It is important to understand how, when, and where to obtain necessary travel documents, including passports and different types of visas.
If you are planning to travel outside of the United States, you will need a passport. Make sure your passport will be valid for at least six months after you return home and that it has two or more blank pages.
If you do not currently have a valid passport, submit an application to the U.S. Department of State (or your home country’s foreign ministry) in a timely manner in order to request or renew one. Processing times for a U.S. passport can vary between 2-6 weeks depending on the time of year; some countries may have longer processing times.
In order to obtain a new U.S. passport or a passport renewal, it is important to learn how to apply and where to apply.
If you lose your passport while traveling outside the United States, contact your nearest U.S. embassy or consulate to replace your passport.
For each country you visit, determine if you need a visa, and make sure you obtain the correct type of visa based on your trip purpose. You are responsible for submitting visa applications well in advance of departure, and for collecting invitation letters or other supporting documentation when required.
Visa information is available from the consular/embassy in the U.S. for the country you are traveling to. Some countries require you to appear in person at the consulate (fortunately most countries have consulates in New York). Websites of foreign embassies in the United States provide further application information. In addition, the visa processing firm CIBT has a useful tool for determining visa requirements.
If you will be traveling to Europe for an extended period of time (multiple weeks), you should know what a Schengen Visa is. The Schengen area is the entirety of the European Union plus Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, Lichtenstein and minus Romania, Bulgaria, Ireland, the UK, Cyprus, and Croatia. If you get a tourist or business visa from one of these countries it is colloquially known as a Schengen visa. If you are an American citizen or from certain other countries and you travel to one of these countries without a visa you are allowed to stay for up to 90 days in any 6 month period for tourist or business purposes. However travel between any of these Schengen countries counts towards the same 90-day visa allotment.
Protecting Your Documents While Traveling
Make two copies of your passport identification page and any visas. You should keep one copy in your baggage (separate from the originals) and leave a second copy at home with a family member or trusted friend. Consider emailing a copy to yourself for emergencies (but remember email is not a secure mode of communication).