Visas-Know Before You Go

Some countries offer visas at the border or airport and some do not. Certain countries citizens can enter certain countries without a visa and some cannot. For instance, a citizen of Australia may be able to enter a country freely without a visa while a citizen of New Zealand will need a visa and if they don’t offer them at the border, you’d better have one in advance. There are lots of things that go into getting visas but the most important thing is to know if you need one and if it is available to you at the border or airport.

On my last trip, my friend Mike and I were taking a bus from Sofia, Bulgaria to Skopje, Macedonia. We were sitting in the back of a not too crowded bus chatting with these two Aussie guys who were making their way down to Tirana, Albania. As we reached the border and the customs guard came onto the bus to collect the passports to do his check, Mike and I were looking forward to getting another stamp from a new country.

All of a sudden the border police came on the bus and called Mike and I off the bus. We were thinking it was another shakedown because we didn’t need a visa to enter Macedonia as Americans. When we got off the bus they started barking about our visas and we noticed they were holding the two Aussie guys passports and we alerted them of this and sure enough they mistook the only four westerners on the bus for each other and they then called off the Aussies. As we passed them on the bus we warned them of what they were asking for and we asked them if they needed a visa to enter through Macedonia. They didn’t know.

To make a long story short, they were pulled off the bus and their luggage was taken as well. We were in the middle a seven hour journey in the middle of nowhere and those two Aussies who were in a time pinch to get down to meet their mates in Albania were being deported from Macedonia back to Bulgaria where they would have to pay their own way back to Sofia to get their visas for Macedonia. All because they were not smart enough to check if they needed a visa to enter that country. Second, if they thought they could just transit through because they weren’t staying in Macedonia, they were stupid for that as well because you would still need a transit visa if your nation is required to have a visa.

Knowing if you need a visa is one of the most important things about planning a trip, especially if you are traveling in a less touristed area and/or visiting many places. It can ruin your trip and cause headaches, fines, deportation and delays if you are caught without a visa. I ALWAYS check beforehand from the US government travel website if Americans need visas to go anywhere and I almost always get them in advance to eliminate any uncertainty and possibility of a change in a countries beaurocracy.

A recent exception was I didn’t get my visa to Armenia ahead of time because I was visiting Azerbaijan first. If you read Lonely Planet as your guide book, they will always have a visa section which is very informative. They alerted me that if the Azeri border guards notice an Armenian visa in your passport, they may give you a hard time because of those countries hatred for each other.

I took this advice and made sure to call the Armenian Embassy in Washington and the Consulate in New York to double check that at the border crossing I would be using overland from Georgia had visas available at the border. It did and with only a slight delay I had my visa for Armenia and was away to Yerevan.

However, my general rule of thumb is to thoroughly check every country that I am visitings visa status for Americans and always buy visas in America before going because it minimizes hassles and gives me peace of mind. Some people may argue that visas are cheaper at border crossings or at consulates in foreign countries and they may be right, but for me thats just an extra hassle I don’t want to deal with that takes away time from enjoying the place I am in.

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  1. I just had to jump through hoops to get my Chinese visa for a trip coming up and it was a pain in the…neck. Be sure you give yourself plenty of time in advance to get through all the bureaucratic red tape that may come up.

  2. China, Russia, certain Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries are a real pain and take a while to get visas and they can ask for letters of invitation from a host party in that country and other stupid things. Like she said, give yourself a lot of time and be prepared for delays.

  3. Getting a visa to go to America is very difficult. I do not understand why they make it so difficult.

  4. I have heard how difficult it is for foreigners to get US tourist visas especially from LDC’s. It is unfortunate in some respects but I guess it’s also good from a security perspective. There have been so many occurances of people overstaying their visas or simply seeking asylum and commiting crimes etc. I know this can and does happen anywhere in the world but the US likes to think they are the overlords of the world and I guess it keeps this country that much safer, although it is hard to quantify that and can frustrate law abiding would be tourists.

  5. The aussie guys stunk though so it wasn’t so bad to have them off the bus, plus I don’t think they even tried to bribe the guys (not like i condone that kind of activity). Lee you should right something about people needing to wear deodorant while backpacking.

  6. I forgot to mention bribes at the border, they do work! And Yes, all people should be mandated to wear deodorant at all times.

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