Oh the Places You’ll Go!

It seems so simple – passport = travel to other countries.  I mean, I can make a reservation from JFK to Moscow on Expedia snippity-snap and take some pictures in Red Square should I so wish, right?  RIGHT?

Not really.  That fancy passport is pretty awesome, I’ll agree.  It is a ticket to quite a lot of interesting places and experiences.  But sometimes it takes a little more than showing up with a smile and a blank page waiting for a stamp.

A WHOLE PAGE?  It takes up a whole page?  That's expensive real estate right there!
A WHOLE PAGE? It takes up a whole page? That’s expensive real estate right there!

It takes… *cue O Fortuna*… a VISA!  American citizens can visit 172 countries without a visa or with a visa upon arrival.  The rest of them take some legwork, and a few of them have some very onerous requirements.

And what about those countries?  

Let’s start with the eye-raising.

A few days ago on my daily perusal of  Air Fare Watch Dog I saw a really awesome price for a round-trip ticket to Shanghai.   Being the Amy Tan fan that I have been since my first reading of The Joy Luck Club, I thought such a ticket merited a much closer look and I decided to do a bit of research for a someday trip to China.

FOUR PAGES?  Yes.  Four pages.  Want to visit the Great Wall as a tourist?  Four pages.  Fill them out.  Want more explanation?  Go here.

I was also curious about the part on the visa application which requested a list of all countries visited in the last twelve months.  I wonder, does China ever turn anyone down for visiting the wrong place?   In any case, if you use a tour company (and without speaking the language or any familiarity with China itself, that’s probably your best bet) they will take care of all of this for you and your life will be ever so much easier.

China is super used to American visitors, and so even though the paperwork seems to be excessive, the whole process seems to move along at a decent pace.

That is not so true, however, should you want to check out Lenin’s Tomb (and I really, really want to do this someday).

This story here about one person’s experience trying to get a visa to visit Russia had me rolling on the floor in laughter.  Not laughing AT you understand, but hopefully laughing WITH.  When things get this crazy, sometimes laughing is all you can do!  It also reminded me of a joke passport we purchased in Budapest that had questions in it like, “Number of family members taking part int he Great October Socialist Revolution? ”  and “How much vodka can you drink?”

I’ve shown that joke passport to multiple Russian friends, and they all spent at least five minutes in teary laughter.  “It’s so true!” one of them said.

Finish this!  Lenin lived, Lenin is alive, Lenin.....
Finish this! Lenin lived, Lenin is alive, Lenin…..

If you want the full list of what is needed for a Russian visitor’s visa – look here.

And no matter where you go – make sure you have one of these!

Yes, we have no tuberculosis!  We have no tuberculosis today!
Yes, we have no tuberculosis! We have no tuberculosis today!

I realize that you may be going to a place that doesn’t require you to submit a shot record – we didn’t have to take one along when we visited the UK from America.  But I like to live on the travel edge, and we take lots of last minute trips when the deals present themselves.  Having everything needed for everywhere has made that much easier.

I’ve also heard of cases where people transiting through South Africa have been turned back at the airport for not having the appropriate vaccines.  Mind you, they weren’t visiting South Africa, they were merely transiting.  Doesn’t matter.  Make sure you have those shots!

And since we’re on the subject of visas, passports and transiting – I’d like to take a moment to give a bow of thanks to Germany for lining their entry and exit stamps in such a lovely manner.  I’m supposed to be able to fit four stamps per page, and with true German love of order, every time I transit through Frankfurt I get a beautifully aligned page like this:

The symmetry of stamps from Germany just speaks to me.
The symmetry of stamps from Germany just speaks to me.

If you haven’t traveled much overseas, don’t worry.  It’s really not that hard to get through immigration in foreign countries.  With the exception of London Heathrow, you usually just exit the plane.  You can’t really go anywhere except toward immigration!

As for visas – if you know where you want to visit you can look up the procedure for going anywhere in the world.  And when in doubt, use a travel agent.