Dealing with the paperwork and procedures of procuring an international visa may not be the most exciting part of traveling overseas, but it's certainly an important step in the trip-planning process. Getting a visa can be complicated, laborious and stressful, but not impossible with proper planning. If you want to go to a place where a visa is required for entry (think: Russia, China and Kenya), read these tips to make the experience as painless as possible. And if you're unsure if you will need a visa, check the State Department website for details about the country you're visiting, including entry and exit requirements.
Do your research
Conducting diligent research before you apply for a visa is key since country regulations change frequently. When researching, go to the country's embassy website or call the embassy directly. Though a simple Google search will yield necessary information, you may have to dig through old forms or outdated information to find specific requirements. Putting in this legwork ahead of time will also ensure you know exactly how much to pay, how to pay, where to get your visa and whether or not a consulate interview is required.
If you're a frequent international traveler, you know the importance of planning in advance. Not only will you save money on flights and hotels, you'll end up being more prepared in the long run. This is especially true for visa applications. Although most embassies are quick to turnaround visa applications (typically taking between two and four days), some require more tedious tasks, like interviews, photos or additional forms.
Practice Your Interview
Many countries, including China and Russia, require an interview with a consulate, which can be time-consuming. The trickiest part about the interview is scheduling a time with the embassy as many consulates do not work regular hours. It might seem like a no-brainer, but preparing for the interview is a smart idea as your performance could stand between you getting a visa or not. To prepare, conduct a quick Google search to browse frequently asked questions for the country you are planning to visit.
Make a List and Check It Twice (Or Three Times)
A checklist could make or break your visa application process. While some countries require detailed documentation, some do not, so make sure you know which documents and other materials are necessary to be prepared. Before you go to the embassy, make sure you have everything on your list. A checklist for a visa application to China, for example, would include an application form, a signed passport (with a recent photo), a photocopy or other proof of your hotel stay, tour and flight reservations and an invitation letter or letter of guarantee provided by a tour company.
Review, Review, Review
The last thing you want to do is trek to the embassy and wait in a long line only to find out you missed a signature, filled a form incorrectly or left off a necessary document. Double, triple and quadruple check your forms to make sure you can get your visa in only one visit.
Consider a Travel Agent
If you're short on time and you have a complicated itinerary that includes visits to many countries, consider using a travel agent. Not only can agents help you determine what forms you need, they can help keep all of your documents organized. And if you want to visit Cuba, keep in mind you have to work with an agent or a tour provider to even receive a visa.
About the author: Claire Volkman is a social media journalist with a passion for food and travel. She's spent time in more than 30 countries and hundreds of cities writing, photographing and immersing herself in all things food, wine and culture. You can find her favorite recipes on her blog, The Realistic Nutritionist. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+ to keep up with her adventures.