Tag: passport

How to avoid visa problems this summer

If you travel abroad this summer, look out for visa trouble.

Chinese, USA and Shengen European visas in passports

No, not the credit card variety. I’m talking about visas, as in travel permits.

Visas are a hassle. They’re expensive, complicated and arguably unnecessary. Worse, they can be a formidable roadblock — at times, an insurmountable obstacle — for summer travelers.

Consider the visa war between Europe and the United States. You can fly to Europe without any kind of paperwork, except for your passport. But a dispute over visa reciprocity just bubbled over in Brussels, endangering that arrangement.

Basically, the United States is wary of allowing Croatians, Cypriots, Bulgarians, Romanians and Poles to come to America unless they have a visa. The European Union wants all EU citizens to be treated equally and allowed visa-free travel to the USA. European legislators recently passed a non-binding resolution to impose visa requirements on Americans, starting next month.

No question, visa uncertainty is in the air this spring. But there are remedies.

First, know who requires a visa and what could go wrong. As of now, Europe is visa-free. Brazil, China, Russia and India are the major countries that require visas for American visitors, according to James Wolf, a San Francisco attorney who specializes in immigration law.

Dot your i’s and cross your t’s, folks.

Timing is also important. Applying for a visa can be a lengthy process, so you need to start thinking about it well in advance of your vacation. You should usually do visa applications about six to eight weeks before travel. The application forms can be lengthy, and the requirements are often absurd. Brazil, for example, requires you to fill out an appointment form first, then your passports have to be sent into the embassy for the actual visa.

 

How about the uncertainty with Europe?  It’s really hard to predict that outcome. Unless the United States caves in and agrees to the EU’s reciprocity demands, you may need a visa to visit Paris this summer. If that happens, it will probably add 60 euros to the cost of your vacation— that’s the cost of a short-term visa to Europe from countries that require one.

Unfair? Not really, Americans love to think that the visa regulations of other countries are unfair. But take a closer look. When the United States raised the visa fee for Chinese travelers, China raised the visa fee for Americans.  When the United States began taking its time with visas for Brazilians, the Brazilian consulates in the USA slowed down their processing time.

What is unfair, to some, is that visas are even required.

Visas are basically a deterrent to travel. They put a damper on last-minute travel, raise the cost of your trip and needlessly complicate the already confusing task of planning travel.

Cut the red tape, and you open the gate to tourism, and all the commerce and cultural benefits it brings. How can that be a bad thing?

Avoid these visa misunderstandings

• Mind your expiration dates. Both visas and passports have an expiration date. Be aware of them, and make sure you don’t overstay. Almost every country in the world requires six months’ validity remaining on your passport for entry, as well as applying for a visa, so check your passport expiration dates prior to applying for a visa. Some countries will allow you to bring in a valid visa that is affixed to an expired passport as long as you have a new valid passport and present both of them together.

• Take the right photo. When submitting your visa application, you usually need at least one passport photo. Countries are specific about their requirements (no sunglasses, no hats, specific formatting). Pro tip: Never staple the photo to your application,. It could void the entire application.

• Remember, a visa isn’t a guarantee of admission. Travelers assume a visa is a permit to enter the country. This is quite far from the truth.  The immigration officer at the point of entry of the country concerned is the ultimate authority and determines if you will be allowed to enter or not.

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Yes, you can get a second passport. Here’s how

Certain frequent travelers can qualify for two U.S.

There are certain situations when it’s annoying to have only one passport. For example, say you have upcoming trips to two countries with little notice and you need to send your passport away for a visa, effectively stopping you from going on your other trip. Or, say you want to visit a country that is on unfriendly terms with other nations, like Israel, but you’re worried the stamp might cause problems when trying to get into other countries in the future.

Too bad you can only have one passport, right? Wrong.

A little-known secret is that, according to Section 51.2(b) of Title 22 of the Code of Federal Regulations (22 CFR), certain frequent travelers actually can qualify for two U.S. passports. It states:

Unless authorized by the Department no person shall bear more than one valid or potentially valid U.S. passport at any one time.

In plain English, there is an exception to the requirement that “no person shall bear or be in possession of more than one valid or potentially valid U.S. passport at any one time.” But who qualifies for an exemption? In short, very frequent travelers, especially those that often visit countries that require visas, who cannot send their passport away for an international visa without essentially grounding them from doing business.

The U.S. government permits people that can prove a heavy travel schedule to have a second passport, typically only valid for two years. This allows them to travel abroad while sending the second passport to an embassy for visa applications.

