The ever-changing nature of immigration requirements presents a good reminder for travellers to be well prepared – and better informed.
According to Mr Jiten Vyas, Regional Group COO at leading visa outsourcing and technology services specialist, VFS Global, the excitement of going on holiday is often marred by last-minute stress due to failed planning. “Planning a holiday away with the family can be exciting, but to ensure a hassle-free experience, prior preparation and attention to detail is key.”
To avoid disappointment, Mr Vyas encourages travellers to research and understand the local rules and regulations for their intended destination in the initial stages when picking a country to visit. He shares his smart travel checklist for a hassle-free holiday:
Pack and check your passport:
Packing your passport may seem like an obvious thing to do for many travellers, but in addition to this, you need to ensure the validity of the passport well in advance. “South African nationals looking to travel abroad need to ensure their passports are valid by checking the expiry dates on a regular basis. Some countries require a 6-month validity buffer from the day of arrival or the day of your return,” says Mr Vyas.
Verify the visa requirements:
Although the list of visa-free countries for South Africans continues to increase, it remains the travellers’ responsibility to ensure they meet the requirements of the destination country. According to the Henley Passport Index, South Africa’s passport is ranked as the 53rd most powerful passport out of 107 countries. Essentially, the power in a passport lies in the number of countries the passport holder can enter visa-free.
For some countries, South African passport holders can be issued with a visa stamped on arrival, or enter on a free e-visa at the port of entry of their destination country. When planning your travels, always book flights and hotels in advance. Do the same for visas, says Mr Vyas. “Most countries accept visa applications up to 90 days before your date of travel. So, don’t wait until the last minute as the assessment of a visa application by a government could take longer than expected, especially during peak season.
Planning a holiday away with the family can be exciting, but to ensure a hassle-free experience, prior preparation and attention to detail is key
“Do your research and ensure you have sufficient time for visa applications. You can also opt for value-added service, for added peace of mind. VFS Global offers SMS notifications and door-to-door courier drop off options, as well as Premium Lounge service for a luxurious and personalised experience – provided you are applying for a visa to visit a country that we offer visa services for at your location!”
Don’t just check the weather:
Although this could be the last thing on your mind when planning a getaway, it is very important to note that geopolitical risks play a significant role in the overall enjoyment of your holiday. When researching your preferred destination, don’t just stop at checking what the local weather is like, but also review the geopolitical climate. Mr Vyas says, “It’s very important to read up on Government travel advisories on their respective websites; that way you know what to do as a foreign national in the event of an emergency and if you need to be evacuated from the country. Risks can be in the form of political unrest and even natural disasters. Ensure you follow general safety precautions and be aware of the local cultural sensitivities”.
Be financially prepared:
From using cash to spending with your credit card, there are a few things to consider while you travel abroad. It is advisable to keep local currency handy for all emergency purposes during your trip; this will also take the stress out of your local market visits where card transactions may not be possible. Debit and credit cards are a convenient way to make payments abroad, but before you swipe away, familiarise yourself with your bank’s service charge and mark-up amount on the conversion rate. “Exchange rates at airports often have a 10 per cent mark-up and are a notch higher than the exchange rates offered by local money changers. Avoid these currency rates by planning in advance and getting the currency changed from a local bank,” adds Mr Vyas.
Before embarking on your trip, save all your important phone numbers. These include the contact details of family and friends back home, your hotel and emergency service numbers for the travel destination. Call your network provider to set up roaming to ensure you can communicate in the event that you are out of a Wi-Fi network. “Travelling can be daunting,” says Mr Vyas, “but there are travel apps that can make your life easier. Update your banking apps, download translation apps and find out about e-hailing services in your destination country so you can download the app in advance.”
Have your health documents ready:
To enter certain countries, travellers may need vaccinations or medical requirements. “Health requirements are not to be taken lightly. For example, if you need a Yellow Fever certificate, make sure you get one. You don’t want to be turned away at immigration because you’ve flouted a country’s travel health code,” says Mr Vyas.
“Keeping up with the constantly changing travel requirements may seem a cumbersome task. However, by doing proper research on your travel destination and planning, your travel experience should be smooth sailing!” he concludes.