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There are lots of popular websites to choose from when hunting for a holiday bargain, offering destinations all over Europe as well as further afield. Most of the time, for UK citizens this isn’t an issue, but we’ve been contacted several times recently by holidaymakers who’ve already booked their getaway before realising they need a travel visa to enter the destination country. With timescales for the issue of visas being long and, in some cases, even the waiting time for an appointment to apply being backlogged, last minute holiday bookings can pose a real danger of you losing a lot of money.
The requirements for travel visas depend on both your citizenship as well as the country you’re travelling to, so remember to bear both in mind. If you’re a UK citizen you can currently travel to Spain without any need for a travel visa, but a friend or family member with a non-EU citizenship may require a Schengen visa to visit mainland Europe, even if they hold a UK residence permit.
Do I need a visa to visit the USA?
One case we recently dealt with was a UK citizen who had booked a last minute city break to New York. She hadn’t realised that she would require pre-travel authorisation to travel to the USA and time before she left for her holiday was tight. Since 2010, it has been compulsory for UK citizens to obtain an Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) before they travel, whereas the previous system simply required the completion of a short form on your flight before landing.
The usual turnaround for an ESTA approval is 72 hours. This is dependent on all information being correct, all sections being completed to the level of detail required and no information requiring further investigation. An ESTA can even be rejected based on something as simple as a spelling error; it’s imperative that you check all the information thoroughly and that it matches you passport and supporting documentation.
If there is a rejection, you will need to wait for it to be re-processed. If the rejection is due to information requiring further investigation, for example a criminal record being declared, you may be required to visit the US Embassy in London. If you are non-UK citizen applying from the UK, you will have to visit the US Embassy regardless of your application unless your nationality is listed below.
Current waiting times as of August 2019 for these appointments are roughly 1 month, with a further 2 weeks for the visa to be issued.
Where else do I need to be wary of when I book a holiday abroad?
Other popular holiday resorts include Turkey and Egypt. If you’re a UK citizen travelling to Egypt, you can choose to apply for a visa on arrival. Queues can be long during peak times of the year however so many opt to apply before leaving the UK to streamline their passage through customs. Certain resorts, including Sharm el Sheikh, Dahab, Nuweiba and Taba allow you to obtain a free entry stamp on arrival, which will last for up to 15 days. If you intend to travel out of these resorts, or stay in Egypt for longer than 15 days, you must get a visa.
As of 2018, Turkey requires all UK passengers to apply for their visa before they travel. This is an online application, but you must carry a hard copy of the visa with you during your trip to present at customs. Having a copy of your visa on your phone or tablet is not acceptable and it’s a good idea to carry a few spare copies in case.
Russia is becoming more popular for short breaks, but the country currently has a lengthy visa process for UK citizens. There is a requirement for you to visit a Visa Processing Centre to submit your biometric data as well as obtain a tourist voucher to support your application. If you’re planning on visiting Russia, it’s a good idea to plan this well in advance to avoid losing out due to lengthy processing times and finalising paperwork for submission.
I’m not a UK citizen but I live in the UK, do I still need a visa?
The main thing to bear in mind when planning last minute holiday bookings is the citizenship of everyone in your party. Visa requirements are not the same for all citizenships and a UK residency permit is not the same as holding a British Passport in terms of travel documentation.
The most common visa we are asked to process for last minute holidays are Schengen Visas. These will be required for travel to all European countries which are members of the Schengen Zone for those who aren’t a citizen of the UK or a country within the agreement. To find out if your citizenship requires you to obtain a Schengen visa, you can read our blog series here.