Women on the Road NEWS #49

If you're planning long-term travel across continents, at some point you'll have to deal with visas, those stamps in your passport that give you permission to enter a country. No one can travel visa-free forever, although for citizens of some countries (Europe, North America) it's a lot easier than for others (Africa, Asia). Not very fair, is it...

Still, visas are a way of life for women on the road and wherever you're from you'll still need them to enter certain countries. Getting a visa can be as easy as buying a bus ticket or as complicated as mapping out a week-long itinerary. Each country is different, and each embassy is different too.

Getting a single visa is hard enough, but what happens when you need a bunch of them - all at the same time? Doable, but trickier...

Women on the Road NEWS: Contents for Issue #49

Visa Planning for Extended Travel

First, make sure you actually need a visa
This may seem obvious but regulations change. There was a brief time not so long ago when Americans, Canadians and Australians needed visas for France (payback for political disagreements). Imagine that! If you're a European heading for Latin America via Miami, you may need a transit visa (I found this out the hard way). Don't just rely on guidebooks: get the most up-to-date information by looking at the visa requirements for your destination. A quick search for visa + the country should get you there.

Get the category right
You might have a range of choices: teaching, work, immigrant, investment, volunteer, study, medical... get it right. Asking for a student visa because you happen to be a student on vacation may mean you'll be turned down. If you're a tourist, say so. Don't lie because it's the fastest way to get refused and if you're confused, ask. Remember, even if you have all the paperwork, no country is 'obliged' to grant you a visa...

How many entries?
Always check how many entries you're allowed. If you're entering the country once, traveling across and exiting at the other end that's pretty straightforward and a single entry will do. But if you plan to use a country as a hub and go in and out, you'll need a multiple entry visa, which sometimes costs more. Find out if it's available.

Visa on arrival or visa in advance?
Some countries now provide visas on arrival. They may be more expensive than those you get from the consulate or embassy in advance but it's usually a lot easier. Some countries will also let you use commercial visa services overseas - you just pick up your visa at the airport once you arrive. These rules are constantly changing so check often.

Speaking of documents...
You never know when you might lose your passport and visas or change your itinerary and might need to apply for new visas or reapply for old ones. The best way to be prepared is to carry as many of the following as possible:
- a few spare photos (even though most countries have their own specs)
- proof of status (employment, retirement, student etc)
- proof of finances (credit cards, cash, travelers checks)
- proof of return home (ticket home - they want to make sure you don't overstay, letter from an employer confirming you'll have a job when you return, enrollment proof for your next school semester)
- proof of accommodation (not needed in most countries but I was asked to provide proof before getting a visa for Russia)
- invitation letters (can be useful in countries known to be stringent about visas) that are originals, dated and signed!

Find out how long you'll have to wait
A visa can take an hour or several months to be delivered. It's crucial to know how long it takes because if you're leaving in two weeks and you need a visa, the official won't care. Make sure you leave plenty of time, too: just because the consulate says you'll get your passport back in two weeks doesn't necessarily make it so.

Know how long your visa will be valid for
Of course it's obvious that a two-week visa will allow you into the country for two weeks. But starting when? Some visas must be used by a certain date. For example, you may get your visa in January but be obliged to use it before March. If you're only traveling in April, you've applied for your visa too soon and you'll have to get a new one. This is especially a problem if you're traveling long distances over time. Lets say you're traveling from country A through B to C and need a visa for country C. There's a C embassy in A but not in B... visas are only valid for a month and you were planning on three months in country B... what do you do? Either change your route, or shorten your visit to country B. That's why it's so important to check ahead of time and plan well.

Try not to let go of your passport
If you're still home and don't live in the capital or in a major city, chances are you'll have to mail your passport to the embassy or consulate to get a visa. At the very least it should be by registered post, though I prefer courrier services like DHL or UPS. After that first visa and once I'm on the road, you can't pay me enough to put my passport into the mail. I don't care if I have to wait all day to get a form but I prefer to go in person or pay a visa service to go for me. In some countries you can pay someone to go to the embassy for you, or a travel agent can do it. That's relatively safe and I've done this often in Asia. If you're required to visit in person - and you might be - check opening times and ask if you need an appointment (I know one embassy open only on Thursday mornings for visas!)

Calculate your fees
If you're traveling to several countries that require visas this might be a significant cost item. It's a way for poor countries to make money so don't be surprised if you have to pay upward of $100 for that previous visa (don't worry, most are a lot cheaper - but be prepared and budget for them). Most embassy websites will have this information, by the way.

