PHOTO: Learn how to make securing a visa painless. (photo courtesy of Thinkstock)
In the past couple of years, I have had to secure visas to travel to a few countries.
This process was new to me as I sorted out plans to go to Myanmar and Egypt. I'm getting more used to it as I now prepare to head to Cuba and Vietnam. Because I've been navigating the process more frequently, I thought maybe you'd like a few tips and a bit of advice to assist your travel planning.
Actually, American travelers can go to a large number of destinations with no need for visas.
At the start of 2017, you can just bring your passport and be fine to enter 174 countries (with no visa or getting a "visa-on-arrival").
This ranks the U.S. passport third (tied with Italy, Spain, Denmark and Finland) as far as travel freedom, according to the Henley & Partners Visa Restrictions Index. The global citizenship advisory firm's index says Germany and Sweden have the top visa-free passports.
So, while U.S. passport holders can easily travel to Canada, Mexico, England and even Thailand, you should be aware of where you do need a visa before making travel plans. The last thing you want is to head to the airport and be denied a flight after months of planning. Talk about feeling crushed to miss out on your travels, not to mention the financial blow.
If you use a travel agent, they can help you sort through the visa requirements and the process of getting your visa.
You also can use a service that facilitates visa documents. Companies like Travisa are highly rated. We used GenVisa for our Viking River Cruise voyage in Egypt. These types of services are especially handy if you are making last-minute plans because they can expedite your visa (you will pay a hefty premium, of course).
If you are planning your trip well in advance, though, it can be much more cost effective to just get the visa yourself. Many visas can be secured online and some nations, such as Australia and India, only require an electronic visa, Electronic Travel Authority, or ETA. Many U.S. travel agents and airlines apply for these visas on behalf of the travelers.
READ MORE: Will US Citizens Need Visas to Travel to Europe This Summer?
It's important to also make copies of your passport, visas and any other important travel documents in case the originals are lost. We make physical copies of these items to keep separate from the originals when we are traveling (you might keep them in your hotel room safe) and also download digital versions we can access from cloud storage or even just take pictures with our cell phones.
I haven't had to use them, thankfully, but the idea is to be able to easily access the info and aid the process of getting new forms if needed. In many countries, you might have to go to a U.S. embassy or consulate office