Navigating Visas

Getting a visa can be the trickiest and most tedious part of any trip. Just ask me.  After a month of stuffing about, I had to visit the Indian Visa office five times in two different cities, make a dozen phone calls and eventually sat in the office for 8 hours the day before my flight left to get my visa. It wasn’t fun. However, it was just one of those hoops I had to jump through to get my visa. And once I got to India, I largely forgot about the hassle.

Below is a list of issues you might run into when you apply for a visa, and a list of strategies for minimising the hassle.

The You-Give-My-Citizens-Trouble Factor
Some countries work on a tit for tat system. Basically, if your country makes it difficult for their citizens to gain entry, they’ll make it difficult for you to gain entry on principle (They call it reciprocity, I call it spite). Another favourite trick of annoyed countries is to hike the visa price so high, it makes it cost prohibitive to go there. This was the case a few years back for a few English travellers on my overland safari, who had to miss out on seeing Victoria Falls from the Zimbabwe side as the visas cost over a £100 pounds more than everyone else’s.

The Notoriously Difficult Factor

Some exit and entry requirements are quite strict. Some countries demand an outgoing airline ticket or a yellow fever vaccination certificate. Others demand proof of funds. Which is fine, except some countries want proof of funds dated to the day of application, like the Brazilian visa people in Buenos Aires, who wanted a bank statement with proof of at least $1000USD in it. Which isn’t actually easy to arrange on when you’re the road.

The Bitch Factor

Speaking of Brazil, it brings me to my next point: sometimes people in visa offices can just be mean, bitter & nasty for the sake of it. There’s one woman in the Brazilian visa office in Buenos Aires whose reputation precedes her all throughout South America. As we walked in, we saw one American girl leaving in tears. The two people after that didn’t fare much better. Nor did we. Abused, yelled at and told to get our visa elsewhere- even though there was nowhere else we could get it.

The Incompetent Factor
Some countries are simply bureaucratic in nature and largely disorganised. My favourite tale is of the London embassy that ran out of visa stickers. Visas were being approved; there were just no stickers sitting in the stationary cupboard to actually approve them with.  Which isn’t great if you have to fly the next day.

So how do you avoid these sorts of problems? Below is a list of suggestions for avoiding Visa issues.

  1. Be ware when in transit you may need a visa for the country you are transiting through. Similarly, if you’re transiting through a country that doesn’t like another country, they can make your life difficult (I had great fun at LAX a few years ago when transiting through to Cuba on a separate ticket).
    2. Check whether you need certain vaccinations to gain entry (especially in Africa).
  2. Don’t leave getting your visas until the last minute
    4. Whether you’re at a visa office or in the airport, you’ll need to stay calm, act dumb and be nice. Often whom you get and the mood they are in can dictate whether or not you will miss that flight. Don’t get aggressive, as it’s just not worth it.
    5. Don’t overstay your visa: this can result in being banned from countries and deportation.
    6. Rules, regulations, prices, terms and availability of visas can change on a daily basis. Roll with it.
    7. Read the visa conditions of entry and fine print. Some visas start from the date of issue, others begin from the date of entry to the country.
  3. Repeat: Some visas start from the date of issue, others begin from the date of entry to the country. I’ve seen people being pulled up many times who have visas already expired and almost done it myself on occasion.
  4. Some professions attract extra visa queries, such as journalists, soldiers, etc. Be aware that if this is you, you may receive extra scrutiny and have to fill out extra application forms and possibly even pay more money.
  5. Carry around a half dozen passport photos with you for applications
    11. If your passport is damaged or even just slightly worse for wear, some border guards can be real stickler about it. If your passport is in a bad state, it can sometimes be worth upgrading to a new one.
    12. Have access to your online bank accounts and have money in them so you can print off a recent statement if necessary.


Once you’ve passed Customs and Border Control, put it behind you and enjoy your trip!

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