If you haven’t experienced the joys of overseas travel you may be somewhat apprehensive about what you are expected to do and when during the trip. This is primer.
#1. Visas. To determine whether or not you will need a visa go to the website of consulate of the destination country. You can usually access it through the country’s embassy. Or you can call the consulate.
The website will give you all of the information and forms you require. Typically, you fill out a form, print it, attach one or more visa (passport) sized photos and sent the package along with your passport to the consulate. However, read the instructions carefully: some countries (Russia comes to mind) have other requirements and failure to meet all of them will cost you time – possibly a lot of time. Send your passport and documents in some form of mail which can be tracked. I always require a signature as well. At some point your passport will be returned to you with the visa pasted to one of the pages. If you live near a consulate, you can usually drop off the documents and passport and pick it up at the designated time. In some cases, they will offer one day service. The are some countries which allow US passport holders to get a visa at the airport on arrival. This sounds convenient, but remember you will arrive exhausted and have to wait in yet another line for the visa. I don’t do it.
#2. On the day of departure you will need to arrive two hours (possibly more) prior to the flight. The airline will require your passport at check-in.
#3. During the flight you will be given some kind of entry form to fill out. The form may also tell you what items you must declare to the Customs official.
#4. Upon arrival in another country (whether or not they require a visa) you will first go through immigration or passport control (or some similar name) where you will spend a long time waiting in line for some indifferent official to put an illegible smear in your passport. Next stop: baggage. You will retrieve your bags and proceed to Customs and make a decision about whether you have anything to declare (see above). Travelers rarely have anything they are required to declare so you will proceed to the exit marked “Nothing to Declare” or something similar. It is often marked with a green light or symbol. Once through that door you are free!
If your itinerary includes other countries, you will go through the same process in each country with a few exceptions: The European Union allows you to go from one country to another without border controls. This is also true within the United Kingdom.
When you return to the US you have the same rigmarole: passport Control, baggage pick up, Customs. However, sometimes the Passport Officers send you off with a “Welcome Home” and that’s very nice indeed.