A few handy tips before you submit your application

Always send copies to embassies and consulates and keep your original documents. Visit the embassy’s website often to stay up to date with the latest rules and requirements - they change often. Keep a copy of your finished application (yes, the consulate could lose it). Submit documents in the same order as the checklist - it makes things easier for grumpy visa staff. Sign the form. Don't leave anything out. And don't lie - about anything!

If applying from a country other than your own - for example getting a Vietnam visa in Bangkok - try to use a travel agent. They deal with visas all the time and can help you avoid costly mistakes.

If you're doing it yourself, remember to smile and take a deep breath before entering the embassy or consulate. The 'visa visit' is rarely a pleasant one!

Once you get your visa...

  • Check that the dates are correct
  • Check the category - tourist, student... and whether you have single or multiple entries (depending on what you asked for)
  • Make sure that your name has been spelled correctly
  • Return your passport to the embassy as soon as possible if you pick up any mistakes
  • Make a copy of your visa and keep it in a safe place in case your passport gets stolen.

Please connect with Women on the Road!

Read your heart out!

This month I read Black Mamba Boy by Nadifa Mohamed, an eye-opening fictionalized account of the life of a young Somali boy (Nadifa's grandfather) during World War II. It was a slow, dreamy read and I couldn't put it down, not just because of the brilliant writing but because it dealt with a part of the world often absent from literature. So if you're headed to Somalia or Eritrea, find out what it was like just half a century ago...

Best in Travel 2012 by Lonely Planet is a great tool to plan your trip if you're not sure where to go, but also great fun to read as it's written in a Top 10 format. You'll find Top 10 Countries, Regions, Cities, and not just run-of-the-mill information but truly bizarre lists - and I love lists - on top spots to glamp, or slurping soup around the world!

The Art of Solo Travel: A Girl's Guide by Stephanie Lee remains a perennial favorite for those of you stepping out solo for the first time. It's packed with tips that tell you everything you need to know to get out the door and on the road, from breaking the news to your family, to saving and spending and coming home.

The newest offering by Indie Travel Media, who brought you Stephanie's book, is Travel Safety, a fantastic guide to staying safe when you travel. Of the two authors, one is a long-term traveler and the other a field safety expert so if fear is keeping you off the road, this book will tell you what you need to know.

If you love moving pictures and want to make travel videos you can be proud of, grab your copy of Video 101: Tips and Tricks for Awesome Visual Storytelling by my friend Lisa Lubin, a television journalist and producer who has won THREE Emmy Awards for her broadcast work - and who has travelled around the world. You won't find a better source of video know-how!

Your chance to become a travel writer

I keep announcing that this course will soon be taken off the website and turned into a Kindle book but I simply haven't had the time to do it yet so - If you're like thousands of others who would love to see their names in print - it's your lucky day! My free online course, the The Travel Writing Magician, is still available (exclusively to readers of Women on the Road, of course!) Just sign up and get it in your mailbox in seven easy daily installments. Work the self-help assignments on your own and see how your writing improves after just one week. You'll never know if there's a travel writer lurking inside you until you try!

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Destination Travel

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And finally...

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Cause of the Month

'BAAD' Kidnappings in Afghanistan

Shakila was only eight years old when armed men invaded her bedroom, dragging her off kicking and screaming. Why? Her uncle had run off with the wife of an important man. His pride wounded, the man sent his henchmen to kidnap Shakila and her cousin, as "payment" for the misdeed. This kidnapping practice is known as "baad" or "baadi" and is illegal in Afghanistan, where this took place, yet as I write this on International Women's Day, it continues to flourish.

Whereas Shakila managed to escape and her family was willing to talk to outsiders about it, for many girls this deep-rooted cultural practice is an unfortunate reality. Her father's reaction highlights the difficulties in changing harmful cultural practices: he was furious she had been kidnapped because he had promised her in marriage to someone else.

Read more about "baad" in Afghanistan here:
Read the original NYT article here
UN Report on Harmful Traditional Practices
Opium Brides: PBS
Time Magazine
Afghan War News: Women in Afghanistan

Next Month in Women on the Road NEWS?

I'm off to Genoa, Italy this weekend with my brand new Panasonic Lumix LX5 and I plan to take awesome photographs so next month, get ready for some great travel photography tips!

2007-2012 © Leyla Giray. All rights reserved. Women on the Road News is published monthly. Reproduction of any material from this newsletter without written permission is prohibited.