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Papers, Please

With the looming rumors of trade wars, armed conflicts, fears of terrorism and increasingly isolationist stances by major world powers, the international business picture is anything but clear these days.  Yet globalization marches on with very little signs of letup; the World Bank forecasts the global economy will grow 3.7 percent year over year in 2018, a rate of increase that’s remained pretty consistent in the years since the Great Recession of 2008-09.

Yet another yardstick of the widening impact of global business is the ease with which business travelers can move from country to country; fewer barriers to travel generally translate to more international business and a rising tide for everybody’s boat. A careful examination of one such metric, the Henley & Partners Passport Index, shows a steady rise in the number of countries that have more liberal entry requirements– either no visas, visas on arrival or e-visa policies.

In 2018, Japan and Singapore rank No. 1 in the world for the most countries allowed in under these less stringent rules; each allowed in passport holders from 180 other countries, whereas a decade ago that number was 154 and 150 respectively.  The US, Canada, Ireland and Switzerland held the No. 5 spot, allowing entry to citizens from 176 countries without visas, or who receive visas on arrival or e-visas.

However while some business travelers may think easy passage from one country to the next seems to be universal, and even a birthright, it is far from either. For US citizens, a visa is required for entry into more than 30 countries worldwide, most notably including China, Russia and India – three of the fastest growing business destinations on the planet.  

Travel Documents 101

First of all, the basics:  A passport is not a visa, and does not automatically grant you admission into a country.  Your passport is your proof of identify and nationality, issued by the country of which you are a citizen.  A visa on the other hand is issued by your destination country or countries, with the purpose of learning more about the individual traveling – the length of stay, the purpose of the trip, the individual’s financial status, and may include specific travel requirements, such as medical screenings.

Although leisure travelers can go from one year to the next without thinking about visas, business travelers always need to consider if business visas are necessary.

First, the more you travel, the more likely you are to be traveling somewhere that requires one. Secondly, most countries welcome leisure tourists, and are wary of providing obstacles to tourist revenue. As a result, tourist visas are often easier to obtain, and may even be available on arrival in the country. However many of those same countries see business travelers as a source of additional revenue. Business visas are therefore more expensive, and can also be more time consuming to obtain.

Last, as we become more “adventurous” in looking for the next business opportunity in less-visited destinations, we tend to go to countries outside our normal comfort zone. These often require visas because they are developing nations keen to raise money from relatively wealthy travelers, or are simply countries where our own governments enjoy charging their citizens a lot of money to visit us, so they reciprocate. We can hardly complain what Russia or India charges us if we do the same to them.

If you are planning a trip, first do some research; even if you’ve been told by a colleague or business associate that your destination doesn’t require a visa, it pays to check. The rules may have changed or the circumstances of your travel may be different.  The only place to get accurate information is from the destination country’s embassy or consulate.  

If your itinerary is taking you to a country that needs a visa, find out what’s required. Top of the list should be understanding how long it takes to get a visa. For some countries it can take up to 15 working days, which with holidays – and different countries have different holidays – can be the better part of a month.

• Check the country’s requirements as soon as your travel is confirmed

• Apply in plenty of time

• Carefully read the application instructions

• Provide the documentation requested

• Have an employer’s letter ready

• Print an invitation from the host company

• Keep your signature within the box on forms

• Enclose the right number of photos of the correct size

• For some visas, you will have to meet in person at the consulate/visa office – plan accordingly

• Get the visa before you go, even if in theory you can apply on arrival in the country

Before You Leave

Obtaining visas is rarely pain-free, but there are steps you can take to avoid the likelihood of last-minute trip cancelations if a visa is delayed or refused.

The basics are:

• Ensure you have at least two clear pages in your passport

• Consider having a second passport so you can keep traveling

• Check your passport has at least six months’ validity

• Have bank statements for proof of income

• Your driver’s license or utility bills are often required for proof of residence

• Keep a list of countries you’ve previously visited

• Keep your medical certificates at hand (International Certificate of Vaccination and current immunization records)

• Have proof of travel insurance

Once you have your passport in hand with the appropriate visa, there still may be some things you need to know about getting into – or out of – your destination.  In some countries, your visa may only allow you entry at designated airports.  You may need cash to pay for your visa on arrival, or have proof of reservations at a hotel, or check in with the local police within 24 hours. Other countries admit US visitors without a visa, but require exit fees upon departure.

Ask a Specialist

If you are very busy and want to save yourself much of the hassle, you can use a visa specialist. You still have to provide the documentation, but at least they can check to see you have done everything correctly and thus prevent your application being rejected. You may still have to attend the consulate/embassy/visa office for an interview or to give biometric information, but they can often pick up the passport for you and most can arrange a speedier processing – at a price.

Here are a few of the many specialists you can consult:

Or begin your research at:

A Word of Warning

Do not attempt to visit on a tourist visa

if you are going on a business trip. If you think business visas are expensive, consider how much legal advice will cost when you are suddenly caught. And your insurance will not be valid if you knowingly lied about the real purpose for your travels into that country.