A visa is written documentation from a particular country indicating that you have legal permission to visit that country for a prescribed number of days during a set period of time. Whether or not you need a visa depends on 1) your citizenship and 2) the country where you want to travel.
For Americans traveling abroad, the U.S. Department of State has an easy-to-use website that indicates whether or not you need a visa and the process for obtaining one. It also includes information and safety advisories for traveling in that country.
When traveling abroad, especially in potentially hostile areas, it’s a good idea to register your travel itinerary with the State Department through the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program.
I would also suggest downloading the Smart Traveler app before your departure.
For our trip, we needed to order visas for Cambodia, Nepal, and Tanzania in advance. Each country has specific instructions, but in general, you need to send:
- Actual passport
- Additional passport-sized photos
- Self-addressed, stamped return envelope (I’d recommend a first-class USPS envelope.)
- Money order for visa fee (typically $75-100/person)
- Notarized letter of permission for minors
It is a little nerve-racking mailing off your official passports to a country’s embassy, but in our case, they were returned promptly without incident. If you need to apply to multiple countries, make sure to give yourself ample time to complete the process. Some countries will allow you to start the process 6 months in advance of your visit; other countries require you to complete the process 90 days in advance.
For our long layover in Istanbul, Turkey, we applied for e-Visas online for $20/each and received them instantaneously. For the United Arab Emirates, we will obtain our free visas at the airport.
We did not need visas for England, French Polynesia, the Netherlands, New Zealand or Thailand.