How to make getting a visa less stressful

I’ve got a couple of international trips coming up, including India which requires a visa. The visa process can be cumbersome and a little overwhelming, especially when you go through it the first time. Here are some tips for making it less painful.

And apologies in advance–this is long. 

Find out if you need one

Not all countries require a visa. There are a number of websites that will give you country-specific information about visas, but I prefer the US State Department. Simply click the country you plan to visit on the map and you will find a wealth of up-to-date information. Read the requirements very carefully, and keep in mind that visiting for tourism can require a different type of visa than visiting for work.

Start early

Because you often have to get documents from other people I would recommend starting as early as possible. Once you mail everything to the embassy they still have to process it, which can take weeks.

Most embassies recommend applying for your visa at least a month before travel, if not sooner. There are agencies that offer expedited service for a fee, and if you have less than three weeks until travel I highly recommend that option. 

Determine the requirements

Each country has different requirements, which can be found on the country’s embassy or consular site. Many countries require a letter of introduction from your manager, an invitation letter from the company or office you plan to visit, a photo, a copy of your passport, an application, a picture of another type of identification, or a letter of incorporation of the company you plan to visit. When I travel to India I have to put together all of these documents, in addition to the hefty fee.

As I mentioned above, start pulling your documents together as early as possible, as certain documents can take a while to procure. Also, be very meticulous as you’re filling out any applications, as the wrong answer will cause your application to be rejected. 

India also has very strict guidelines for photos–I had to take a picture without glasses, makeup, or jewelry on, unsmiling,  with my hair pulled back. When renewing my passport I got a second photo that I planned to use for the visa, but it was rejected as I was wearing makeup, jewelry, my glasses, and had my hair down. I submitted four additional photos before one was deemed acceptable.

Follow up 

For many countries you are required to get letters of invitation from the company you’re visiting, or letters of responsibility from your company. In my experience, getting these letters can take more time than basically anything else in the visa process aside from the embassy processing. As busy professionals it can be easy to let days pass before sending a reminder, but make sure you follow up. Otherwise you may experience what happened to me last year…..

Get a visa that lasts longer than a year

If there is a possibility that you will be traveling to the country again, look into getting a visa that is good for a longer length of time. To get a five-year visa for travel to India is only slightly more expensive than a one-year, and requires no additional work.

Ideally, I would be on a five-year visa right now and not be having to fill out all of this paperwork again. Unfortunately last year I did not follow up frequently enough with my boss or the company I was visiting, and by the time I submitted all of my documents it was so close to my trip that I had to get a 90-day visa instead of the five-year I was planning for. It was entirely my own fault but I am very grumpy about it. Sigh.

Check your passport 

Make sure your passport will be valid for at least six months past your return date, as most countries require this. If you need to renew your passport do it as soon as possible, as the current estimated wait time is up to eight weeks. You can expedite if needed for an additional fee, but it can still take several weeks. (If you are reading this and may have upcoming international travel, go ahead and renew your passport. It will save you stress down the line!)

Use an agency (if you can)

Putting together all of the documents required for a visa can be extremely cumbersome and time-consuming. For busy employees, an agency can be a huge help in making sure everything is correct. They perform a number of services including registering your visit with your local embassy, making sure your photo is acceptable, double-checking all of the details on your application (or even filling out the application for you), and sending your application to the consulate. 

As mentioned above, if you are traveling within a short amount of time an agency can also help expedite your application. The agency I used for my Indian visa allowed me to choose the services I needed, which was extremely helpful. And last year when it looked like I wouldn’t get my passport back in time for my trip they were able to recommend the 90-day visa, which while not ideal was better than canceling my trip because I didn’t have my passport.

It was still a lot of work to pull all the documents together, but the process would have been even more stressful without the agency. I had to fill out a ton of questions (some of which felt overly personal but whatever) but the agency put it together in the correct format, and thank goodness they did. Even if the margins of your paper aren’t right it can affect whether or not your visa request is approved. No one needs that stress in their life!

The most important things to keep in mind is to start the visa process as early as possible and follow all of the directions completely. Then once it’s done you can move on to planning other, more exciting, things for your trip (like your wardrobe!).

Readers, what has your experience been with getting a visa? Any tips or warning stories to share?

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