How to obtain the necessary entry visas

By Philip Wagenaar
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(First of two parts)

“How can I possibly get our passports back in time?” l said to my wife, Flory.

“What is the problem?” she asked.

“Our cruise ship stops in five ports, each requiring its own visa, which means that I will have to send our passports to five different consulates.”

“That is a predicament.”

I was reminded of the above conversation when a letter from Victoria Davis in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, arrived at the ITN offices asking for an article on obtaining visas.

Her request prompted me to research the subject. During my investigation, I found additional worthwhile information, which I will relate below together with my recommendations.

U.S. passport with blank pages and necessary photos

As a visa can be furnished either as a separate piece of paper or as a stamp occupying one full page in your passport, it behooves you to ensure that the latter always has enough blank pages to which visas can be affixed.

Therefore, when ordering a new passport, get one with 48 pages instead of 24. There is no extra charge, but you must attach a signed request for a 48-page passport to your application. If your present passport is full, you can request additional sheets at no extra charge (for both, call 877/487-2778 or go to travel.state.gov); however, you still will have to pay for shipping both ways and for expediting service, if needed.

When traveling, guard the blank pages in your passport with your life by asking the immigration officer not to stamp your document. If that is impossible, request that the stamp be put on a page already used.

Order 20 passport photos at a time so you will have them on hand when you suddenly need them. Look in the yellow pages for a store that will give you a special rate for 20.

Data from travel.state.gov

To find out whether you need a visa for a country, ask your tour operator or cruise company for advice. Also check with the appropriate embassy for all entry requirements.

While, on selected sailings, some cruise companies will arrange to get your visas on board ship, on others they will notify you 90 days ahead of time which ones you have to get yourself. They most likely will send you the appropriate forms and refer you to a visa service.

To start the process yourself, go to the U.S. Department of State (DOS) comprehensive website travel.state.gov, which has a wealth of links under the heading “Americans Traveling Abroad.”

I will list the salient parts of the above site for readers who don’t have Internet access.

A. Publications

The State Department publishes the following for each country: “Consular Information Sheets,” which, among others, cover driving patterns, health conditions and security information; “Background Notes,” which present factual data, and the “CIA Fact Book,” which contains a wealth of material about a country. (You can obtain the latter two at the Superintendent of Documents, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954; phone 866/612-1800.)

Where indicated, the DOS publishes Public Announcements (covering terrorist threats and other relatively short-term conditions that pose significant risks or disruptions to Americans) and Travel Warnings (advising travelers to avoid certain countries).

Consular Information Sheets, Travel Warnings and Public Announcements are available from any regional passport agency, from most airline computer reservation systems, from U.S. embassies or consulates abroad or by calling DOS Overseas Citizens Services at 888/407-4747 at any time.

B. Traveling tips

Another link from travel.state.gov provides you with a number of travel tips (the following information is paraphrased):

1. Make sure you have a signed, valid passport and the required visas. (A few years ago we watched while a distressed elderly couple was denied boarding on their Northwest flight when they could not produce the appropriate visas.) Before you go, fill in the emergency information page of your passport.

2. To facilitate replacement if your document is lost or stolen, make two copies of its identification page. Write down the addresses and telephone numbers of the U.S. embassies and consulates in the countries you plan to visit and put this information along with two recent passport-size photographs in a place separate from your passport. Leave one copy at home with friends or relatives. Take the other one along.

3. Carry insurance data and a detailed itinerary. Leave one with relatives or friends and/or use a service that will keep this information electronically (see my article in the November ’03 issue).

4. Do not leave your luggage unattended in public areas. Do not accept packages from strangers.

5. Include a change of clothing in your carry-on luggage in case your bags are lost.

C. Help from consular duty personnel

If you get into trouble, contact the nearest U.S. embassy. It is best to register prior to departure through the State Department’s Travel Registration Website at https://travelregistration.state.gov/ibrs.

