We all remember the era of waiting in long lines at embassies and consulates to get visas, but these days most visas are available electronically—if they’re required at all. Here’s what you need to know about finding and getting the right ones for your travels, including when to use an expediter.
Of course, when you plan a trip with a WOW Lister, you can always expect plenty of guidance during the application process. But to get you started, here are answers to the most common questions we get about visas.
Do I need a visa?
With a few exceptions, Americans can travel without a visa for up to 90 days to countries in Europe and Central and South America. In Africa and Asia, many countries still require advance visas, but the days of booking interviews at consulates and getting physical stamps are essentially over.
Use the State Department’s Country Information page to see if your destination requires a visa.
When should I start looking for my visa?
Six months out, if possible. (Many countries also require your passport to be valid six months after your arrival date, so check your passport’s expiration date and start the renewal process if necessary, as it can take about three months.
Early in the process, check what paperwork is needed. Some countries require proof of plane tickets, hotel bookings, and health information such as vaccines or Covid test results.
To find out if a visa is required for your trip, go to the State Department’s Country Information page and type in your destination. The “Quick Facts” and “Entry, Exit and Visa Requirements” sections have useful info.
In the time of Covid, health restrictions can pop up at any time, even in visa-free countries. So keep an eye on the country’s tourism pages and talk to your trip planner (we have a list of useful resources and websites in our article The Countries That Are Open to U.S. Travelers and How to Get In).
Should I use an expediter?
Expediters, like CIBT, are travel-assistance companies that act as intermediaries in the visa or passport application process for an extra fee. These companies can be helpful for travelers on very tight schedules or doing business abroad, as they will ensure no information is missing (which could delay the delivery of a visa) and they monitor the process to completion.
However, expediters do not actually reduce the turn-around time for a visa. You’re not likely to get your visa any quicker than if you carefully follow the instructions on a consular website, and the vast majority of them are pretty straightforward these days. (And if you’re on a guided or planned tour, don’t branch out on your own for a visa. Let that organization help you.)
To find an expediter, ask your travel planner for a recommendation or check the Better Business Bureau’s listings.
How do I find an official government site to use to submit my visa application?
Every country represented on The WOW List has an official government website with visa application information—even if it looks like an old web page from the 1990s.
To find one, do a Google search and skip the top results marked “Ad.” Although some countries use “.com” addresses, most official sites use a country suffix at the end of their URL (for example, Turkey is .tr.). You’ll often find a “gov” in the URL too. Another tip is to look for an official tourism logo, registered trademark, or “country name”© at the bottom of the page. Look for “https” (versus “http”) in the URL address. And finally, double-check your browser’s encryption status to ensure the site’s transactions are secure.
Complete their online form, pay, and you should have your visa filed electronically or emailed to you as a printable PDF within days or a few weeks. When Wendy and her family traveled to Turkey last year, they got their visas online. “It was fast and easy,” she said.
I’m going to multiple countries; do I need to apply for multiple visas?
If you plan on leaving and reentering countries in Asia and Africa, read the application guidelines thoroughly to see if you need a Multiple Entry visa. Some country networks allow you to enter several countries on one visa. For instance, the East Africa visa gives you access to Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda.