Let’s say you have some money in the bank, have your suitcase packed, and are ready to see the world. Your passport is up to date and you are ready to go. The world is at your feet.
Not so fast.
Many people think your passport acts as, well, a passport; the official document that unlocks the doors to exotic places. Just present that good old US passport and watch them roll out the red carpet. The fact is, however, that in many countries, the passport isn’t enough; they require a separate visa to even visit as a tourist. And here’s the amazing part; the less attractive a country is to visit, the harder they make it. You’d think the C list places would be bending over backwards to make it easy for the tourists, but that is not the case.
For instance, you do not need a visa to visit the Bahamas, or Tahiti, or France, or Singapore, or Canada, or the Cayman Islands, or Belize, or Bermuda, but you do need one to visit such tourist deserts as Cuba, Bukina Faso, Paraguay, Nigeria, Tajikistan, Somalia, or Syria. What’s more, some countries make visas available on line, some sell visas at destination airports, and some require you to go to their embassy or consular office in the US in person to get their visa.
There are some interesting and seemingly nonsensical variations on this game. Russia usually requires a visa for tourists, but if you visit St Petersburg on a cruise ship you need only your passport. However, you may only leave the ship on a guided tour; no strolling or wandering at leisure. What’s more, a dour-faced customs official will examine your passport every time you leave the ship and every time you return.
Of course, some countries have big league security issues, so you can understand the extra caution, but that doesn’t make things easier for the casual visitor. Some countries have their own wrinkles in the visa game. The Seychelles do not require a visa if you can show a local hotel reservation; Mauritius does not require a visa if you show sufficient funds and a return ticket to your home country; Libya and Sudan will refuse you a visa if your passport shows you have visited Israel; and you need a visa to visit the northern part of Cyprus, but not for the southern part.
The moral to this story is to always check these requirements before you leave. One thing you don’t want to do on your vacation is to have some border official tell you your papers are not in order while standing in line in some steamy foreign airport.
You can check the requirements online at several sites. One is http://cibtvisas.com/visa-quick-check.
So does this mean that if you go to a country that doesn’t require a visa you are in the clear with just your passport?
Not entirely. There is yet another trip-up-the-traveler requirement; your passport must not only be current, but it must have at least SIX MONTHS before it expires.
Even if you are only going away for a week? Yes! This is to make sure you have a valid passport if you overstay due to illness, accident, legal troubles, etc. See? Uncle Sam is looking out for you!