Travel

Forecasts for Visa Seekers

Restrictions have eased and technology has improved, but is it simpler for Americans to get visas?

In January China implemented a 72-hour visa-free policy for visits to Beijing. (Travelers must be in transit to another country and cannot leave the city.) Peru, Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico and, in a separate agreement, Myanmar, Cambodia, Indonesia and the Philippines, recently agreed to develop a common “smart” visa that would let international tourists to their respective regions apply for only one visa, the World Economic Forum said. And Chile is being considered for the United States Visa Waiver Program, which allows reciprocal visa-free travel (with some restrictions) for tourists from 37 member countries. Taiwan joined the program in November.

Technological advances, like India’s introduction of photo and signature digitalization, have streamlined the application process, said Rob Smith, executive director of the National Association of Passport and Visa Services, a trade group.

“While more countries are working to improve their efficiency,” he said, “the reality is there are over 100 countries with different visa requirements.” He advises travelers to be aware that rules can change suddenly, and to make note of holidays that can lead to consulate closings.

But according to Ovation Travel Group, a travel management company, some countries ask more questions and require more documentation than previously. Since last August, travelers to China must submit a letter of invitation, the old one-page application is now four, and expedited visas that used to be processed in one day now take about two or three, the group said.

Country-specific visa information is available at the State Department’s Web site.