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Travel Tips for the International Traveler
By: Gwen Kuebler

Before you travel outside U.S. borders, you'll need a valid U.S. passport. This includes Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and 17 Caribbean nations. Once your complete documentation is submitted to the passport-issuing agency, issuance usually takes about four to six weeks.

Many countries require that a passport be valid for three to six months from date of departure from the country. Check if yours is one of them. For instance, currently, France requires the passport to be valid three months from date of departure from France. 
Passports (New Application)
For a first-time passport-application, a U.S.-born citizen must appear at his nearest county courthouse or post office that accepts passport applications. (There are several passport agencies throughout the U.S., but they are in large cities. Lines are long, and some permit you to use their services only if your trip is taking place within 14 days.)

Take with you the following items:

* Birth certificate—An original with a raised seal. (If no birth record exists, consult your nearest passport agency or the U.S. State Department.)

* Driver's license or positive ID containing photo, signature and physical description. Without a positive ID, you must appear with a witness who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident alien—and has known you at least two years. Your witness must prove his or her identity and complete an Affidavit of Identifying Witness.

* Photos—Two identical passport-sized photos (2 inches by 2 inches). Don't submit your own snapshots or use vending machine photos. They will be rejected. Do not wear dark glasses or a head covering in the photo. The background must be white or very light.

* Money—Consult your nearest passport-issuing agency or the State Department's web page for current prices. Personal checks are accepted.

* Passport-application Form—This can be obtained when you go the place where you apply. You may also phone ahead and ask them to mail you a form—or download one from the U.S. State Department's web page. Some travel agencies also keep forms on hand.

If the applicant was born outside the U.S. but is a U.S. citizen through naturalization or through his/her parents, see passport instructions on the passport form, available at your nearest passport-issuing agency or consult the State Department.

Passports (Renewal)
You may renew or amend your passport by mail if all the below are true.

Your passport:

* Is undamaged and can be submitted with your application
* Was issued when you were age 16 or older
* Was issued within the last 15 years
* Was issued in your current name or you can legally document your name change

Passports (Amended)
If you have a passport that is currently valid and will be valid for your upcoming travel—but your name has changed since the passport was issued—you may apply for a Passport Amendment/Validation at no charge. Complete the amendment form and send it to your nearest passport agency, together with your current passport and the document certifying your name change.

We suggest you send your passport and documentation via UPS or Federal Express. You may want to ask the passport-issuing agency how much to include to have the new passport returned to you the same way. These carriers provide reliable tracing if documentation is lost.
Once all of these documents are submitted, passport issuance usually takes four to six weeks. The spring and summer months are very busy, and your passport may take longer. If you're applying for a foreign visa, they must almost always be stamped into the passport's pages, so be sure to apply for your passport in plenty of time. Sign your passport upon receipt.

Keep two extra photos and a photocopy of your passport's vital information page. Carry this with you as you travel, separate from the passport. If the passport is lost or stolen overseas, the spare documents speed up issuance of a new one at the American embassy.

To gain entry into their countries, many foreign nations require a U.S. citizen to have a visa stamped into his passport. If a traveler plans to stay three months or less in a country, a tourist visa is usually sufficient. (This varies somewhat, however, depending on exactly what type of service or work you will be engaged in.) For longer stays—or for work permits—the application process is normally lengthy and more complicated.

When you know the country(ies) to which you will travel, there are a few ways to determine if you need a visa:

* Consult the organization with whom you will be working in the foreign country.

* Consult a travel agency that specializes in missionary/church-related travel. The agency will instruct you how to access visa forms and complete instructions for every country in the world. The agency can tell you how long a tourist visa is valid for your country and the procedure for obtaining a work permit if such is needed.

* Call the country's embassy (in Washington, DC) or consulate (in a large U.S. city, like New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles).

This third option is a last resort. It can be difficult to get through to the person who knows the correct answer to your question. Also, you may need to be careful how you express what you'll be doing in the country once you get there. Some nations aren't very hospitable to church-related activity, even though they have freedom-of-speech laws. You could jeopardize your opportunity to obtain a visa by offering too many details they do not want to know. It's best to rely on your overseas receiving organization for counsel regarding the completion of the forms and the type of visa you'll need.

These are the documents that are usually required for a foreign visa:

* Passport
* Passport-sized photos
* WHO Card, with any necessary vaccinations
* Any other documentation a particular country may request

Time for issuance varies by country. Tourist visas generally take less than a week. Residence visas can take several months. Your travel agent will be able to tell you about how long the visa issuance will take when your documents are received for processing.

Each embassy or consulate charges a different fee for their visas. This direct cost is passed on to you.

As soon as you know to which country(ies) you'll be traveling, check regarding visa requirements. If you must get certain vaccinations, you may need two shots some weeks apart. New passport issuance can take up to six weeks. Be sure to leave enough time to gather all your documents and have them to the consulate or embassy.

You do not want to get the visa entered into your passport too early, however. The validity of some only extend to three months from date of issue. Check with your travel agent regarding the stipulations for your country's visa.

Many foreign countries require certain vaccinations for entry or for visa application. It's wise for the traveler to also know which immunizations are recommended for his own safety. The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta are a valuable source of information.

Contact the CDC. They will tell you which vaccinations the country requires for entry and which ones they recommend for your safety. Recorded phone messages direct you to the country of your choice, and automated fax service sends you a hard copy.  On their Web page, www.cdc.gov, choose Travelers' Health Menu to access the region or country to which you are traveling.

Which immunizations you obtain also depends on the type of work you will be engaged in (medical workers may need to take additional precautions) and where you will be located (rural areas sometimes carry more threat of disease).

You may need special proof for visa applications. Many visa applications require proof of certain vaccinations, with time lapses between injections. If they are required for entry, you must have proof stamped into a World Health Organization booklet and validated by the immunizing clinic.

You may need or want other vaccinations for your own protection.

Check the validity of your tetanus/diphtheria, measles/mumps/rubella and polio vaccines. Depending on where you serve, typhoid fever and gamma globulin (for hepatitis A) vaccines may also be recommended—as well as oral medication for malaria prevention.

Many university hospitals and major airports house International Travel Clinics, which administer vaccines and offer advice. Your local county Health Department can usually provide doctors'/clinics' names and phone numbers. Unless your family doctor is a specialist in overseas medicine or infectious diseases, it's best to consult these clinics rather than relying on your primary-care physician's advice.

Many shots take 10 days to two weeks to take effect, so make your appointment early. Tell the doctor or nurse where you're going—major cities or outlying areas—and how long you'll be gone. Additional shots may be required for lengthy stays.

Gwen Kuebler is general manager client services for MTS Travel, www.mtstravel.com.

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