How To Get A Travel Visa

visaapplicationfeature1 How To Get A Travel VisaAustralian Visa Application Form (credit: Randy Yagi)

Are you in the early planning stages of a trip overseas? It's quite possible you may have to obtain a visa, in addition to bringing along a passport. Although some countries such as France or Great Britain do not require visas for visits less than 90 days, if you're visiting other countries like Australia, India or China, you are required to obtain a tourist visa. If you're uncertain, here's a quick and easy guide to understanding what documents you need before you're ready to depart.

uspassportapplication How To Get A Travel Visa

U.S. Passport (credit: Randy Yagi)

You Must Have a Passport

You must have a passport before you can obtain a visa. A U.S. passport is an official travel document issued by the U.S. Department of State that serves as proof of your citizenship and is required to enter other countries.

If you are a first-time passport applicant, you must apply in person at an authorized passport application acceptance facility or at a passport agency. You are required to fill out a DS-11 form but you must not sign the document until you are instructed to do so by an acceptance agent. You must also submit proof of citizenship, present a primary ID card such as a driver's license along with photocopies of each document, a passport photo and the required fee.

The current time to process routine applications is approximately four to six weeks so it's very important to complete this process well in advance of your trip, especially if you also need to obtain a travel visa. Expedited services are available but require an additional fee for each application and must be submitted in person.

uspassport How To Get A Travel Visa

U.S. Passport (credit: Randy Yagi)

If You Already Have a Passport, Check the Expiration Date

If you already have a passport, you won't have to go through the procedures above. However, it's very important to check the expiration date of your passport before your trip. That's because the U.S. requires all foreign visitors to have at least six month's validity on their passports. Conversely, American travelers must also have at least six months left on their passports. Most countries only require three months but the six-month requirement applies in many Asian countries.

visaapplicationfeature How To Get A Travel Visa

Australian Visa Application Form (credit: Randy Yagi)

Obtaining A Visa

As you are planning for your trip, you can determine whether or not you need an visa by visiting the U.S. Passports and International Travel website. The length of time it takes to process a visa is typically six weeks in advance but not less than three weeks. On the U.S. Passports site, you can enter a country or area in the search field above the world map. For instance, by entering Australia and clicking go, you'll come to another page with visitor information. Under the section "Entry, Exit & Visa Requirements," you can find a link to the Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) to purchase an "electronic, label free visa." Of course ,if you aren't comfortable filling out the form online, you can always fill out the official visitor visa application.

Obtaining a visa is not always as easy as you will find with Australia. More information on visa requirements on other countries can be found through the aforementioned U.S. Passports website and respective embassies or consulates.

If you are unable to fill out the application electronically, you can mail it or deliver it in person to the embassy or consulate of the country you are visiting. You can find the nearest location to hand deliver an application to an embassy or foreign consulate through the U.S. Department of State website.

Randy Yagi is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he was awarded a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on