Consular duty personnel are available for emergency assistance 24/7 at embassies, consulates overseas and in Washington, D.C. If your family needs to reach you, they can call the Office of Overseas Citizens Services (Room 4811, 2201 C St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20520) in the U.S. at 888/407-4747 (during business hours) or at 202/647-4000 (after hours; ask for Office of Overseas Citizens Services). From abroad, call 317/472-2328.

Consuls abroad can assist with the following emergency services:

1. Replacing a passport.

2. Helping you find medical assistance (and, at your request, informing your family or friends).

As you know, Medicare does not provide for payment overseas. However, some Medicare supplement plans offer foreign medical care coverage at no extra cost for treatments considered eligible under Medicare. You can obtain a list of English-speaking doctors by writing to the Office of Overseas Citizens Services (address above). Specify to which country you will be traveling.

3. Transferring funds.

4. Assisting with arrangements after the death of an American overseas.

5. Locating American citizens missing abroad.

6. Aiding you if you are arrested. Remember that under international treaties and customary international law, you have the right to talk to the U.S. consul. If you are denied this prerogative, be persistent.

7. Helping you in a disaster/evacuation.

8. Assisting you if you become the victim of a crime overseas. It is important to report the incident to local police as well. In addition, you may benefit from specialized local programs in the U.S. for victims of foul play. Most will help residents of their community who have suffered violence in another country.

Referral to assistance programs is available from the National Organization for Victim Assistance (NOVA); call 800/TRY-NOVA (800/879-6682) toll-free 24/7 or visit www.try-nova.org. Unfortunately, this website has an overwhelming number of links, many unhelpful as far as support is concerned. One of the better ones is Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) at http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/ovc/welcovc/welcome.html. From there, click “Help for Victims” and also visit the “Directory of Crime Victim Services.”

Each state has a compensation program, accessible at www.nacvcb.org, the site of the National Association of Crime Victim Compensation Boards.

Consuls abroad also can assist with nonemergency services such as notarizing documents and issuing a passport or a consular report of birth.

Next month, I will continue this discussion with a report on visa services.

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

(First of two parts)

“How can I possibly get our passports back in time?” l said to my wife, Flory.

“What is the problem?” she asked.

“Our cruise ship stops in five ports, each requiring its own visa, which means that I will have to send our passports to five different consulates.”

“That is a predicament.”

I was reminded of the above conversation when a letter from Victoria Davis in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, arrived at the ITN offices asking for an article on obtaining visas.

Her request prompted me to research the subject. During my investigation, I found additional worthwhile information, which I will relate below together with my recommendations.

U.S. passport with blank pages and necessary photos

As a visa can be furnished either as a separate piece of paper or as a stamp occupying one full page in your passport, it behooves you to ensure that the latter always has enough blank pages to which visas can be affixed.

Therefore, when ordering a new passport, get one with 48 pages instead of 24. There is no extra charge, but you must attach a signed request for a 48-page passport to your application. If your present passport is full, you can request additional sheets at no extra charge (for both, call 877/487-2778 or go to travel.state.gov); however, you still will have to pay for shipping both ways and for expediting service, if needed.

When traveling, guard the blank pages in your passport with your life by asking the immigration officer not to stamp your document. If that is impossible, request that the stamp be put on a page already used.

Order 20 passport photos at a time so you will have them on hand when you suddenly need them. Look in the yellow pages for a store that will give you a special rate for 20.

Data from travel.state.gov

To find out whether you need a visa for a country, ask your tour operator or cruise company for advice. Also check with the appropriate embassy for all entry requirements.

While, on selected sailings, some cruise companies will arrange to get your visas on board ship, on others they will notify you 90 days ahead of time which ones you have to get yourself. They most likely will send you the appropriate forms and refer you to a visa service.

To start the process yourself, go to the U.S. Department of State (DOS) comprehensive website travel.state.gov, which has a wealth of links under the heading “Americans Traveling Abroad.”

I will list the salient parts of the above site for readers who don’t have Internet access.

