Many people who wish to travel abroad are unsure of documents they need or processes to follow for travel to a foreign country. This might seem strange at a time when more and more tourists are seen at iconic landmarks all over the world.
But in my experience as a travel professional, I have realized that even basic documentation scares people and the fear of things going wrong drives them to use travel agents for something as simple as a flight ticket. I guess when you are spending a substantial amount on a trip, you don’t want to take chances.
However, it isn’t that daunting.
Here is a description/list/guide to the 10 essentials a traveler would need when going to a foreign country –
1. PASSPORT – This is the most important document – if you don’t have a passport, you cannot travel abroad. The good news is you can apply for a passport online in most countries.
For the Indian passport website click here and check ‘Steps to apply’. It’s ideal to apply at least 2-3 months before your travel date as after the passport is issued, you still need to apply for a visa (unless the country you’re traveling to doesn’t require it) which also takes time.
If you’re in a hurry, apply under the tatkal scheme. There isn’t a separate Tatkal form – when you fill the online form, choose tatkal option under the ‘Type of application’ and pay an additional fees for the service. In some cases, passports have been re-issued in less than 24 hours and new passports within three days. However, for that to happen, all your papers should be in order and your residential address shouldn’t have changed so that police verification is quicker.
2. FLIGHT BOOKING – You need to show flight bookings, also called ‘proof of travel’, for many visa applications.
If you’re booking online, you need refundable flight tickets so that even if you don’t travel, you can get your money back. Travel agents have an advantage in that they can book flight tickets and cancel them before the time limit (time when unpaid bookings get cancelled) expires, so they don’t actually pay for the ticket.
3. HOTEL BOOKINGS – Another requirement for granting a visa is ‘proof of stay’, which means hotel bookings. Again, you should book hotels online which give you the maximum refund as close as possible to the date of your planned/proposed stay at the hotel.
If you wish to stay with relatives, they will have to issue a letter saying that you will stay with them and this is to be submitted when applying for a visa.
4. VISA – A visa is a document that, if granted, allows you to enter the country you wish to travel to. There are different types of visas but the one that generally applies to tourists is the tourist or visitors’ visa.
A few countries don’t require a visa or issue a visa on arrival. Most developed countries need you to have a visa stamped or affixed on your passport before you can even board a plane. Take a look at the visa requirements for Indians here
Different countries issue tourist visas for different duration – it could be 30 days to a few years. Visit the website of the country’s embassy/consulate you wish to travel to for more details.
Things to keep in mind –
A. Validity of passport – Most countries require that your passport be valid for at least 180 days (roughly six months) on the date of your RETURN to India. For example, if you are traveling to Thailand and returning to India on November 15, your passport should ideally not expire before May 15 next year.
Each country has its own rules. Click here for general information, but also check rules for Indian passport holders on the consulate/embassy website of the country you intend to travel to.
IMP: For travel to the U.S. (U.S.A.), the 180 day rule does not apply to Indian passport holders. Which means, your passport needs to be valid only for the intended period of stay. You can enter the U.S., stay for as long as the visa allows and return before the passport expires.
Schengen area countries, which is most of Europe (for the list of countries, click here), require at least 3 months validity while a few other countries ask for 270 days validity.
B. Transit Visa – If you are just spending 1-2 hours at one country’s airport on the way to another country, you might not need a transit visa. However, each country has its own rules and you should check with the airline you are flying whether or not a transit visa is needed.
C. Tentative itinerary – A tentative itinerary is required to tell the host country (country you’re visiting) which cities you plan to visit. It does not have to be too detailed like say, on day 1 in Venice which tourist attractions you will visit etc. It just needs to say Day 1-3 in Venice, day 4-6 in Rome etc.
D. Financial statements – Your bank statements, salary slips, income tax returns etc. are needed to show the host country that you have the financial means to travel. If you plan to stay with relatives, they have to produce a few financial documents as well to show that they can support you financially for the duration of your stay.
5. PREPAID FOREIGN EXCHANGE CARDS or INTERNATIONAL DEBIT/CREDIT CARDS – You cannot use Indian rupees in other countries, with the exception of Nepal. Otherwise, you need local currency or the most accepted currency forms like U.S. dollars or Euros.
Check online which currency is accepted in the country you’re traveling to. Foreign exchange or Forex cards are the most convenient way of carrying currency these days. Available at places like Thomas Cook (India) and at most banks, most of them will allow you to withdraw cash at ATMs, but at a fees (pay attention to the clause on ATM withdrawal fees and negotiate with them if needed). You need to check at what currency conversion rate the card is loaded and negotiate that too.
The other option is to have an international debit or credit card. Given incidents of misuse of these cards, it makes sense to keep a low balance in the savings account linked to such a card.
Be aware that whether you use the forex card or the international debit/credit card, you might have to pay ‘cross currency charges’ in certain cases. For example, if your forex card is loaded with dollars and you withdraw Thai Baht (THB), these charges might apply. These days cards offer cards with multiple currencies, just clarify the cross currency charges for minor currencies.
Basically, checking all charges for using a forex card or international debit/credit card before you leave will help you keep such expenses under check.
IMP: It is wise to carry some amount of foreign currency in cash for emergencies. Also, if you want a visa on arrival, certain countries like Thailand insist that you carry a certain amount of money in the local currency. Check the rules before you land up.
6. VACCINATION – If you plan to visit a country in say, Africa, you would need to get vaccinated before you go there. For example, a yellow fever vaccination certificate is mandatory/compulsory for travel to Kenya.
Keep in mind that in India, we fall short of yellow fever vaccines at times. So, plan to get vaccinated well in advance of your travel but not so much ahead that the vaccination is no longer valid. Check with the consulate/embassy where you can get vaccinated.
7. TRAVEL INSURANCE – Travel insurance is generally not mandatory. However, you cannot predict when illness might strike and since healthcare costs could be exorbitant, it is a good idea to take travel insurance.
You can choose from a range of companies that offer travel insurance online. Do read the fine print though to see what all the policy will cover (eg – property theft, accident, death etc.)
8. CALLING CARDS/LOCAL SIM CARDS – With WhatsApp, one doesn’t need international SIM cards as often. You can access free, publicly available Wifi networks and chat/do voice calls over Whatsapp.
Otherwise, you can buy prepaid calling cards, offering voice and data services, from companies such as Matrix in India.
Local SIM cards are the cheapest option if you’re going to be using your phone a lot. You can buy these cards from 7-Elevens, which are general convenience stores, in most places. Even airports might have counters for local SIM cards, but I’m not sure if they cost more than if bought at the 7-Eleven. Remember to check for cheap data plans if you plan to use the internet.
However, calling cards are the cheapest option for Canada.
9. SPARE PHOTOGRAPHS – Though these are not mandatory, it’s a good idea to carry a few extra passport sized photographs of yourself. The sizes of the photos should be – the one used on your passport and the one used in the visa form of the country you are visiting.
Check the embassy/consulate website of the countries you are visiting and get photos of the size mentioned. This will help if you are applying for visa on arrival or god forbid, you misplace/lose travel documents and need them to be re-issued.
10.PRESCRIPTIONS FOR MEDICINES – You might have been prescribed medicines for everyday use or you might want to just carry a few like Crocin (Paracetamol) etc. for emergencies. Don’t forget to carry a prescription for them.
Ask an allopathic doctor to write the prescription for each medicine you plan to carry on a proper letterhead (showing his registration no.) as certain countries are quite strict about this.
This covers it. So, if it’s your first time traveling abroad, you needn’t have the travel blues because now you have a fair idea of what is required. If it is your nth visit, you could probably use the checklist to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything.