’t know about until they get to the airport.
- When your passport containing a visa expires, sometimes the remaining unexpired visas inside that passport are valid, and sometimes they are not. Often times if you have a valid visa in your passport and your passport expires, you can renew that passport, and then travel with your old and new passport to enter the country. This is not consistent- the rule varies from country to country.
- It’s not unfair, it’s reciprocity! Americans love to think that the visa regulations of other countries are unfair. More often than not, the fee and processing time of a visa mirror the US visa process. For example, when the US raised the visa fee for Chinese traveling to the US, the Chinese raised the visa fee for Americans traveling to China. When the US started taking a long time to issue US visas for Brazilians coming to the US, all of a sudden the Brazil Consulates in the US slowed down their processing time. This is simple cause and effect. Tit for tat.
So how do we prevent these problems?
Allow for ample time to apply for your visa. If you know you are going to India in 2 months, apply for the visa now, don’t wait! Prepare for a delay. Delays don’t always happen, but if you assume there WILL be a delay, you won’t have to deal with a situation where you are down to the wire and potentially missing a flight. Lastly use a visa agency, use Swift! Visa experts look at visa application day in and day out. They know the little application intricacies better than anyone, they know what contributes to a visa being issued, and what red flags might get a visa application rejected! Make sure the company you use is reputable, do a search online to see what people are saying about the company you use. Be wary of “deals.” Just like you don’t want to pick the cheapest doctor, you might not want the cheapest visa expeditor either. Make sure that you work with a company who will stay in touch with you and keep you updated throughout the process, make sure that the person who answers the phone instills a feeling of trust- after all you are about to hand over your US passport. That is a big deal and should be treated like a big deal!
Laurie Lee is co-founder and CEO of Swift Passport and Visa Services. A Chicago native, Laurie loves adventure travel, especially to the Caribbean. She enjoys writing for the Swift Post, as well as for her personal blog, Spare Parts- www.sparebodyparts.com.