Regardless of where you’re going, you’re going to need certain documents to move around, the most important of which is your passport. Depending on which countries you’re planning on visiting, and your country of origin, you might also need visas and permits. Optional documents include insurance paperwork, reservation information for hotels, and transportation items such as rail passes or airline tickets.
What’s a Passport anyhow?
Your passport is the key to the kingdom. It is the primary form of identification used by governments around the world when you cross the border. It is given out by the country where you hold citizenship for the purpose of allowing you to exit from and return to your own country. Application procedures, fees and requirements vary from country to country; as does the time it takes to process a new passport or renewal. Check with the country where you hold citizenship for what is required to obtain a passport.
Do you need a visa to enter X country?
There is no single answer to this, as this varies widely from country to country. Although there are many types of visas, we’re going to focus mainly on visas used for tourism and skip others such as work or student visas.
Depending on the country in which you hold citizenship, you may or may not be required to have a visa in order to enter another country. For example, a citizen of the United States needs a visa to enter China for tourism, but is able to enter Japan for up to 30 days, and Korea for up to 90 days, without a visa. Because the rules are so varied, here are the steps you need to take:
1) Determine which countries you want to visit during your trip
2) Check with your own country’s embassy for general information. (for U.S. travelers, a good overview is here: http://travel.state.gov/visa/americans/americans_1252.html)
3) Double check the information with the embassies of the countries you are planning on visiting and apply for any required visas.
There are a few things to keep in mind. Depending on the length of your trip, you may have to apply for visas while on the road, so plan for this accordingly. Also, make sure you carry extra passport photos (I’d recommend a half dozen or so) for visas and other possible documents while you’re traveling. You never know when you’ll need to get a permit or decide to take a day trip to another country.
Lastly, just because you have a visa doesn’t mean you can see the entire country. There are a few countries that restrict access to what tourists can see and where they can go. In order to gain access to other areas of the country, you must apply for a special permit. Tibet is an excellent example of this as you can’t travel to that region of China without a permit, even if you’ve been granted a Chinese visa.
There are plenty of other documents you may want to have in your possession during the trip. Insurance documents are a big one. If you’ve bought travel insurance, make sure you have copies of the paperwork with you in case something does happen. You’ll want instant access to the necessary phone numbers, identification numbers and other information.
Any transportation and/or hotel information is a good idea to have with you as well. Obviously you’ll have whatever airline tickets or rail passes with you, but ancillary information such as frequent flier numbers and confirmation numbers are important as well.
Copy Copy Copy
Make sure you have a copy of all the paperwork that is of any importance. Copy your passport (the information pages and any visa information), travelers check numbers, credit card numbers, insurance paperwork and anything else you deem of importance. Keep a set of copies with friends and family back home and a set of copies separate from wherever you carry the originals (ie. If you’re passport is in your money belt, keep the copies in your backpack). You never know when you might lose something, get pick pocketed or worse.