Get your legal paperwork in order

One task to address early when preparing for your trip is getting your legal paperwork in order. For the most part, this means getting your passport and visa, but certain countries also require proof of yellow fever vaccine. We’ll talk about vaccinations in the next step, so for now, we’ll focus on getting your passport and visa.

What’s the difference between a passport and a visa?

Your passport is issued by the US Government and serves as your identification and proof of citizenship while traveling abroad. A Visa is issued by the country you’ll be visiting and gives you permission to enter and stay in that country for the applicable purpose, such as tourism, business, work, or study. You may just get a stamp in your passport when you arrive to serve as your visa, but in some cases, you’ll need to get the visa prior to travel.

We’ve provided the link to the US Department of State’s website that gives you the details for the country you are visiting, and it also provides locations at which you can get a passport. Just as an example, if you were traveling to Kenya, your passport must be valid for at least 6 months after the date you would depart Kenya, and you must have visa paperwork in hand upon arrival. Alternatively, Nicaragua doesn’t require a visa, but you’ll have to purchase a tourist card upon arrival.

Tasks for this step

1. Apply for or renew your passport.

Do you have a passport?

If not, start the application process as soon as possible by checking out this State Department website: http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/passports.html.

If you want to take your passport photo yourself, here are the rules: passport photo rules

If you already have a passport, is it valid for the length of time required by the destination country (for some countries, this is 6 months after your scheduled departure)? You can find out the requirements for your destination at the state department’s site listed above. This is extremely important! We know of people getting turned away at the airport because their passport did not have an adequate amount of time left before expiration.

If you answered no to either question, complete your passport application and get your passport by going to the same site listed above.

If you answered yes to both of the questions above or have started the passport application process, then you are all set as far as your passport goes, and it’s time to determine visa requirements for your destination.

2. Check your destination’s requirements for a visa.

There may be tasks for you to complete prior to leaving the US. To learn about your destination’s visa requirements, go to this website from the Department of State and select your destination where indicated:
http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/country.html

3. Secure your documents

Once you have these documents, store them in a folder for the trip or some other safe place so you will know where they are and not be searching for them later on. If you are required to have a proof of Yellow Fever vaccination, keep that card with your passport.