Traveling abroad for the holidays? Check your passport. Check your visa. Be prepared for longer-than-usual processing times. And plan ahead.

International travelers can save time and money (and reduce stress) by acquainting themselves with a few simple rules. The following tips are designed to help avoid unnecessary problems or delays, but can by no means cover every challenge a traveler may face:

Check your passport

Make sure your passport is valid beyond your intended date of departure from the foreign country you are visiting. Most countries require passports to be valid for six months beyond a traveler’s intended date of departure. Visit the State Department’s website or contact the embassy of the country you are traveling to if there is any question about your passport’s validity.

For those in need of a new passport, routine passport service takes four to five weeks, while expedited service (available for an extra $60) takes two to three weeks. Passport agencies or passport centers are available for travelers leaving in less than two weeks. Appointments can be made through the National Passport Information Center at (877) 487-2778.

Many passport acceptance facilities are offering extended hours through Dec. 15. But travelers nonetheless should apply as soon as possible – and account for possible delays due to increased demand.

Check your visa

U.S. nationals traveling either to visit families or for tourism can check the State Department’s website for information about whether their destination country requires a visa for entry – and, if so, whether visa on arrival is an option.

Non-U.S. nationals who are living in the U.S. on work visas have additional issues to consider. Non-U.S. nationals leaving the U.S. during the holiday season need to consider not only whether they need a visa to travel abroad, but whether their visas will be valid for entry back into the U.S. This includes checking to make sure they have both enough time remaining on their visa and at least one valid entry remaining. Some foreign nationals, particularly those who have pending applications to adjust to lawful permanent residence status, may want to consider filing for advance parole, which takes several months to process.

Those needing new visas should remember that appointment scheduling is often backlogged at popular locations by several weeks and that the wait can be longer during holiday periods. Employees are advised to check with the U.S. consulate where they intend to process the visa before they travel using the State Department’s consulate list. After the scheduled interview, absent security check issues, visa issuance and return of the passports may take another four to seven business days.

Be prepared and plan ahead

As noted above, the holiday season can slow processing times for both passports and visas. Additionally, travelers should expect longer-than-usual lines at airport security checkpoints.

Travelers can avoid headaches by learning as much as possible about their destinations ahead of time. The State Department’s website includes tips for preparing for emergencies, driving overseas, bringing copies of travel documents, handling money, learning about local laws, vaccinations, health insurance and packing prescription medicine.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, meanwhile, issued its tips for traveling abroad in the holiday season Nov. 24. The agency suggests travelers cross land borders during off-peak times, keep travel documents handy, be prepared to declare all items upon returning to the U.S., and check the agency’s website for updated information.

As legal situations may vary, clients can contact a BAL representative if they are in need of more tailored advice or additional information.

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