If you’ve never travelled internationally before it can be a bit of a surprise to discover that it pays to have more than just your passport in order. Here’s a primer for some of the most commonly required bits of paper (or plastic) you may be asked for.
All countries in Southeast Asia require that foreign travellers possess a passport with at least six months validity remaining. We’d suggest being prudent; if your passport has less than a year of validity remaining, consider getting a new one before your trip.
If you’ve never had a passport before, get to work on sorting one out straight away. The process and collecting of sufficient documents to satisfy the identification requirements can be a bit time consuming. Often original documents are required. Costs vary by country and length of passport (some countries have a standard length passport and extended length passports for frequent travellers). They aren't cheap. At the time of writing a frequent traveller (64 page) Australian passport costs an eye-watering A$407!
If you’re planning on driving a car or riding a motorbike you’ll be required (at a minimum) to be licensed for the relevant vehicle in your home country. Most countries also require you have an International Driving Permit (IDP). Note that these licenses are legal requirements and will be needed for travel insurance to cover you while driving—that is to say, if you do not have a motorbike license in your home country, your travel insurance will most likely not cover you if you have an accident while driving one.
Other handy cards to have on you are a blood-type card (if you have ever donated blood you should have one of these) and some other form of photo identification—perhaps a library card, or a club or association membership card. Essentially something with both your name and photograph on it can be handy for instances when you have to show ID but don’t want to use your passport or license, or don’t have them on you.
In the event you lose your passport or have it stolen, you’ll need to furnish a whole raft of documentation to your embassy in order to get a new one, or an emergency travel document to get you home. Having a copy of documents like your birth certificate can be a very handy time saver in cases like this.
Once you have all the documents, make a photocopy or just a photo of them all and keep that with you. Some keep them all of a tiny portable flash drive for easy access. If you’re travelling with another, swap copies with them so you can cover each other in the event of theft or loss. More cautious people might e-mail an electronic copy of all these documents to themselves at a webmail address so they can access everything just by logging into their email.
We also suggest packing a bunch of recent passport photos. These will be handy if you need to apply for visas along the way, but there are also a few other situations where one might be required.
Depending on where you're from, and where you're going, you'll also need to consider whether you need a visa. Think of them as a country admission fee. Like death and taxes, they’re largely unavoidable. And like taxes (but not death), the rules also frequently change to an almost maddening degree. Here's what you should know.
Do you even need a visa?
Depending on your nationality, if you’re visiting Thailand, for example, for fewer than 30 days, you may not need a visa at all ("visa-free" entry). Some countries allow for visas to be issued on arrival, again, depending on nationality, so you may not need to worry about doing anything ahead of your trip. Some countries will issue an eVisa ahead of your arrival, which you can apply for from the comfort of your own computer at home, either through a government or agent website. Upon arrival, depending on the type of visa and country, you may need to jump through some more paperwork hoops. Please see our destination guide for each country for visa details.
Are your ducks in a row?
Every embassy or consulate will have its own requirements for various nationals applying for various kinds of visas. You’ll most likely require at least one passport photo, but in some cases you may also be asked for proof of funds or an onwards ticket. These criteria vary and often change. We suggest contacting the embassy beforehand, by phone or email, to ascertain exactly what is required so that your time isn't wasted with multiple visits.
How are you entering?
Some visas are only valid for some means of entry. For example, if you get an eVisa for Cambodia or Vietnam, it may not be valid for all land crossings. This can be an important, so check ahead of time.
Are you dressed decently?
If you have to go to an embassy or consulate, dress appropriately. We’re not suggesting you head to the embassy in a cocktail dress or tuxedo (though you could) but showing up barefoot in fisherman's pants and a Beerlao T-shirt won’t help your case. Ditto for heading through immigration checks.
Planning well is an integral part of getting the most out of your trip. Be it picking the right backpack, the right vaccinations or the right country, the simple decisions are often the most important.