Step 3: Securing visas

Booking our trip made everything very real. That is, we went from speculating the steps between planning and traveling to actually walking them. The morning after we booked, we all had individualized itineraries waiting in our inboxes with information about our trip insurance policies, flight change policies, and, most importantly, information about visa policies.

Of our six destinations, only India and China required visas. Greece is party to the Schengen Agreement, and Thailand, Singapore, and the Philippines have welcoming travel policies for Western tourists. Still, securing just the Indian and Chinese visas posed burdensome tasks…(stay tuned)

UPDATE:

China – The China visa was tricky at first. It cannot be mailed to either the Chinese Embassy or a regional office. We could have done it in person, but we would have had to go to New York City to accomplish this (or, in Ryan’s case…to L.A.). Side-note: the in-person visa process in China is excruciatingly laborious (several hours, lack of clarity, difficult communication). So, we turned to the folks at VisaHQ.com for our China visa. They streamline the process by making requirements clear and easy to understand and they ask only little additional information in addition to a $44.95 fee to process any visa for any country. So we express mailed all five passports, including return shipping, and split the costs. All in all, our China visas cost us $140 + $44.95 + $11 = $196 / person. Yikes! Still, compared to the headache we later faced for the India visas…this seemed like a reasonable price.

India – The Indian visa is – ironically – handled by Travisa Outsourcing, an American firm charged with handling several countries’ visas, including India. Travisa Outsourcing is an unimpressive outfit. Compared to our experience at VisaHQ, we found the service at Travisa lacking in clarity, ease of use, and simplicity. Still, because it charged less than the folks at VisaHQ, we had to use it. We sent them all the required documents as we had for our China visa. Then, several days later, we received confirmation that they received the material. Several days following that notification, we got another message indicating there was a payment error on one of our applications, so NONE of them had been processed. We were frustrated about this, so we called…and we called…and we called…and we called…and we called….and after the umpteenth try, a rather rude woman answered. We asked why it took them a week between confirming the receipt of our documents and notifying us of a payment error – shouldn’t those be sequential steps? After all, we had a deadline pending. She replied harshly that it’s not their fault we failed to plan ahead and account for these issues. While we do take responsibility for the error, there is something to be said about Travisa Outsourcing’s lack of customer service. At the end of the day, we received our visas in the nick of time. Phew!

The most important lesson we learned from this step was that there is NO easy way to secure a visa unless you can afford to pay an agent like VisaHQ. If you can afford VisaHQ for all your visa needs – use them! If you cannot, save yourself the headache and anxiety, and just go get the visas in person.

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