Veni, Visa, Vici
Getting a visa can be a thicket of red tape--or as easy as pie. Whether you should hire someone or do it yourself depends on where you're going.
DIY Do-it-yourself. Visas are easy to get on your own.
$ Pay somebody. Save time and frustration by hiring some expert help.
The easiest and cheapest method is applying online for an Electronic Travel Authority, a stampless visa ($17, eta.immi.gov.au). After completing a form that requires your passport details and a credit card, you can be approved in 30 seconds. You can also apply for an ETA in person at the embassy for free. Securing a visa by regular mail from the Washington, D.C., embassy is possible (austemb.org), but it costs $70 and takes two weeks.
If you want help The Australian government doesn't charge for visas arranged through expediters or travel agents, so all you'll have to pay is the company's fee. (PassportVisasExpress.com charges $20 for two-day processing.) Qantas agents can get you an electronic visa within 15 minutes for $25. Tour operators often handle visas, and some charge for the service. Newmans South Pacific Vacations will deduct its $25 processing fee if you take care of the visa yourself.
Visas cost $100, and it's worth it to hire a specialist (see below). Travel Document Systems' three- to seven-day service is $45; PassportVisasExpress.com charges $59 for seven-day processing. Brazil tacks on a $10 surcharge for visas handled by third parties.
To save money The rules for doing your own paperwork depend on where you live (brasilemb.org). To get a visa from the consulates in San Francisco or New York, you must apply in person or pay an extra $10 if a third party appears for you. In San Francisco, visas are typically processed in five business days and can be sent to you via a U.S. