Need to travel to a foreign country to apply for or renew a visa? Sounds like a mandatory holiday! Fun if you have the time and budget to take advantage of it, but for some, the game plan is in and out as fast as possible, and cheaply!
Here is a small guide to some, but not all of the tips and hacks that can shorten your visa trip, save you money and keep you sane.
Rise and shine: Early appointments are better
If you are fortunate enough to be planning your trip with decent notice, try to land an embassy appointment as early in the morning as possible. The lines and waiting times can get really long as the day wears on and if you can be in really early, provided your application is approved, you are giving yourself a greater chance of a fast passport return as they may start processing it that same day.
On the flip side, if you are later in the day, they may not start processing until the next day, adding extra time to turnaround.
Trying to get this trip wrapped up in a week or less? This may be out of your control (covered below) but if you are going to give yourself a chance, try and land that coveted Monday, early morning slot when searching for appointment times. On several visa trips to three different countries, it has been a strong factor in being able to pick up my passport on the Thu or Fri that same week.
Australians love a punt, I get it. You have done some research, sent a few messages and found a consensus for the turnaround times for an embassy that you have an appointment at. But you read a single post about someone saying they got their passport back in 2 days or you fancy yourself as a charming and convincing individual that can talk your way into an expedited passport processing request, and you booked your flights and accommodation on that belief.
Don’t do that.
Save yourself the stress and potential costs by being conservative here. It’s common to learn that an embassy processing time if approved is 5-7 business days, so plan for 7 and be prepared to pivot. And take note of ‘business days’ – your trip might swing from 5-10+ calendar days easily and you need to have set a budget and contingency plan that can accommodate.
Hopefully you took the advice above but you want to be able to bounce the second you get that passport in hand, and with luck, it’s faster than they advised. Book flights and accommodation that are flexible and have no change or cancellation fees.
Delta for example will charge no change fees if the flight is +/- 2 days from your booking and a similar seat. I ended up with a credit for moving my Tuesday flight to the earlier Sunday after my passport was picked up early on my last visa trip.
This is where it might pay to spend a little extra for the change and cancellation flexibility. Read the fine print at the very least.
Can I speak to the manager?
OK don’t do that. BUT, here is a small hack that has worked on several occasions to get my passport faster than the pick-up notification I was waiting for.
Assuming your visa was approved – If you log into the embassy portal that is managing your appointment, you can check the status of your visa, and it’s common to find that in 1-2 days it will be marked as ISSUED. Now if you simply go down to the collection location a day or two after that (I generally go 4-5 biz days after my interview took place), present your ID, and with a smile and some charm, state you are there to pick up your passport and perhaps feign some slight naivety or confusion if required, and you will find it is almost certainly there.
Any resistance at the pickup location? You could resort to explaining that you have an urgent need to pick up your passport so you can fly immediately and see if they will check it’s on-premise. This is where a little gambling can pay off – STRAYA.
Closed for the holiday?!
Pay attention to the calendar of the country and state you have the appointment booking. Your trip can have a lot of unwanted time added because you didn’t realize that there was a long weekend right in the middle of your trip. Between the public servants and courier company, they were less than productive in the lead into that holiday and backed up coming out of it and now you are waiting even longer than planned.
I’ll be back
After the stress of finding an available embassy during COVID (remember that nightmare?!), I decided to create a new DS160 soon after I landed my visa renewal, found an embassy taking appointments in the future, and booked it. Immediately. You can always move your day and time (up to 3x at the same location) and use that appointment for a new application, renewal, et, but rest easier knowing that when needed, you aren’t going to be online scrambling to find an available appointment somewhere. I was in Colombia renewing my Visa in mid-2021, shortly after I booked an appointment in the Bahamas for 2023 so I had something locked in. Then I periodically checked the embassy calendar until I found the perfect slot – 7:30 am Monday, two weeks before my visa was due to expire in 2023. I had that appointment confirmation on my calendar almost a year before the trip was due.
Have you tried Googling it?
Groups like Australians In New York on Facebook and America Josh's New Friends have near-daily posts with personal experiences and updates related to Visa trips. And there are dozens of social media groups like this all over the states.
Search for the location you are headed to in a group like that, filter by date, ignore anything that looks old as embassy and passport pick-up information changes frequently, and DM or @ people that have just been to your upcoming destination.
Also take a look at America Josh, US Visa Appointment Tracker and search for recent information. There is a big, helpful community out there. Just look for trends in the posts that apply to your situation, and don’t let the outlier horror stories panic you, but do try to learn from their lessons if something can be avoided.
5 additional hacks:
- Book a visa appointment in an off-season location to save thousands. You may have to fly a little longer and out of your hemisphere but it can be a game changer for the budget.
- Consider booking a single night accommodation within walking distance of the embassy the night prior to the interview. If you have that 7:30 am Monday appointment, you might not want to wake up at 5:00 am and stress about taxis or public transportation, you already have enough on your mind that day. And you might save $ by not having travel costs for the appointment.
- Pay attention to the location of the passport pick-up, it might influence where you book the remainder of your accommodation. Expensive taxis or car hire might not be needed with some research.
- Trying to save $ by not having to eat in restaurants for the next 1-2 weeks? After your interview, book accommodation with a kitchen, hit a local grocery store and live like a local while you wait for the passport.
- Border control at JFK and other major cities can be infamously slow and tedious on return. Consider flying into a smaller airport without thousands of other travelers to avoid the lines, OR, book an appointment in a country that will screen you before you leave. Nassau, Bahamas for example has border control before you depart so that flight back to JFK feels a lot more relaxing knowing you won’t depart the plane and get stuck in that punishing line.
Best of luck on your next trip!
Special thanks to Camissa Markel for the legal representation on my visa application!
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