With visas, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing

When it comes to international travel and visas, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.
As a travel agent, I have several customers who travel to Africa regularly. When one client started booking a complicated trip to several African countries, it was really pro-forma for me to ask about her visas for the trip. She said she was fine, and included in her response that she and her colleagues would get visas for Zambia and Kenya at the airport.
Both Zambia and Kenya have been issuing visas for Americans on arrival. But as of Sept. 1, Kenya will no longer issue visas at the airport.
Visitors will now need to obtain electronic visas in advance online, and the process can take up to seven days. Fortunately, in this case, the traveler has plenty of time.
Similarly, Argentina, which used to allow travelers to pay what they call a “reciprocity fee” on arrival, now wants the payment in advance, and a receipt must be shown at the airport.
Turkey is also encouraging travelers to obtain visas in advance. But those who arrive without one can still get a visa on arrival by paying a higher fee.
And those are relatively simple changes and issues. Then there’s China, with a new visa-free program for very short (72 hour) stays, designed to encourage tourists to stop over in Beijing and Shanghai.
A regular traveler I know decided to take advantage of the program to visit Shanghai. But he booked a connecting flight from San Francisco via Hong Kong. And, apparently, the waiver doesn’t apply for flights not arriving directly from the U.S. The end result? He was denied entry at the airport and sent back to Hong Kong.
(This last rule is so confusing that even Cathay Pacific Airways, which flew him into Shanghai, didn’t realize he needed a visa and according to the China immigration agent, would be fined.)
In fact, airlines are fined regularly if they transport passengers internationally who don’t meet entry requirements. This means, most of the time, travelers who fall afoul of changes they weren’t aware of usually don’t get on the plane in the first place.
Bottom line: Even when you think you know the rules for traveling out of the United States, take a minute to double check.
The State Department has a website with travel information for various countries. Travel agents also can help as they have a “Timatic” site with up-to-date passenger documentation information. And there are plenty of visa services that can help when you aren’t sure.
But be careful; while the Internet can be a wonderful travel aid, it’s still far too easy to click on outdated information. (No doubt some information cited in this post will be out of date at some point in the not-too-distant future.)
And while you may have great memories from your past travels, don’t rely on those memories for visa and other entry requirements.