TravelTrix – Five tips on Visa management

I was having lunch with a friend and fellow ex-Microsoft VP, Kurt Kolb, who also does a lot of foreign travel.  We were talking about the things we wouldn’t miss about travel.  We realized that much of the published advice in the US applies to the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) and many of those lessons can be learned simply by watching the George Clooney flick, Up In The Air.  Unfortunately, movies and television don’t offer as much help when it comes to international travel.

As Kurt and I worked through lunch we came up with enough, “wish we had known before we got there” issues that we wanted to share for those many planning global travel for work and play.  I’m going to split this into a few light reads with the first being on visas.

Have a current visa for all countries on your itinerary – Many countries require pre-approval before you fly.  The airlines are very good about making sure passengers have current visas before boarding the plane.  Unfortunately, they only check for the first destination.  A peer and I left for a two-week tour of Asia, which included, in order, Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Singapore, Thailand, India and China.  Eight days into the trip, we were to fly from Thailand to India.  My partner learned at check-in that his India visa had expired.  Renewing it at the US embassy is a week process so his trip was over. 

Buying visas at the airport – Some countries have a treaty with the US that allows entry without a visa.  (E.g. Japan and Singapore)  Others require the purchase of a visa upon entry.  (E.g. Turkey and Indonesia)  The problem is the desk to buy visas may be different than the immigration counter so you lumber through that slow immigration line only to be sent somewhere else to buy your visa after which you go to the back of the immigration line.  Don’t do that.  If you don’t have a visa look for posted instructions, ask a local person or just follow the travelers who didn’t check their luggage.  They’ve done this before.

Extended visas – If you’re going to be visiting a country many times, ask immigration control if you can get an extended visa.  I actually got a 10-year visa for India, which my local team requested for me, because they got tired of having to manage the renewal process every six months. 

Get two passports – The first year I managed Asia for Microsoft’s OEM Division, I had to cancel a trip because I wasn’t going to be in the US long enough to renew my China visa which is a 2-3 week process.  If you fly international a lot, it’s relatively straightforward to get US Immigration to approve this.  An ancillary benefit…  If robbed while out of the country, you don’t have to go through the lengthy process of getting a new passport in a US embassy.

Global Entry – This isn’t really a visa thing but it’s a must for frequent global travelers.  Upon re-entry into the US, rather than waiting in the long, immigration lines you just go to a kiosk, scan your passport along with your finger tips and you’re on your way sometimes before the immigration desks even open. 

A few tidbits that Kurt and I wish we had known before we travelled.  I hope these are helpful.

©2013 Rick Wong – The Five Abilities™, LLC    


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