It’s the night before your big trip and you’re as ready as you’ll ever be. You’ve checked into your flight, you’ve packed all your bags, and you’ve even pre-purchased an international phone plan. You’ve thought of everything. And then, just as you settle into bed and start to doze off, it hits you.

“Do I need a visa for this trip?”

It’s a question that’s plagued worrywarts for years. “What if I show up at customs and get turned away because I forgot to get a visa?” This very fear has led to many sleepless nights for travelers before their trips, and it’s no wonder why. Can you imagine taking off work, packing your bags, and flying overnight to another country only to be turned away at the gate? Well, fear not, because we’ve thought this through time and time again.

Check out our handy-dandy guide to ensure that you can sleep easy knowing you’ve covered all your bases and know exactly how to get a visa for your travels overseas!

Do Your Research (1-3 Months in Advance)

Cheap plane tickets – not too difficult to come by for the most part … but visas, on the other hand, are complicated; that’s why we prefer not to think about them too much. But the truth is, looking up the visa requirements for your destination is actually quite easy now that Google has so many resources to get you started. The first step is to take to the Internet and see what your destination country requires from visitors from the U.S. Many countries will have free 30-day or 90-day visas on arrival for most major westernized countries (US, Canada, Australia, much of Europe), which truly requires you to do nothing prior to arriving at the airport. Make sure to check the official government website of your destination to get the facts on what countries are exempt from visas and which are not. And do this with plenty of time before your trip, so that you have ample time to get your documents in order and aren’t panicking a week before the flight.

Some countries will require you to get prepaid visas beforehand. This can be for any number of reasons but is often because of international trade relations between the destination country and yours. Destinations such as Brazil, Vietnam, and Bolivia are just a few of many countries that require you to get a visa before you fly, in order to be granted access upon arrival. Often times, government websites are very helpful and concise in helping you prepare your documents for a pre-approved visa, so stick to these sites and you should be fine.

Some countries are a bit more closed off. Countries like North Korea, China, and Russia have particularly tricky visas to get for Americans and other westerners, and others will flat-out refuse to accept people from certain countries. If you have an Israeli passport, for example, many Middle-Eastern and Muslim countries may not approve you for a visa and therefore ban you from entering. Be sure to look it up so that you don’t accidentally plan a trip to a country you can’t enter.

Go to Your Consulate (1-3 Months in Advance)

If you’ve checked your destination’s website and qualify for a free visa-on-arrival, then congratulations! You’re done! But if you don’t, then you’ll have a few more steps before you can celebrate. Many countries that require you to apply for a visa (like Vietnam) won’t require you to physically go to a local consulate. You can just fill in your information online and send in the proper documents and get your visa in the mail. But for other more complicated situations, you’ll likely have to go to the consulate.

If you do go to the consulate, make sure you read the requirements and necessary paperwork extensively before going so that you avoid a headache. A visit to an embassy or consulate is often a slow and old-fashioned experience. No online forms or PDFs. They’ll require you to bring hard copies of your passport, documentation, and wallet-sized photos, and if you don’t have them you’ll have to go get them and wait in line all over again. It’s best to come prepared. Hopefully, after a quick discussion about your intended visit and (usually) a payment, you’ll be given your visa to be presented at immigration when you arrive at your destination. The whole process can take anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours, so it’s really not that bad. Just make sure you’re prepared and don’t lose anything.

Prep Your Documents (1-2 Weeks in Advance)

Now that you have all of your paperwork, you’re pretty much all set. Make sure that when you pack for your trip, you put your visa documents at the top of your list. That extra pair of flip flops won’t do you any good if you can’t even get to the beach. The documents usually include:

  • Passport
  • Printed copy of your passport
  • 3-5 passport-sized photos
  • Visa that you received by mail or from the consulate (if applicable)
  • Printed copy of your flight itinerary

It’s important to always put your documents in one folder deep in your bag so you know that they’re secured and that they won’t fly out (we’d even recommend putting an extra copy of each in another compartment just in case!). Your passport and visa are genuinely the most important things to have on you while you travel — probably more so than your phone or wallet. They’re irreplaceable and are your entry and exit ticket for the country, so be sure to pack them and pack them well. Once you have your ducks in a row, however, you’re all set to jet!

Know What to Do When You Arrive (Day Of)

Once you have all of your documents organized, you’re pretty much set, but it can be helpful to know what to expect when you get to your destination. Oftentimes immigration officers will just scan your passport, ask you some questions about your visit, and stamp it. Sometimes they’ll take your picture, and sometimes they’ll require you to show proof that you have plans to leave (that’s when your flight itineraries come in handy). But sometimes, they may give you a slip of paper that they’ll ask for upon exit of the country. While this might appear to be a tedious and inefficient method, it does still exist in some places, so you’ll want to keep that paper safe. I’m sure there are protocols in place in the event you lose it, but it’s best to avoid any problems and just keep it in a safe place, whether that’s in your wallet or passport.

Also, keep in mind that many countries will have vastly different laws regarding what you can bring in to the country. Prescription drugs and medications can be very, very tricky, so if you have anti-depressants or other medications, you may want to have a doctor’s note on hand to prove to them that they’re medicinal.

Once you’re all stamped and past immigration, you’re through the woods, and free to enjoy the country you worked so hard to get to. Visas are never fun, and they can be occasionally tedious to get, but they’re a fundamental part of travel that only gets easier with practice. So go on out in to the world and fill up that passport!

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About The Author

Gilad Gamliel

Gilad is a 26-year-old backpacker with anxiety, OCD and Hypochondriasis. He spent most of my life thinking that travel wasn’t for people like him -- nervous, neurotic, Type A people. But after his first trip, he realized that anyone can - and should - give backpacking a try. He’s now found subtle and clever ways to turn his anxieties into positives and hopes to share his experiences with the world. His website Anxious & Abroad is a travel guide dedicated to showing nervous and first-time travelers that they don’t have to be carefree or careless to enjoy what the world has to offer. You can follow his travels on Instagram @gil.ad.ventures.