Travelling Internationally: Visas, passports and border control
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I said that I would write about this after our experience in New York and now I’ve got the time to reflect on it, here it is.
If there are two things you need to go travelling, then it is a passport and a visa. You won’t get very far without these, so it is worth getting them sorted well in advance.
Naturally, we did this. Or at least we have so far. Hence, I now feel like I can comment on our experiences to date.
Getting Our Passports
Fortunately, we already had passports. I got the kids their passports when Alice was a few weeks old. I did this in a fit of panic over Brexit, worrying if some Handmaid’s Tale style regime came into force that I would want to get my family out of the country.
Anyway, it served me well as it meant that it was one less thing to sort ahead of this trip. Plus, the girls now have some adorable passport photos. Think chubby, new-born Alice asleep.
Every country has different entry requirements. These range from almost non-existent to practically impossible. Therefore, we have been researching each country thoroughly before making plans to head there.
Being a UK citizen goes a long way with this one. Many countries do not require UK citizens to apply for a visa for short trips (definition of this varies) for the purpose of tourism.
The main exception to this on our trip is the USA. Although, for stays less than three months, we do not require a visa we do need an ESTA which is a form of a visa waiver.
ESTA stands for Electronic System for Travel Authorisation and true to the name you do it all online. We applied for ours a month before we travelled and got authorisation through on the same day.
Once this is done (and you’ve paid the $14 per person fee), you don’t need to do anything else. On arrival in the US, the border control people should have your application on their system.
When we arrived in New York, border control was a nightmare. Because we had the kids, we were the last ones getting off the plane. Then we got held in a pre-queue queue.
Once out of the pre-queue queue, Emily decided that she needed a wee, so we went to the toilets. By the time all this was done, we were well and truly at the back of the queue.
We queued for ages. The only people in the queue with two tired and annoying kids. In the end, I flipped and asked someone slightly official-looking if there was a line for people with families. Turns out there wasn’t, but he let us queue jump anyway.
Arriving in Colombia, the border control system was much easier. We were ushered into a line for people with wheelchairs and families and were through in under five minutes.
Proving an onward journey
One thing that we have found frustrating is the need to prove that we have a return or onward journey.
For some countries, this is a requirement of entry and therefore it needs planning in advance. The USA is strict about this as we found out.
Before you can even check-in for your flight, you need to prove that you are going to leave the USA. But not just the USA, you must prove that you are leaving loads of the neighbouring countries too.
Our original plan was to go from the USA to the Bahamas and we had our flights booked. However, we were unsure about visiting the Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian so hadn’t made arrangements to leave.
When we arrived at Gatwick airport to check-in, we were told that to enter the US we needed to prove that we were leaving THE BAHAMAS. Hence, we had to make some quick decisions and booked flights to Colombia instead.
We were asked to prove our onward journey when we were boarding our flight to Colombia too. Luckily, we already had tickets booked for our trip to Peru.
We have only had to do this once on the way to Colombia. The air hostess handed out declarations forms for us to complete before we landed.
Unfortunately for us, they were all in Spanish. On the plus side, I got chatting to the lovely American lady sat next to me and she was able to help me out.
When we arrived in Colombia, we didn’t even need the form and walked straight through the gate that said “nothing to declare”.
Paperwork is key
Being informed about entry requirements before we set off to a new country is key. We don’t want stress in the airports so we know how important it is to have everything sorted in advance.
Disclaimer: Remember the information you read here does not represent advice. Any ideas or suggestions are just that and may not work for you. Read the full disclaimer here.