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June 2004 Vol. 19, No. 6   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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And Don't Forget Your Visa

from the June, 2004 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Many traveling Undercurrent subscribers undertake additional tours before or after a dive trip. In today's post 9/11 world, valid passports and visas are a must for travel. I learned that before a planned stopover in Hanoi on my return trip from Thailand. As I prepared to board a flight for Hanoi in Phuket, the ticket agent handed back my passport. "Where is your Vietnam visa? You can't fly to Hanoi without one."

I was startled. I'd put my faith in my travel agent to handle the travel requirements or at least inform me of my responsibility, and I was stuck. I was sent to Bangkok where Vietnam Airlines determined that I could get a visa at the Hanoi airport, so I plodded on to Hanoi, only to learn it wasn't true. I was detained for 22 hours in a shabby airport "transit" room, and when the efforts of my Hanoi tour agency failed to get me a visa -- they simply didn't have enough time to work through the bureaucracy -- I was escorted directly to a flight to Singapore.

My U.S. travel agent said he had no responsibility because he didn't book my land travel in Vietnam -- though he did book the flights. He whined that he barely made five percent on my fare. So what!

Yes, as a savvy traveler, I should have known to get a visa. So I want to suggest that you personally check all official travel requirements. There's hardly a country today that doesn't require a passport and more and more are requiring visas, if for no other reason than as retribution to U.S. citizens for new U.S. immigration rules. Today, "proof of U.S. citizenship" means a passport, not a birth certificate. Having your passport or visa expire while you're in another country can mean detention. And, if your passport isn't valid six months beyond your departure date, you may not be allowed to leave home in the first place.

NEED A PASSPORT OR VISA IN 48 HOURS, OR A WEEK? Travel Document Systems makes it easy with their online registration. Find them at www.traveldocs.com to fill out a form online or call their Washington, D.C., office at 800-874-5100 or 202-638-3800, or the San Francisco office at 888-874-5100 or 415-773-2829. You pay according to how quickly you need it, and they can handle requests in a couple of days.

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