Applying for a Foreign Tourist Visa: How to Save Time and Money

Applying for a foreign tourist visa does not have to be difficult or expensive.  In fact by following some simple steps, I can show you how to speed up the entire process for less moola.  As a result, you can focus more of your time and funds on your fabulous voyage.

Applying for a Foreign Tourist Visa: How to Save Time and Money

Applying for a foreign tourist visa. The complex photo requirements for a Chinese visa.
Applying for a foreign tourist visa. The complex photo requirements for a Chinese visa.

Admittedly the visa application process intimidated me at first.  I even unnecessarily spent hundreds of dollars using an agency to acquire my Chinese visa.  Even though the service simplified the steps, in the end they elongated the timeline while simultaneously doubling my costs.

Or consider my application for an Egyptian visa.  The company organizing my Nile expedition this fall recommended using a third party visa service.  Thankfully I had also researched Egyptian visa requirements on my own and realized I could apply online, saving over fifty percent as compared with using the agency.  Plus I could keep my passport in my possession.

Since I live abroad in Mexico, I would pay additional costs to courier my application and passport overseas to the US agency.  Also relinquishing my passport for several weeks while living in foreign country posses a unique set of problems.  What if I’m stopped by immigration in Mexico?  How about if I need to return home to the USA in an emergency?

Why would a tour company suggest using a service that costs more and takes extra time?   Quite simply a visa agency streamlines the process for their clients. Many travelers will fork over more just to avoid having to tackle the intimidating visa process themselves.  And most likely the tour company receives a kick back from each visa issued.

However, I reason why pay twice as much when you can easily do it yourself?  Therefore, learn from my mistakes and reap the rewards.  Please follow these steps to save yourself time and money.

Applying for a foreign tourist visa. Page 1 of 4 from a Chinese visa application through Generations Visa. The Chinese application had the most complex requirements out of any visa application I've seen.
Applying for a foreign tourist visa. Page 1 of 4 from a Chinese visa application through Generations Visa. The Chinese application had the most complex requirements out of any visa application I’ve seen.

First: Make sure you actually need a foreign tourist visa.

Many countries don’t require visas.  Check the state department’s website in your homeland.  Or use Lonely Planet.  They offer a plethora of visa information in a user-friendly format.

Please find below some helpful links.  If your home country is not listed, try Lonely Planet or Google.

Australian Home Affairs: https://www.homeaffairs.gov.au/Trav

Europe: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/uk-visas-and-immigration

US State Department: https://www.state.gov/

Lonely Planet: https://www.lonelyplanet.com/

Second:  If you indeed need a foreign tourist visa, determine how you can apply.

If you do require a visa there are essentially four ways to obtain one: online, at the border, at an embassy or through a third party service.  If you can receive one online, select that option.  Otherwise, grab one at the border.

When these two options aren’t available, consider applying at an embassy in your home country.  Lastly, if these three options are taken, or if you want to simplifying the process, select a third party visa service.  Kindly find below an explanation of each process.

a – Apply online for your foreign tourist visa

Whenever possible apply online for your visa.  However please search Lonely Planet to verify the availability of this option based on your nationality and destination.  Obtaining an online visa negates the possibility of being denied one at the border.  Plus you save time and money from having to request one at an embassy or through a third party service.

b – Apply at the border for a foreign tourist visa

In lieu of an online application consider waiting till you arrive at your desired destination.  Many countries allow you to request a visa upon landing at the airport or arriving at a land border crossing.  However, please check the requirements online beforehand so you can be prepared when you enter.

Applying for a foreign tourist visa. Page from an Egyptian visa application through Generations Visa. Luckily I can apply online for less money.
Applying for a foreign tourist visa. Page from an Egyptian visa application through Generations Visa. Luckily I can apply online for less money.

c – Apply at an embassy for a foreign tourist visa

When online and border options are not available, check to see if you can apply at an embassy in your home country.  Most definitely the process will require less time and money then using a third party service.  You likely with have to leave your passport, but often you get it back within a few days.

For example consider my Chinese visa application last year.  Unfortunately I used a visa service which cost me double plus international courier fees.  Also I regrettably relinquished my passport for a month since I had to FedEx it back to the US from Mexico along with my application.

In retrospect, I could have instead flown to New York or Washington D.C. and obtained the visa myself from the Chinese embassy.  Furthermore it would have only taken three days instead of fifteen.  Plus I could have turned the process into a mini-vacation.

d –  Use a third party visa service.

When none of the above options are available, use a third party visa service.  They make the process pain free.  Even though visa agencies cost more, they eliminate a lot of the stress and work out of the visa application process.

For US citizens I recommend using Generations Visa Service.  Otherwise, for non-US citizens please search online for visa companies in your country of origin.  Regrettably I refrain from recommending agencies I’ve never used.

My conclusion to the foreign tourist visa process

Whenever possible apply for your foreign tourist visa online, or secure it at the border.  Otherwise obtain it from an embassy in your home country.  You can always rely on third party visa agencies, but they will cost you more in time and money.

Do you have any interesting visa stories?

Please let me know in the comments.

Happy travels,

Matt Weatherbee

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Matt Weatherbee

Hi, I’m Matt.  In 2008 I quit my job, sold everything and drove from Boston to Mexico to start a business.  Now I live and work in the Carribean, and spend my free time traveling the globe.  Learn more.

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