MISSIONARY’S SURVIVAL GUIDE #5: Passports and Visas

passportsLIf you’ve never traveled abroad before then this month’s entry in the Missionary’s Survival Guide may come to be a headache, albeit a necessary one. In order to spend any amount of time in a foreign country, usually it’s expected that you get a passport and in some cases a visa showing you are authorized to be there. This may sound like a “duh” moment, but customs and immigration agents the world over continue to encounter people who seemingly don’t know the meaning of that three letter word. Once you do get this business in order, you will have bridged a secular gateway to doing the work of the Lord, as He wants things done legally, in decency and in order.

passport_0A passport is a document issued by your own national government testifying of your identity and nationality for international travel. There are many versions ranging from ordinary types for tourists to U.N. sanctioned passports for government employees. These days there is also a passport card, but it is used for entering the United States from bordering or nearby territories like Mexico, the Caribbean and Bahamas. It is not useful for other international travel.

If you are under the age of 16 or it’s your first time applying for a passport, you must do so in person at a passport acceptance facility (sometimes a post office). Make sure you bring; materials that validate your citizenship like a driver’s license, birth certificate or current military ID, photocopies of the front and back of these materials on plain white 81/2 x 11 paper and 1 passport sized photo. Passport fees are higher than when I first got mine 12 years ago and you can expect to pay $140 for a passport book and card or $110 for only the book.

A typical Chinese visa, not too different from the one I received last year.

A typical Chinese visa, not too different from the one I received last year.

Contrary to popular belief, though the passport guarantees safe return to your own country, it does not automatically guarantee that you will be allowed into a foreign country, as nations have their own complex laws and systems for immigration. This is where the coveted visa, a document showing that you are authorized to enter the territory for which it is issued, comes into play. Unlike the small passport visas that immigration officers stamp on arrival into their country, these visas are many times placed as stickers onto those same pages. They show what country you are permitted to enter and how long you will be there. These time periods vary depending on what kind of visa you get and can be anywhere from several months to permanent. Since requirements differ from country to country, the best place to get information on how to obtain this vital document is at an embassy of the country where you plan to visit. Check online for locations in your city and don’t be surprised if what they ask for resembles passport criteria. For the missionary, the religious visa is a considerably helpful choice and may involve having a religious institution in your home country and one in the place you hope to go to both vouch for you. Ask about this at the embassy.

Ahh…now, that wasn’t so bad was it? At least you now have some inkling of what lies ahead. Take it from someone who has gone through this process many times with several annoying misteps along the way, once it’s done and you’re on that plane or ship with your shoes kicked off and seat reclined, the headache melts away and you succumb to that first wonder of what’s to come beyond the horizon. God speed!

U.S. Department of State- first time passport applicants: http://travel.state.gov/passport/get/first/first_830.html

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