If there’s one thing that can suck the joy out of a vacation it’s bureaucracy. But taking time to plan even the boring bits will save you unpleasant surprises at the airport and at customs. If you’re lucky enough to have a U.S. passport, you have a powerful travel document in your hands – you can visit over 100 countries without any visa or entry fee. For the rest of the world, you’ll find rules wide and varied.
No visa required
For many countries, including most of Europe, Americans need only a passport to gain entry. There are a few exceptions to this, however. Most countries that don’t require a visa for U.S. citizens do have a maximum stay requirement. This number can vary, but 30 days and 90 days are common lengths. If you’re traveling for longer than your destination’s maximum stay, you may need to apply for a visa. Some long-term travelers have worked out a loophole, often referred to as a “visa run.” When your visa is up, take a day or two to cross the border into a nearby visa-free country, then return to your destination to reset your visa. If you’re visiting Western Europe, you’ll need to keep careful track of your total time in the region as most European Union countries are part of the Schengen Area, which does not have internal border controls (such as between France and Spain) but does have a 90 day limit in the region as a whole. Finally, if you plan on working abroad, you will probably need a work visa.
Visa on arrival
Some countries, including Indonesia and Turkey, do require more than a quick flash of your passport at customs, but don’t ask for extensive paperwork in advance. Instead, they offer visas on arrival. Check your destination’s embassy page for their specific requirements. Many countries request an entry fee, which for most destinations offering visas on arrival falls under $50. Some countries will accept U.S. dollars, but many will require payment in local currency. Some countries may have additional requirements, such as extra copies of your passport photo, proof of onward travel, proof of vaccinations, or other paperwork. Keeping all your travel documents in one easily accessible spot in your carry-on luggage is a must.
Apply in advance
While several countries have few to moderate requests for Americans seeking entry, there are still some with strict requirements, such as Russia and China. For these destinations, you will need to fill out an application from the country’s embassy and oftentimes must submit it with a hefty entry fee. Brazil, for example, charges $160. Fortunately, however, these visas are often more powerful, granting multiple entries over the course of several years. A few countries, including India and Australia, offer a service called “Electronic Travel Authority,” or ETA in lieu of traditional visas. Your application and entry fee may be submitted online, saving you a great deal of time at the airport.
To research the specific visa requirements of your destination, visit the U.S. Department of State’s website and follow through to the country’s embassy site.