London, England. This is Big Ben speaking: it's time to get your visa on!

Stephanie thought her home university’s study abroad office was the best source for information regarding visas.  When a prominent counselor from the department sent her an email with wishes for a fabulous semester in Hungary, she began to think twice.  Her destination was the UK.  Confused, Stephanie went through with a $300 process involving thumbprints and proof of well-stocked bank accounts.  She received her visa within nail-biting days of arrival, and quickly presented it to her university.  The officer in charge of documents laughed, replying, “Why the hell do you have this visa?  You’re only a student, not a secret agent.  Let me guess – your abroad office told you to get this one.  You should’ve called!”

Arguably the most important component of any pre-departure ritual is arranging the proper visa for your stay.  Some countries require a visa to board the plane for a two-week vacation (read: Russia, Cambodia).  Others require them of extended-stay students and workers (England, Singapore).  Whatever the requirement, you must locate the most reputable source of information available and charge ahead full-force.  We’re here to help with three UNBELIEVABLY IMPORTANT pieces of tried-and-true advice:

For the most valuable information, ask the source closest to your destination.

Visa requirements in countries change regularly, and misinformation can cost you time, money, or potentially an entire semester.  The most important ally you have is NOT your home abroad office, travel agent, or exchange program.  It’s your destination.  Load up your Skype credits and place a call to the international students office or human resources department to get the real story.  They will keep you updated on the latest government information, and may have helpful hints or PDF forms to help you complete the process.  Your home abroad office or HR department may be handling hundreds of applicants, juggling forty destinations, or simply spewing outdated info.

Countries have so many tiers of visas and classifications of visitors.  Express your interests up front: do you plan to stay for a while after your term is over? Do you plan to take a part-time job? Are you hoping for a long-term offer from your employer?  This may change what you are eligible for, and only a native of the system can answer those questions adeptly.

Pay to wait…don’t wait to pay.

RSJ rarely does corporate plugs, so you can only imagine how strongly we feel about this point to even suggest it.  Pay a document-expediting service for the most accurate, comprehensive, and speedy visa arrangements.  And if you can – choose It’s Easy.

A document-expediting service can do everything from add pages to your passport to secure a visa in a war zone.  It’s Easy has destination specialists on hand who, after listening to your goals or program details, can recommend both the correct visa and the documents you need.  Terminology on a visa application confusing you?  Call your specialist for elucidation.  Think you may be missing an important or unlisted component?  It’s Easy will provide a personalized checklist and review your documents to prevent a costly visa refusal.

Here’s the BEST part: document-expediting services have special arrangements with embassies!  In many cases, embassies do not allow civilians to hand-carry their documents into their offices.  But they do allow reputable services like It’s Easy to march on in with your deets.  Since this service can guarantee to officials that your application is complete, expect a much faster turn-around  – especially if you are in a time crunch.

Now these services, of course, do not come for free.  You will pay a service fee that may be reasonable or a small fortune, depending on your demands.  However, if your visa arrangement is less than four weeks to departure, it is the ONLY choice for guaranteed success.  Seriously consider having a document-expediting service handle your visa – it will save frustrated tears, wasted hours, and a post-Thanksgiving meltdown at an immigration office near you (true story).

 Start earlier than early.

You have your study abroad acceptance/employment offer/boarding pass in your hands.  You’ve called your Mom, done a happy dance, and bragged across several social media platforms.  What do you do next?

GET ONLINE AND HIT THAT VISA.

Your first order of business should be finding out from your new host the type of visa required (refer to Point #2), and the second should be calling It’s Easy (Point #3).  If you plan to handle it on your own, don’t even call your parents before you get cracking.  We’re not kidding.

We have seen many opportunities squandered over sloppy paperwork.  Visas are extremely important to national security and immigration policy for many countries.  You may take it lightly, but the Chinese consulate will not.  Godspeed, young and well-documented grasshoppers!

Have you had a visa nightmare or redemption?  Comment on this article with your cautionary tales or successful measures!