Set on an overseas vacation? One of the first things you should do in the trip-planning process is find out if you need a visa, even if you think you don't. Foreign countries can change their visa requirements for U.S. passport holders almost overnight in response to political situations, and others may adjust rules for security reasons. Besides, if you do need a visa, the process to obtain one may take weeks, depending on the country, and you'll need time to make sure you have all your documents in order before you depart. It's a good rule of thumb to do your research at least six weeks in advance of your departure.
Your first stop should be the State Department website, which lists visa and other entry requirements for pretty much every country in the world. Just select which country you'll be visiting from the drop-down menu on the site and look in the entry/exit requirements section. You should then go to the website for that country's embassy in the U.S. for more details and updated information. The state department website usually includes a link to the embassy website on the country's State Department information page, but if it doesn't, you can find links on Embassy.org.
On the embassy website, look over the entry requirements carefully to find out how to obtain a visa. Some countries, like Australia, make it easy, simply requiring you to register and pay a small visa fee online. Others make it more difficult, with some asking travelers to submit lots of paperwork and large payments in person (or through a courier) to the nearest embassy or consulate. In these cases you'll want to leave plenty of time for the visa to be processed. Also be sure to check if a visa can be obtained on arrival. Some destinations may allow you to pick up a visa at the airport or a border crossing, but don't make that assumption until you review the embassy website. If anything is unclear, call the embassy and ask to speak with someone in the visa office.
Do you have any tips about how to obtain visa quickly and easily? Share your ideas by posting a comment below.