On the road
AVOID VISA HEADACHES
How to apply for international visas for the entire family
A visa is written documentation from a particular country indicating that you have legal permission to visit that country for a designated number of days during a set period of time. Whether or not you need a visa depends on (1) your citizenship and (2) the country that you're visiting.
For Americans traveling abroad, the U.S. Department of State has an easy-to-use website that indicates whether or not you need a visa and the process for obtaining one. It also includes information and safety advisories for traveling in that country.
When traveling abroad, especially in potentially volatile areas, it’s a good idea to register your travel itinerary with the State Department through the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program.
I would also suggest downloading the Smart Traveler app before your departure to receive travel alerts and warnings.
Each country has specific instructions, but in general, you'll need to send:
Additional passport-sized photos
Self-addressed, stamped return envelope
Money order for visa fee (typically $75-100/person)
Notarized letter of permission for minors
It's a little nerve-racking mailing off your family's official passports to a country’s embassy; but in my experience, our passports have always been returned promptly without incident. If you need to apply to multiple countries, make sure to give yourself ample time to complete the process. Some countries will allow you to start the process six months in advance of your visit; other countries require you to complete the process 90 days in advance.
Other countries, like Turkey, allow you to apply for an e-Visa online which is much simpler.
In addition, some countries, mostly in South America, charge American tourists a reciprocity fee. This payment, typically $135 to $160, must be made prior to arriving in that country. For a current list of countries that require such a fee and the amount, consult the U.S. Department of State website.
Editor Shellie Bailey-Shah travels with her husband and two sons and makes no secret about her disdain for reciprocity fees.