Travel agencies and visa outsourcing companies assist travelers in getting their passports and applying for visas to countries where they intend to travel. While it is possible to do these things without seeking assistance from them, having experienced professionals dedicated in the processing of these documents makes the passport application/renewal or visa application a more convenient undertaking.
Services from travel agencies and visa outsourcing companies require additional fees, but they really make the applications easier as clients just need to provide the legal documents required for their applications, and the agencies/companies will do the rest of the process so that applicants just need to wait for the results.
When to Use a Passport
Americans need to bring a passport every time s/he is traveling outside the U.S. and U.S. overseas territories. When traveling to nearby North American countries such as Canado and Mexico, a passport is also required. Only those traveling in a cruise that begins and ends in the same U.S. port (referred to as a closed-loop cruise) are not required to bring a passport. However, a certified birth certificate with a raised seal, a certificate of citizenship, or naturalization papers must be presented instead of a passport, along with any government-issued photo identification card such as a valid driver’s license. These documents are also required when traveling outside the U.S. mainland and going to other U.S. territories. For instance, when going to Hawaii or Puerto Rico, a passport is not required, but a U.S. citizen must bring valid identification and documentary requirements to prove U.S. citizenship.
When traveling outside the United States, the passport must be valid for at least six months beyond the duration of the intended trip. There should also be about two to four blank visa/stamp pages available in the passport.
When to Use a Visa
In general, foreigners intending to stay in other countries, regardless of purpose, need a visa to legally enter another country. However, a U.S. citizen can travel without applying for a visa in a number of countries, if traveling for a short period as a tourist or a businessman. The maximum length of stay depends on the country’s specific regulations. Travelers holding U.S. passports are usually allowed to stay for a few weeks to a few months. It is best to check on the embassy or consulate websites of the appropriate countries to get important information. However, for a person traveling for tourism or business, staying longer than the allotted time either requires a visa application or an application for extension of stay.
When purpose of travel is not for tourism or business, a U.S. citizen typically requires a visa for travel to another country. For instance, media professionals covering an event, even just for a few days of stay in a foreign country, are required to apply for visas. Americans conducting a scholarly research or wanting to study or work in a foreign country must also apply for visas.
Seeking Assistance from Travel Agencies
While it is possible and less expensive to apply for passports and visas without seeking assistance from travel agencies, doing so makes the application process more convenient for the traveler. Many travel agencies provide assistance for air, land, and sea travel. At the same time, they offer tour packages that can possibly be good deals or given at discounted rates to their clients. They also provide instructions, information, application forms, and travel documents processing required to ease the burden or work supposedly encountered by travelers on their own.
For passport applications/renewals or visa processing, what the travelers need to do is just provide all the necessary documents and submit them to the travel agencies. They will be the ones to verify and process the applications on behalf of the travelers.
In such cases when sudden or unplanned travel or other emergency situations require faster processing of the documents, it is possible to ask a travel agency to expedite the passport or visa application. While it entails higher fees, expediting a passport or visa application makes it possible for travelers to get their passport or visa documents within the required period of time.
Travel agencies can secure the necessary paper works not only for legal documentary requirements but also other traveling needs such as country information and guides through books, flyers, brochures, or even audio-visual presentations to make their clients’ trips more convenient and hassle free. Most travel packages from them also come with customer assistance services for emergencies during the travel. They may also assist travelers in acquiring travel insurances and getting significant contacts and services in their destination countries.
Applying for Visa Through Visa Outsourcing Companies
Unlike travel agencies, visa outsourcing companies specialize in servicing visa applications to specific countries. However, there are also private companies that offer both passport and visa services. Others even specialize in expedited passport and visa services. Instead of going directly to embassies or consulates, some may actually start their visa application through these outsourcing companies.
A number of foreign posts based in the United States utilize the services of these visa outsourcing companies. Many of them find outsourcing services beneficial for faster and more efficient processing of visa applications coming from all over the U.S.
Ideally, these companies receive the visa applications from the applicants. They assess and validate the documents they receive, then they send the completed documents to the embassy or consulate. This process assures the foreign posts that the documents they receive are already valid and complete. Once a visa application is processed, the approved or disapproved application goes back to the visa outsourcing company and the passport is sent back to the applicant depending on his prior choice of courier. There is usually an option for the passport to be personally picked up from the outsourcing office as well.
Visa outsourcing companies provides expedited visa applications for U.S. citizens. While such service costs more, expedited processing offers faster turnaround times. An expedited visa application of a U.S. passport holder can be processed within 24 hours.