According to Russ Varecha of RushMyPassport.com, a service that helps people apply for passports:

“A quick rule of thumb to determine if you qualify for a second passport is whether you meet one of the two requirements. Are you planning to visit a country that will deny a visa due to the fact that your passport contains markings or visas showing you traveled to certain other countries? Or do you need a passport for immediate travel because of delays in getting a travel visa or some other foreign governmental process that required you to submit your original passport?”

Lee Abbamonte, the self-proclaimed youngest American to visit every country in the world, says that having a second passport was invaluable in his near-constant travel to far-flung corners of the globe.

To apply for a second passport, complete an online application form (DS-82) and send in the requested documentation to a passport office.

U.S. passport changes are coming: Here’s what you need to know

Passport changes are coming, and if you plan on traveling in the future — especially if you’re among the 49 million Americans whose passports will expire in the next few years — you need to know what passport changes are in store.

While it may seem easy enough to acquire or renew a passport if and when you plan a trip, the State Department says there’s about to be a massive backlog of passport applications. (More on that in a minute.) Plus, passports themselves are going to change. Here’s what you should know about both the expected passport application delays and the passport changes coming in the years ahead.

You should renew your passport now

A decade ago, an important piece of travel legislation made American passports much more in-demand. The State Department saw an “unprecedented surge” in applications when a 2007 law enacted by the 9/11 Commission established passports as necessary for all travel to and from Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. Millions of travelers acquired 10-year passports that year as a result, and now they’re all about to expire. It’s safe to assume many of those passport holders will need to renew, which means that passport applications will jump significantly once again.

Concerned about wait times yet? Passport renewal already takes about six weeks, and many destinations require foreign passports to be valid for months after your trip. Factor in unknown delays, and you might have a lot less time to renew than you thought.

REAL ID changes aren’t helping

A newer federal law, the REAL ID Act, will soon enforce updates to all state-level identification in the form of security features like machine-readable data chips. Now people in some states that are lagging behind in the technology are realizing that their licenses might soon be invalid for air travel — even on domestic trips. That could mean a rise in passport applications as well.

Travelers using IDs issued by certain states — for example, Maine and Missouri — could be turned away at the gate starting in January 2018 if their state doesn’t adjust to the new standards in time. Some states are under review and have been given a deadline extension, but all licenses must comply with the standards by 2020. Frequent travelers worried that their state won’t comply in time may go ahead and renew or acquire a passport instead. Find out if your state has complied or been given an extension here.

Expect new security features

Like state IDs, passports will now include added technology to ensure security and decrease fraud. Catching up with many other countries, U.S. passport changes mean that new passports will include a data chip that can provide all your personal info upon scanning it onto a computer. You can also expect your new passport to be lighter — rather than the 52-page passports of the past, only 28 pages will be included unless you opt to get more.

Double-check children’s passports

If you’ve lost track of when your own passport needs renewing and you travel with children, double-check your child’s passport as well. Child passports are only valid for five years, and they’re subject to more paperwork, like parental consent forms and proof of a parent-child relationship.

How to renew your passport

You can apply for or renew a passport online through the State Department, or in person at an eligible local agency like the post office. Make sure you follow instructions carefully and meet all the requirements, like the new rule against wearing glasses in your passport photo. Doing so could further delay the process.

What Your Passport Color Really Means

 

Selection of passports

Travelers don’t have a lot of say in how their passports look. It’s hard to take a flattering picture (unless you’re Prince), you can’t choose which inspiration quotes frame your stamped pages, and you can’t choose the color of your passport cover.

To that last point, Business Insider recently explained why passports only come in shades of red, blue, green, and black. Somewhat surprisingly, the color of your passport follows no strict system of country categorization—though that’s not to say the colors are totally random, either.

“Most passports in the world are based on blue and red primary colors,” said Passport Index Vice President of Marketing Hrant Boghossian, though there’s an enormous degree of variation in hues. And while geography, politics, and even religion come into play when a country selects its passport cover, there are no guidelines or regulations dictating the color of these national documents.

“There’s nothing [that] stipulates the cover colour,” confirmed Anthony Philbin of the International Civil Aviation Organization, which issues passport standards on cover size, format, and technology.

So what can we infer about passport color? Boghossian says it’s a matter of national identity.

Red Passports

Burgundy passports are used by members of the European Union (sans Croatia), and countries interested in joining (think: Turkey) have changed their passport colors to match.The Economist called this a “branding exercise.” The Andean Community (also known for past EU-ambitions) of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru also has burgundy passports. The Swiss passport, in effortless and famously Swiss-fashion, matches their flag,

Blue Passports

Boghossian told Business Insider that Caribbean, or Caricom states, typically use blue, though it’s common in the “New World,” as well. Vox pointed out the customs union of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguya, Uruguay, and Venezuela, known as Mercosur, all boast blue passports (except Venezuela, which still sports a red passport from its time in the Andean Community).

