Visa service is available to U.S. citizens at the embassies and consulates of the country or countries they plan to visit. While there may be some variables that are specific to a particular country, there are a lot of visa requirements that are common to most countries. Familiarizing yourself with these will make the visa application process a lot smoother.
Travel Visa Basics
It is important to understand that a travel visa stamped in your passport is not a guarantee that you will be allowed to enter your destination country. The visa is merely permission to travel to a port of entry. It is at this port of entry that an agent will examine your documents and determine whether you will enter the country or not.
Travel visas are granted according to your purpose of travel. The most common types are tourist and business visas. Other visas that are usually available include the transit visa, work visa, study visa, crew visa and resident visa.
Visas are not a requirement of every foreign country. In fact, there are a lot of destinations that U.S. citizens can visit without the need to obtain a visa.
Travel Visa Processing
Visa processing is an important service provided by the consulate section of an embassy or by the consulate general of a country. It is important to follow the requirements exactly as given so that you avoid delays in the process or, even, the rejection of your application.
The first decision you need to make when applying for a visa concerns the type of visa you will need. Next, you may be able to apply for a visa with a specific validity. This is especially true for business visas. For example, Russia allows you to choose between a business visa that has 1-3 months validity and one that has 3-12 months validity. Following this, you need to choose the number of entries you want your visa to allow. Possibilities include a single-entry, double-entry or multiple-entry. Not every country offers this option but many do.
Most visa applications are short, requesting only basic personal and travel information. Application forms can usually be downloaded in PDF format from the embassy or consulate website. However, more and more countries are exchanging the printed form for an electronic application that is submitted immediately after completion. In fact, some countries such as Brazil no longer accept printed applications.
Processing times vary depending on the type of visa and destination. Most consulates process tourist and business visa applications within two weeks to a few days. Expedited visa service, when it is available, can be accomplished as quickly as the same day or next day. Work, study and resident visas usually take quite a bit longer to process.
Some consular services still accept applications that are sent by mail but this is changing. More and more countries are requiring that applications be delivered in person. If you are unable to submit your application personally, consulates allow you to authorize a third party to do this for you. This person can be a friend, relative or travel agent. When none of these are available, you can contract a private visa expediter.
Visa Expediting Service
There are three advantages to using a visa expediter. One, you don’t have to go to the consulate general yourself. Depending on where you live in relation to the consulate, this could save you quite a bit of time which you could use to prepare for your trip.
Two, the expediter can look over your application and documentation to verify that the information is correct. If necessary, corrections could be made before it is delivered to the consulate. Finally, a visa expediting service can, more often than not, get your application processed more quickly.
A disadvantage to using an expediter is that they charge an additional fee beyond that which you will pay the consulate to process your visa application. The amount is usually not very much and could very well be a worthy investment if you consider the advantages listed above.