How to...

Simplify and expedite visas

As companies expand their global reach and countries implement more complex visa requirements it’s important to ensure travellers, PAs and TMCs are aware of the ins and outs of travel documentation, says consultant Shawn Hefner

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The company’s most successful road warrior may be heading to the airport with perfectly timed flights, a room booked in their favourite hotel and a car service awaiting their arrival, but a four letter word might provide a rude shock. Visa. Not the credit card, but the permit issued by a government allowing travellers to enter and leave a particular country.

In terms of corporate spend, visas are probably the smallest expenditure in the travel budget, often less than a client dinner at a well-known restaurant, but without one travellers won’t be boarding their flights and heading overseas to sign those deals.

It’s important to raise traveller and travel manager awareness regarding entry visas. A little extra attention to the visa process can save time and money as well as preventing last minute and unwanted surprises. Read on for a guide to smoothing the entire process for your company.

STEP 1: Verify. No matter where the destination, it’s important that a check is made as to whether a visa is required. European nationals can travel to many countries visa free but what about the South African employee who must make a quick trip to the Paris office or the US passport holder who is visiting clients in Brazil?

Yes, their British counterpart may have gone to the same country last week without a visa but every nationality is different. Never assume – always check.

STEP 2: Plan. Visa processing times vary. A last minute trip to India is possible as the High Commission will, for an extra fee, issue a visa in one day, but if there’s a meeting in Angola, for example, travellers must plan on 15 working days for a visa to be issued. When visiting a country on a regular basis try to obtain a multi-entry visa to eliminate the need to apply for one each trip.

STEP 3: Details. The expression, “the devil is in the detail” is the watchword for visas. Embassies have different requirements relevant to their particular country. Invitations from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, information that must be stated in a business letter and the size of the photos to submit will all differ by embassy. Check all these at the first mention of a trip, then the travel date can be met.

STEP 4: Cost. There are ways to cut costs. Firstly, consider time: a visa processed by the Indian High Commission in one day will cost £265 but three-day processing will only cost £115, a savings of £150. Secondly, go multi-entry: a single entry visa to China will cost £70. If a traveller is visiting China every two months for the next year, obtain a one-year, multi-entry visa for £210, saving a further £210 over the course of a year (or more if the country issues longer term visas).

STEP 5: Visa services. Many travel planners use a visa service to facilitate the visa application process and this can guarantee the most up-to-date information, save time and relieve the person organising visas of much stress and confusion. There are a number of visa services in London and travel managers should find one that suits their needs or even utilise two providers to keep pricing competitive. Shop around. Two well-known visa providers are DJB Visas and VisaSwift.

Helpful hints

• Pay by debit card to reduce the surcharge. Services can charge up to five per cent of the total invoice when paid by credit card but debit card fees can be as low as 0.5%

• Keep travel profiles up to date. Passport expiration dates are important, as is the nationality. If travellers have dual citizenship list both passports as they might be able to travel visa-free to certain countries.

• Apply for a second passport. The extra passport is convenient when travellers need multiple visas for a trip or, at worst, lose the first passport.