The United States’ passport, however, only became navy blue in 1976—to match the shade found in the American Flag. Before that?

“We believe the first travel documents in the U.S. were red,” Boghossian told Travel + Leisure. Green passports were used in the 1930s, followed by burgundy ones, [and] black passports in the 1970s.”

Green Passports

“Most Islamic states use green passports because of the importance of the colour in their religion,” Boghossian shared with Business Insider. Variations of green are also used by members of ECOWAS—Economic Community of West African States—including Niger and Senegal.

Black Passports

Here’s another, far more practical, interpretation for selecting passport colors. Dark colors (even deep shades of blue and red) show less dirt and tend to look more official. Examples include the Republic of Botswana, Zambia, and New Zealand—though for the latter, black is also considered one of the country’s national colors.

Ultimately, you can infer about color as much as you want, but passports represent something much greater than geo-political and economic ties. “We forget that [passports] belong to people. For some, they are a barrier. To others, a right of passage,” Boghossian said to Travel + Leisure.

After all, both the U.S. and Syria issue blue passports—but Syria has one of the worst-ranking passports in the world. Having a Syrian passport allows you access to only 32 countries without a visa, due to diplomatic relations. Meanwhile, the U.S. has the third-best ranking passport.

“Governments around the world have the freedom to choose the color and design,” reiterated Boghossian. “Unfortunately, only few have understood the importance of this document on their country’s brand identity.”

Boghossian cited Norway, which recently unveiled its winning passport design from a nationwide competition, as an example of a country using its passports to define its distinct personality and characteristics. The colors? Vibrant and hip.

The U.S. passport is about to get a makeover: and while the design has yet to be released, we know for a fact the country has a history of changing its passport cover.

Five myths about Brexit for U.S. travelers

In the wake of the Brexit vote that paved the way for the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union on June 23, there’s a lot of confusion about what this means for American heading to Britain this summer and in the future.  Here are five current myths about Brexit and travel to the UK.

1. Brexit is really an issue between Great Britain and the European Union and has nothing to do with Americans.

While it’s true that Brexit is about Britain leaving its 40+-year EU membership in the dust, it’s also about currency, and that’s something that directly impacts U.S. travelers. On the morning of Friday, June 24, when the vote to leave the EU was announced, the pound-to-dollar exchange dropped 7.44% to $1.3766, the lowest level in decades. At one point, the pound sank to $1.32, the lowest exchange rate since 1985. In simple terms this means that for American travelers, Great Britain is on sale.

“The immediate effect, says George Hobica, president of Airfarewatchdog, is that “American visitors will pay less for travel to and within Europe and Britain. If the British pound continues to stay low or fall even more, your trip to England will be cheaper.” That means that hotels, meals, shopping and other purchases will be “at least 10% cheaper than recently.”

With the less-favorable exchange rates, “fewer Europeans and Brits will visit the U.S.,” says Hobica. “So expect airfares from the U.S. to Europe and Britain to go even lower. The day after the Brexit vote, we saw airfares to London on Virgin Atlantic and other airlines for fall travel reduced to $500 round-trip.”

Jason Clampet, co-founder and head of content at Skift, agrees with the notion that “for the short term this is about exchange rates and how they impact travel.” But Clampet also takes a longer view of the issue, noting that it could “affect airline routes, new development of hotel products, the cost of restaurants and transit, the cost of shopping, or even the upkeep and maintenance of tourist attractions.”

2. I’m planning a trip to the UK later this year, and I’ve booked my airfare and hotels, so it won’t affect me.

“That’s true when it comes to the airfare or if you prepaid for your non-refundable hotel room or bought a package,” says Clampet of Skift. “But you can otherwise take advantage of the better exchange rate, and the possibility of UK businesses discounting goods because they are hurting. While that 150 pounds per night rate may stay the same, the Brexit exchange rate swing put $15 in your pocket between last month and today. Expect small savings like that in every transaction you make.”

For anyone who booked a trip before the recent vote, Hobica suggests reaching out to hotels, tours and other agencies to see whether you can re-book at a better price, “now that exchange rates have been hammered.”

3. I guess I can just hope that British pound stays low until I get there.

Or you can be proactive. It’s a great time to take advantage of the exchange rate for as long as it lasts. If you’re heading to the UK even later this year, “it’s a good time to buy pounds for an upcoming trip,” says Hobica, now that they are at dramatically lower levels.

That said, Clampet of Skift urges caution, saying that “Unless you’re George Soros, it’s best not to respond to this by playing currency trader. The pound could continue to drop or it could go up — even the experts don’t know. If you’re worried about wide fluctuations in money and want to have protection, look into a trip insurance product that allows wide latitude for cancellations.”

