Avoid visa problems this summer. Here’s how.

If you travel abroad this summer, look out for visa trouble.

No, not the credit card variety. I’m talking about visas, as in travel permits.

Visas are a hassle. They’re expensive, complicated and arguably unnecessary. Worse, they can be a formidable roadblock — at times, an insurmountable obstacle — for summer travelers.

Consider the visa war between Europe and the United States. You can fly to Europe without any kind of paperwork, except for your passport. But a dispute over visa reciprocity just bubbled over in Brussels, endangering that arrangement.

Basically, the United States is wary of allowing Croatians, Cypriots, Bulgarians, Romanians and Poles to come to America unless they have a visa. The European Union wants all EU citizens to be treated equally and allowed visa-free travel to the USA. European legislators recently passed a non-binding resolution to impose visa requirements on Americans. For now, that crisis seems to have been averted.

But travelers are on edge. Dianne Zeitler, a retired health care consultant from Washington, plans to visit Italy in August. “I hope I won’t need to get a visa,” she says.

No question, visa uncertainty is in the air this spring. But there are remedies.

First, know who requires a visa and what could go wrong. As of now, most of central Europe is visa-free. Brazil, China, Russia and India are the major countries that require visas for American visitors, according to James Wolf, a San Francisco attorney who specializes in immigration law.

“As far as visa snafus, a typical problem is that the traveler forgets to sign the application or enclose the right fee,” he says.

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Dot your i’s and cross your t’s, folks.

Timing is also important. Applying for a visa can be a lengthy process, so you need to start thinking about it well in advance of your vacation, says Karen Malone, a travel consultant with Travel Leaders in Woodbury, Minn. “I usually do visa applications about six to eight weeks before travel,” she says. The application forms can be lengthy, and the requirements are often absurd, she says. Brazil, for example, requires you to fill out an appointment form first, then your passports have to be sent into the embassy for the actual visa.

You could take your chances and wait until you’re at the airport, but that’s risky, says Aaron Laurich, a supervisor for security operations at Global Rescue, a provider of crisis response services.

“You can’t always get a visa on arrival,” he warns. “Not always and not at all ports of entry into a country. Even if you can get a visa at the airport, land border crossings may be understaffed and not equipped to issue them.”

How about the uncertainty with Europe? It’s really hard to predict that outcome. Unless the United States caves in and agrees to the EU’s reciprocity demands, you may need a visa to visit Paris this summer. If that happens, it will probably add 60 euros to the cost of your vacation, predicts Ryan Chargois, a partner with immigration law firm Foster in Austin — that’s the cost of a short-term visa to Europe from countries that require one.

Unfair? Not really, says Laurie Lee, the CEO of Chicago-based Swift Passport and Visa Services. “Americans love to think that the visa regulations of other countries are unfair,” she says.

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But take a closer look. When the United States raised the visa fee for Chinese travelers, China raised the visa fee for Americans. When the United States began taking its time with visas for Brazilians, the Brazilian consulates in the USA slowed down their processing time.

“This is simple tit for tat,” Lee says.

What is unfair, to some, is that visas are even required.

“Visas are basically a deterrent to travel,” says Jacquie Whitt, who runs Adios Adventure Travel, a tour operator based in Virginia Beach. They put a damper on last-minute travel, raise the cost of your trip and needlessly complicate the already confusing task of planning travel.

She doesn’t think the European visa requirements will be imposed — too many tourism dollars are at stake — and I hope she’s right about that. I also hope that eventually, governments will come around to her way of thinking.

Cut the red tape, and you open the gate to tourism, and all the commerce and cultural benefits it brings. How can that be a bad thing?

Avoid these visa misunderstandings

• Mind your expiration dates. Both visas and passports have an expiration date. Be aware of them, and make sure you don’t overstay. “Almost every country in the world requires six months’ validity remaining on your passport for entry, as well as applying for a visa, so check your passport expiration dates prior to applying for a visa,” says Jessica Pociask, an expedition leader with Want Expeditions in Washington. Some countries will allow you to bring in a valid visa that is affixed to an expired passport as long as you have a new valid passport and present both of them together.

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• Take the right photo. When submitting your visa application, you usually need at least one passport photo. Countries are specific about their requirements (no sunglasses, no hats, specific formatting). Pro tip: Never staple the photo to your application. It could void the entire application.

• Remember, a visa isn’t a guarantee of admission. Travelers assume a visa is a permit to enter the country. “This is quite far from the truth,” says Anton Petrescu de Perrella, a visa expert with Tzell Travel Group in New York. “The immigration officer at the point of entry of the country concerned is the ultimate authority and determines if you will be allowed to enter or not.”

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org.


    The EU announced in early May that US travelers will not need a visa to visit member countries after discussions with the US Government. The EU acknowledged that the five countries need to meet legal requirements before being admitted to the Visa Waiver program. The EU also said that once those requirements are met the US has committed to changing its policy regarding visas for citizens of those 5 countries.

  • James

    I recall a British friend in 1980’s said at that time, it was easier for their family to visit the USSR than the US. (We required visas for everyone back then.)

    In general, this wiki site is a decent site for what visa requirements are for US citizens abroad. They also have the visa requirements for other nations: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visa_requirements_for_United_States_citizens But always, check the consulate for the latest word.

    I went through my passports, and over the years I’ve required advanced visas to Camboda, Australia, Tanzania, Madagascar, and Egypt. Things are better now, I wouldn’t need to apply in advance today.

  • Bill___A

    Visas stop the person from getting on the plane, throwing their passport into the toilet, and claiming refugee status when they arrive, triggering treaties that were originally put out when the Germans persecuted the Jews. When Europe decides to let various countries into the EU, including those with troubling economies, it opens the door to this type of abuse. Europe may be able to decide which countries are in the EU, that is up to them. But to require other countries to allow people from every single country they admit – to come in visa free, is absurd. The EU is not a single country, they are a group of countries. The USA is a single country, comprised of states (and territories). It is not the same thing, nor should anyone be required to think of it as the same thing.

    Greece put in currency controls, and I recall that many Greeks could only get a certain amount of money out of their banks and ATM’s. Did the EU jump in and say “every EU Citizen must have complete financial freedom?” No, they did not.
    If Europe decides to impose visas, they are going to pay a huge price. Because people like me are probably not going to get a visa. We’re going to spend our money elsewhere. And I have spent a lot of money in Europe.

    I don’t think Europe is going to impose visas anytime soon. They may think they have others over a barrel, but they don’t. They already have their second biggest economy leaving (Brexit) largely because the UK doesn’t even want to let people in without visas.

  • Mike

    I remember bringing this to your attention a couple of months ago Chris. This uncertainty has me nuts. My tickets are purchased and we leave in 3 weeks. While I’d like to think that the EU wouldn’t all of a sudden throw up a requirement, I can’t discount it either. And also considering our current administration, I wouldn’t be shocked if they retaliate for something he’s done.

  • michael anthony

    Given Trumps vicious tweets against London, as the bodies still lay in the streets this past weekend, I wouldn’t be surprised if they instituted some sort of new measures. I wouldn’t blame them if they did.

  • cscasi

    Good information for those few U.S. citizens who plan to travel (business or pleasure) more than 90 days in six months in Schengen countries. If people plan to “live abroad” or “work abroad” for a period, then it is most likely necessary to get a special visa or permit from most countries.

  • cscasi

    Usually, cooler heads prevail; especially with things like this, don’t they?

  • Attention All Passengers

    http://www.visahq.com is your friend.

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