Passports and visas: 10 things first time travellers need to know

2017-09-24 08:05 - Gabi Zietsman
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Cape Town - First time travelling abroad? Stressed about the harrowing trip to embassies and Home Affairs? These ten tips will help to lessen your holiday worries for a more carefree trip.

You finally made the time and saved enough cash for your first overseas trip, but you start sweating as soon as you start thinking about sorting out your travel documents. You've heard about your cousin's 3 hour-delay at passport control or the visa approval nightmares that circulate on social media, but as long you don't have a secret criminal alter ego you should be good to go.

These tips can also help.

1. Triple check your visa requirements

Unlike a sought-after USA or European passport, we South Africans have less options when it comes to visa-free countries aka hassle-free travel destinations. Always make doubly sure about the visa requirements for South Africans for the country you're visiting from multiple internet sources and do a third check by just calling up the country's embassy in South Africa. Don't despair too much though - there are at least 92 countries where the Green Mamba has no visa requirements.

SEE: Visa-free travel: Where your South African passport can take you

2. Applying to First World Countries

Flying to Europe, Australia or USA? Their visa processes are known to be a drag, so try to do your application three months in advance, or six weeks minimum. Make sure you make a list of all the documents you need and that you keep a paper trail of all your transactions and interactions with the relevant embassy, in case they make life difficult. Once you get your visa, make sure you use a reputable courier service if you can't pick it up and hope that the exchange rate doesn't do another Nene - #thirdworldproblems.

READ: Visas 101: Everything you need to know about applying for a tourist visa

3. Dual citizenship

If you happen to have dual citizenship, your options for visa-free travel has just doubled, especially if you have a highly coveted First World passport. Make sure that you leave and enter your home country with your SA passport, and then enter and exit the country where your second passport has less visa restrictions. In South Africa it's illegal to enter and leave on a different passport so try not to be gangster.

ALSO SEE: UK Ancestral Visa: 3 Common mistakes SA applicants make

4. Applying for a new passport isn't as awful as it used to be

All kinds of nasty stories have come out of the bowels of Horror Affairs, but from personal experience these days it's not such an excruciating experience. Since they upgraded to a more efficient online biometric system, the process has been streamlined, with no paperwork to fill in and those glamourous ID photos are taken at the branch you're applying at. All you need is your ID, unless DHA is plagued by another strike.

PICS: Home Affairs launches online passport and ID applications

5. Don't throw old passports away

Hold on to your old passport, even if you've never used it. Some countries want to see where you've been and in an age where countries are zooming in on where people have travelled before it's better to have it than not. It can also be used as a backup to prove your identity in case something happens to your new one. Just make sure you don't give the expired one to the passport control officer!

6. Child Passports

If you're travelling with a child under 15 years of age, you're going to need both parents on board to do the application, married or not. In the case of death of one parent, you need the death certificate, and for other special cases you need a letter from the Children's Court, or if you are the guardian you need a letter from the High Court. If you're getting a bit confused, use this handy website to figure out what you need to do. Also remember to apply for the unabridged birth certificate well in advance. If you have all of this covered, the only thing left is to pray for a quiet plane trip.

SEE: SA can do much to make travel easier for families - Jo-Ann Strauss

7. Make certified copies of your passport

Before heading off on your Instagram-happy holiday, make a few scans of your newly-minted passport and pop over to your local police station, post office or bank to get them certified. Also leave one with a close relative or friend in case you need their help back home. You can't predict when a Hurricane Irma might descend on your tropical holiday, and spreading out a few copies among your bags will help if you lose your original passport in the turmoil. You can never be too prepared!

WATCH: View from inside Hurricane Irma, as destruction continues

8. Know your SA embassy or consulate

Look up the address and phone number of the SA consulate or embassy in the country you are visiting and save it on your phone, keep a copy in your wallet and write the details on the back of your passport's certified copies. When things go down you want to know your country has your back, or can at least communicate with your family at home if you're in trouble. Just don't call them to ask for directions to the nearest McDonald's.

WARNING: Warning: Your passport 'expires' three months before it expires!

9. If you're struggling with your visa, hire a professional

Hiring a third party to help out with visa applications might seem like a waste of money when you can do it yourself, but if you have a short notice period or travelling in a large group, the hassle saved is worth the price. They know all the loopholes to getting it processed faster, and will follow up on your behalf saving you time. There are lots of companies you can approach, but always check online reviews and ask the social media universe for advice.

READ: #AfriTravel: How Africa’s visa-free passport aims to boost tourism and trade

10. Keep it friendly at passport control

The passport control officers have had long days of people hustling through to their more exciting destinations - the least you can do is greet them with a smile and have all your documents ready. To go through faster aim for the queue with the least families and more solo travellers. If there's a problem, remain as friendly as possible and it'll go smoother, and always have a pen with you! At borders pens are rare and exotic creatures and most people end up singing the 'have you got a pen?' song.

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