Foreign entry requirements: Do you have what it takes to get in?
Think you can go anywhere with just a passport? Unfortunately, you may need more than that to get to your destination. Missing travel documents can bar you from entering the country — an error that your trip cancellation policy likely won’t cover. Changes to requirements can also cause confusion and delays. Consider the following:
– New U.S. entry requirements in 2007 caused severe passport application backlogs for U.S. citizens, and confusing visa requirements discouraged foreign travellers from visiting.
– As of last November, Libya has started turning away tourists who don’t have an approved Arabic translation of their passport and acceptable amount of local currency.
– The UK government is set to implement 10 new changes to its border controls in 2008, including finger printing visa applicants and shortening visa lengths.
– Governments periodically relax requirements or make temporary arrangements for special events (like the Cricket World Cup). Countries continue to join or forge agreements to facilitate travel (such as the Schengen Area).
Should you avoid countries that have stricter requirements? No, but better preparation can help you dodge unnecessary hassle. Here’s some help to get you started:
What to look for:
Passports: Time and space are the issues to worry about. Look for passport validity requirements: At the minimum, your passport must be valid for the duration of your trip. However, some countries require that your passport be valid for as long as three or six months after your trip. You’ll also want to check the number of blank pages left because some stamps require two unused pages.
Visas: Many countries don’t require visas for tourists who only plan to stay for a specified amount of time – usually under three weeks, 28 days or 90 days depending on the country. The rules are different for others such as business travellers, students or volunteers. The trick is knowing when and how to get your visa: some visas need to be obtained in advance from a diplomatic mission while others can only be obtained once you arrive. In some cases, a certified letter of invitation or sponsorship may be required from your travel company. Allow yourself time to get the paperwork processed.
Currency: You may need to prove you have a minimum amount of local currency to enter. Many countries also limit the amount of currency a traveller can leave the country with (such as the European Union currency controls put in place in 2007), but most limits are well above what a vacationer normally carries.
Proof of Vaccination: Many countries require proof of vaccinations (International Certificates of Vaccinations) against certain diseases. For example, if you’re travelling to or from an affected by Yellow Fever, you will need to prove you have been immunized against the disease. This requirement currently applies to many South American and African countries.
Return or Onward Ticket: You may be asked to prove you plan to leave by showing a return or onward ticket. Venezuela, Japan and Samoa are just a few of the countries that will check. You may also be asked to produce a visa for the next country you plan to visit.
Departure Tax: While not technically a documentation requirement, many countries charge a departure tax at the airport. You may need work this into your budget and have local currency to pay.
Travel permits, entry cards and registration: Some countries require special permits for travel to certain areas (like the Galapagos Islands), or travel outside of tourist areas (like outside of Asmara in Eritrea). Many countries throughout Europe and Asia require guests to register with local police.
Exceptions: If you are a dual national, member of the military or have refugee status, you will want to know of any exceptions or additional requirements. Anyone travelling with children should know the appropriate documentation they will need, including a letter of permission if necessary.
Where to find it:
By law, travel agents are required to tell you what travel documentation you will need for your trip. If you are still deciding where to go or want to change your plans along the way, here’s where you can find the information you will need:
Government advice: The UK, US, Canadian and Australian governments all have Entry Requirements sections in their travel advice specifically for their citizens.
Foreign Ministries and Embassies: Despite regular advice updates, don’t be surprised to see a note warning you to check with the embassy or foreign ministry to confirm the latest requirements. The good news is the contact information (usually a link) is included in the advice.
IATA Travel Center: The International Air Transport Association recently launched an online tool that provides travellers with entry and exit requirement information as well as luggage restrictions, customs regulations and other useful information. Some of the information is online, but you’ll need to register and enter your trip details – including air carrier number – for full details based on your itinerary. Check out www.iatatravelcentre.com for more information.
Tourist boards: Most countries have a tourism board or organization website. The entry and exit information may be fairly general, so you may have to hunt down specifics for your country of origin.
Visa services: Once you’ve settled on a destination, you can pay these specialized travel documentation service companies to help you deal with the process and the paper work.
Travel websites: Many popular travel websites list entry requirement information and also have forums where people can ask questions. But watch out: changing information and non-expert contributors can lead to outdated, incomplete or inaccurate information. Look for the “last updated” or “published on” date, and double check your findings with an official source.
Ultimately, your destination country has the final say as to who they do or do not let cross their borders. Knowing about entry requirements ahead of time can help you avoid hassles when you travel, and even allow you to take advantage of last minute deals. Because requirements can change while you are travelling, you may want to have your embassy’s contact information on hand for consular assistance. Keep tabs on advice changes and local news to be warned of problems before they affect your plans.