4. This won’t really affect me when I go to England, it will just be the same passport check that I’ve always had when I fly to London.

“Sure, it won’t affect you — if you’re carrying a British passport,” says Clampet. Yes, there will still be passport control. But in the future, you can expect to wait in much longer lines.

“For travelers arriving in the UK, those passport control lines that once split passengers by passport from the EU and then everyone else will soon be for passengers from the UK and then everyone else, Clampet says. “If nothing else expect to hear Germans, Italians and Spaniards complain about being in line with you unlike the good old days when they had preferred status.”

Then, unfortunately, it’s likely to get even worse for American travelers. Once the UK and EU split is complete, “London’s international airports will need to radically rethink baggage claim and passport control, two of the biggest pain points in travel,” Clampet says “ For passengers transiting to Europe via London or other gateway cities, you’ll need to claim your baggage and take it through customs because, remember, you’re not in Europe anymore.”

5. It’s really just England that’s changing.

Actually, this is much bigger than England. The Brexit vote is for the United Kingdom, which includes Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Therein lie some potential future problems.

“If Scotland, which voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, becomes a separate country, you’ll need to go through border controls and show a passport between London and Edinburgh,” says Hobica. Because Ireland is part of Europe but Northern Ireland is leaving the EU as a result of Brexit, “travel between, say, Dublin and Belfast (would) also require going through passport control.”

Clampet adds that “we are also seeing talk of nationalist parties in France, theNetherlands and elsewhere pushing their own exit. In five years will we be back to the days of border checks and multiple currencies as you move from country to country? Think of all the math you’ll be doing.”

The World’s Most Powerful Passport Is…

 

 

New rankings by a London-based firm reveal a European country has the best global access.

Despite recent tensions over waves of refugees crossing its border, Germany, in recent months, has banked some good press as well: It led U.S. News & World Report‘s “Best Countries” index, had not one—but three—cities appear on the “10 Best Cities for Expats” list, and even had Chancellor Angela Merkel, its indomitable leader, named Time magazine’s Person of the Year. New results from Henley & Partners, a London-based consulting firm specializing in citizenship services, continue to enforce the European nation’s status on the world stage by deeming a German passport the most powerful in the world.

The annual study, produced in collaboration with the International Air Transport Association (which has the world’s largest database of travel information), judged the top passports in the world by how much visa-free travel they allow. Germany, which has held the top spot for three years in a row, has visa-free access to 177 countries out of a total of 218. Sweden, in second, has a ranking of 176, and a larger group of countries sitting in third place (Finland, France, Italy, Spain, and the U.K.) allow visa-free access to 175 countries. The U.S. passport, along with ones from Denmark, Belgium, and the Netherlands, comes in fourth place, with entry to 174 countries.

The least useful passport of the 199 evaluated? Afghanistan, which allows visa-free access to just 25 countries—fewer than North Korea (42), Syria (32), and Iraq (30).

 

For more travel information please visit www.ygbtravelpromotions.com

 

The U.S. State Department is about to take away your extra passport pages

 

https://www.flickr.com/photos/megoizzy/4469617417/

For frequent travelers, there’s nothing more impressive than a well-stamped passport, with every page filled with multicolored inks, dates and destinations. But if you’re down to your last blank page, you probably want to add “request new visa insert” to your December to-do list. As of January 1, 2016, the U.S. State Department will no longer issue additional passport pages due to its own security concerns.

After that date, passport holders who have run out of blank visa pages will have to apply for a completely new passport at a cost of $110, and they may request either the standard 28-page passport or a new supersized 52-page version. Though, yes, you still have until December 31 to apply for your last 24-page visa insert.

In a statement, the State Department said:

“The decision to discontinue this service was made to enhance the security of the passport and to abide by international passport standards.”

The statement was an update to the State Department’s original announcement back in March that it was considering the new rule to eliminate the option of adding visa pages. Well, it only took eight months for the department to officially make up its mind, but now we know for sure. And thankfully we were given a little notice before we reach the deadline — so thumb through your own passport to see how many pages you have left, because you don’t have long to add extras.

Some countries will not allow travelers to enter unless they have two (or even four) blank visa pages (you can review your destination’s entry and exit requirements on the State Department’s Country Information page).

According to the most recent update on the State Department’s passport processing page, it will take between 4-6 weeks for you to receive your new passport. If you need to have that little blue book sooner, you may pay an additional $60 for expedited processing (in addition to paying for two-way Express Delivery, if you don’t apply in person) and you should receive your new passport within three weeks. And if you’re really in a bind, remember, you might just be eligible to get a second passport.

Yan Baczkowski