By Essie Bester
If you are planning to travel abroad shortly, whether for work or pleasure, it is important to make sure that you have the necessary documents.
What documents should you have?
A passport is essential if you are planning to travel internationally (it must be valid for at least another six months). If you do not have one, you should apply well ahead of time so that your application can be processed in time for the passport to be ready. Complete the necessary form at Home Affairs. You will need your ID and birth certificate (for children). The photos and finger prints will be taken on the premises. If you already have a passport you must make sure that it will not expire before you return to South Africa.
A visa grants you conditional permission to visit a country for a specified period. Normally the visa is stamped or pasted in the bearer’s passport. There are different kinds of visa (such as work visas, tourists’ visas, etc.), each of which gives the bearer various rights in the host country.
For most visas you will have to travel to Johannesburg, Pretoria or Cape Town for the visa application. You need photos (of a specific size as laid down by the visa office) and six months’ bank statements (the rules are very strict in this regard). You must be able to prove that you have a current account. A letter of invitation (only certain countries require this), a copy of the information page of your passport, proof of the purpose of your visit, proof of reserved accommodation, a travelling plan, your air ticket and travelling insurance are required.
Some countries have travel agents that can help you with this directly. Some agents will make an appointment for you with the visa centre, pay the costs on your behalf and also help you with the necessary documentation. The visa photo regulations stipulate that you should look straight ahead with no hair in your face. Your ears must be open and you may smile.
It takes time to process visa applications. Therefore, apply as early as possible if you need one. Because the European countries are very strict, it can take between 10 and 15 days before a visa is issued. America and the United Kingdom are much quicker and usually it takes only between two to three workdays to get your visa. The cost of visas differ from country to country and some countries are very expensive.
Some countries issue visas on arrival. You should therefore check beforehand whether the country you plan to visit will issue a visa on your arrival. If not, you will have to apply for a tourist visa for that country.
What happens when a family member dies and you have to go abroad at short notice?
Tour travel agent will still make the usual application, but will also attach proof and letters of motivation so that the visa can be issued as quickly as possible. Your agent will also try to contact the consulate to explain the situation.
It is always better to have the local monetary unit at hand rather than using a credit or debit card or traveller’s cheques. Exchange your money for the applicable foreign currency on extravelmoney.com. If you prefer not to carry money on you, you can buy a prepaid travel card that you can charge with the foreign monetary unit of your choice. Find out more about this at your bank. You can use this, like a credit or debit card, to pay for your expenses in a local currency abroad and you can draw local cash at an ATM. A travel card is one of the best and easiest ways of carrying around foreign currency. You can charge it with cash at the start and then recharge it later as necessary.
Travel insurance is intended to cover medical emergencies, the cancellation of a trip, lost baggage and other emergencies that arise during a journey.
Travel insurance is not compulsory but it is good to have. Medical care abroad can be very expensive and the right travel insurance will cover you against such costs.
What travel insurance can do for you
Some travel insurance plans include cover for:
the refund of unauthorised credit card costs;
compensation for money used to replace a passport;
emergency cash advances for stranded travellers; and
a helpline for legal-aid services manned by people who can provide guidance.
Your air ticket is something you should think about well ahead of time. If you want to travel to a popular tourist destination during peak time, the chances are good that tickets will be very expenses. Advance bookings help because tickets are then usually cheaper. Keep a copy of your confirmed air ticket while you are travelling just for in case you lose the original. If the return flight has already been booked, you could keep a copy of it on you because some countries may want to see it before admitting you.
- Proof of accommodation or hotel booking
If you travel with a tourist visa or if you are visiting a country that issues a visa on arrival, the immigration counter will usually ask for proof of accommodation. A copy of your hotel reservation or an invitation by a family member or friend who lives there will usually be sufficient in such a case.