A. Publications

The State Department publishes the following for each country: “Consular Information Sheets,” which, among others, cover driving patterns, health conditions and security information; “Background Notes,” which present factual data, and the “CIA Fact Book,” which contains a wealth of material about a country. (You can obtain the latter two at the Superintendent of Documents, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954; phone 866/612-1800.)

Where indicated, the DOS publishes Public Announcements (covering terrorist threats and other relatively short-term conditions that pose significant risks or disruptions to Americans) and Travel Warnings (advising travelers to avoid certain countries).

Consular Information Sheets, Travel Warnings and Public Announcements are available from any regional passport agency, from most airline computer reservation systems, from U.S. embassies or consulates abroad or by calling DOS Overseas Citizens Services at 888/407-4747 at any time.

B. Traveling tips

Another link from travel.state.gov provides you with a number of travel tips (the following information is paraphrased):

1. Make sure you have a signed, valid passport and the required visas. (A few years ago we watched while a distressed elderly couple was denied boarding on their Northwest flight when they could not produce the appropriate visas.) Before you go, fill in the emergency information page of your passport.

2. To facilitate replacement if your document is lost or stolen, make two copies of its identification page. Write down the addresses and telephone numbers of the U.S. embassies and consulates in the countries you plan to visit and put this information along with two recent passport-size photographs in a place separate from your passport. Leave one copy at home with friends or relatives. Take the other one along.

3. Carry insurance data and a detailed itinerary. Leave one with relatives or friends and/or use a service that will keep this information electronically (see my article in the November ’03 issue).

4. Do not leave your luggage unattended in public areas. Do not accept packages from strangers.

5. Include a change of clothing in your carry-on luggage in case your bags are lost.

C. Help from consular duty personnel

If you get into trouble, contact the nearest U.S. embassy. It is best to register prior to departure through the State Department’s Travel Registration Website at https://travelregistration.state.gov/ibrs.

Consular duty personnel are available for emergency assistance 24/7 at embassies, consulates overseas and in Washington, D.C. If your family needs to reach you, they can call the Office of Overseas Citizens Services (Room 4811, 2201 C St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20520) in the U.S. at 888/407-4747 (during business hours) or at 202/647-4000 (after hours; ask for Office of Overseas Citizens Services). From abroad, call 317/472-2328.

Consuls abroad can assist with the following emergency services:

1. Replacing a passport.

2. Helping you find medical assistance (and, at your request, informing your family or friends).

As you know, Medicare does not provide for payment overseas. However, some Medicare supplement plans offer foreign medical care coverage at no extra cost for treatments considered eligible under Medicare. You can obtain a list of English-speaking doctors by writing to the Office of Overseas Citizens Services (address above). Specify to which country you will be traveling.

3. Transferring funds.

4. Assisting with arrangements after the death of an American overseas.

5. Locating American citizens missing abroad.

6. Aiding you if you are arrested. Remember that under international treaties and customary international law, you have the right to talk to the U.S. consul. If you are denied this prerogative, be persistent.

7. Helping you in a disaster/evacuation.

8. Assisting you if you become the victim of a crime overseas. It is important to report the incident to local police as well. In addition, you may benefit from specialized local programs in the U.S. for victims of foul play. Most will help residents of their community who have suffered violence in another country.

Referral to assistance programs is available from the National Organization for Victim Assistance (NOVA); call 800/TRY-NOVA (800/879-6682) toll-free 24/7 or visit www.try-nova.org. Unfortunately, this website has an overwhelming number of links, many unhelpful as far as support is concerned. One of the better ones is Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) at http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/ovc/welcovc/welcome.html. From there, click “Help for Victims” and also visit the “Directory of Crime Victim Services.”

Each state has a compensation program, accessible at www.nacvcb.org, the site of the National Association of Crime Victim Compensation Boards.

Consuls abroad also can assist with nonemergency services such as notarizing documents and issuing a passport or a consular report of birth.

Next month, I will continue this discussion with a report on visa services.