Ah, visas. Probably the least sexy part of a long-term trip (or any trip, for that matter). Even I, in all my train-loving, unexpected-turns-relishing, airport-not-minding weirdness, have trouble getting into this part of travel planning.
Visa laws are just so complex and widely varied, there’s not one easy-to-use resource for them. For American citizens like me, the U.S. Department of State’s website is a good start, but the information on each country-specific page varies just enough that you have to pay really close attention during your research to make sure you understand everything, and you probably still will need to consult a few outside resources to fill in any gaps.
My RTW Visa Plan
Iceland, Spain, Italy, and Greece
These four countries are all part of the Schengen Area, which means I don’t need a visa for any of them, but I can’t spend more than 90 days total in the whole region. I have about a month and a half (~45 days) accounted for by the first three countries and another 15 days or so by Greece, so I should be in the clear. But I will have to be careful about making changes to my itinerary on the road in Europe so I don’t go over my Schengen limit.
I also have to have a passport that will remain valid for at least three months past my date of departure from the Schengen Area – that one’s easy since I’ll still be traveling and need a much longer period of validity anyway. And I may only need to show my passport when arriving in Iceland and Greece, since I’ll be traveling between Schengen countries. I’ll make sure I have six blank passport pages just in case, though.
This is my first country outside the Schengen Area, so I will definitely need to get my passport stamped upon entry. But I’m not required to have any tourist visa.
Bosnia & Herzegovina
Bosnia requires no special visa for stays less than three months and one blank page for an entry stamp.
The third Balkan country on my itinerary, Montenegro’s requirements are the same as Bosnia’s: no visa for stays under 90 days and only one blank passport page.
This is the first country I’ll need a visa for, but Turkey has an e-visa application system I can use before arriving, or I can go to any Turkish embassy. I’ll make sure my first day in Greece is a planning day to get this and other details in order. There’s a $20 fee associated, so that needs to be factored into my budget, but as far as visas go $20 is really low.
India also requires a visa, but because I’ll be a tourist planning a short stay (less than 30 days), I have the option of applying for an electronic travel authorization (ETA) at least four days before my arrival. I’ll have plenty of time while I’m in Turkey to get this taken care of. This visa will be more expensive at about $60.
Nepal has several visa options depending on how long your stay is. I’ll be joining a guided tour for about two weeks, so I’ll spend $25 on a 15-day multiple entry visa, which I can buy at the airport in Kathmandu.
No visa requirements here. I just need a valid passport with room for a stamp.
Tourists in Laos can technically get a visa at the border with $35 and two passport-sized photos, but from all the stories I’ve read about taking the slow boat from Chiang Mai, the Laotian border is a little chaotic and it can take a long time to get your visa on arrival. So, I’ll plan to make these arrangements at a Laotian embassy in Thailand before I get on the boat.
Vietnam is pretty strict in its visa requirements for U.S. citizens. The cost is about $60 and I’ll need to have all my papers in order before I fly into Hanoi. I’ll make this part of my planning day in Thailand.
Cambodia has online processing available for its $35 tourist visa, so I’ll take advantage of that and avoid another potentially long line at the border.
I’ll be in Bali for about a month, but that’s still considered a short stay, so I won’t need a visa.
Japan is yet another country that doesn’t require visas for stays less than 90 days.
Here’s where things get trickier again. Brazil requires all tourists to obtain a visa from their home country and fill out additional paperwork upon arrival. However, you also have to enter Brazil within 90 days of obtaining your visa for it to be valid. To go to Brazil, I would have to detour back home between the Asian and South American legs of my trip. That would add at least a couple hundred dollars to my flight budget, not to mention a ton of unnecessary time, so instead I’ll save myself the money and the grief and plan on visiting Brazil another time.
Uruguay on the other hand does not have any visa requirements for short stays.
Argentina is a unique one. Visas aren’t necessary for stays less than 90 days, but I do have to pay a $160 “reciprocity fee” online before I arrive in the country. That fee, however, will grant me multiple entries for 10 years, so basically if I ever want to return to Argentina, it’ll be smooth sailing.
Peru is also one of the more unique countries on my itinerary in regards to its visa requirement. I do have to get a tourist visa, but there’s no charge and they’ll give it to me when I land in the Lima airport.
I don’t need a visa to enter Costa Rica, but I do have to have proof of onward travel, which throws a bit of a wrench into my hopes of leaving my Central America plans loose. I’ll have to be very careful to read the fine print and make sure the flight I book to Mexico City is refundable.
Mexico doesn’t require a visa, per se, but rather a tourist card, which is granted upon arrival for about $20.
By removing Brazil from my itinerary, I shave $160 off my total visa budget and ensure I don’t have to apply for any visas from home. In fact, I won’t need to worry about visas until I arrive in Greece, when I’ll want to set aside a day to buy my $20 Turkish ETA and track down the Indian embassy to arrange my $60 visa. When I land in Kathmandu, I’ll need to have $25 on hand to purchase my Nepal visa. I’ll need to set aside another planning day after I arrive in Thailand to settle all my Southeast Asia visas. After I land in Bali, I’ll pay my $160 reciprocity fee online for entry in Argentina. I’ll use that same day as my South American planning day and purchase my flights to Peru, Costa Rica, and Mexico, so I have the proof of onward travel required. And finally when I land in Mexico City, I’ll have $20 set aside for my tourist card.
That’s just over $400 spent on visas total, which doesn’t seem an insignificant number, but is actually only about 2% of my budget.
My passport needs to be valid through December 2017 – no problems there. I’ll also need at least 23 blank pages to allow enough room for all my entry stamps, and that’s where things get more difficult. U.S. passports come with only 17 blank pages for visas and entry/exit stamps, and many of mine are already used up from my various past trips around Europe. What’s worse, I’ve just missed the deadline for adding extra pages to my current passport – the Department of State officially discontinued this practice on December 31, 2015. Rats!
So, this month I’ll be filling out a mail form to renew my passport and get a larger 52-page book. That’s an extra $110 on my budget. Double rats. At least this time I don’t have to go to the post office in person. And I can update my wretched passport photo (though there is a good story behind that one?)
So, painful as it is to spend so much time researching something as humdrum as visa and passport requirements, it’s a very worthwhile exercise as I’m ensuring I don’t have any unpleasant surprises in that arena on the road.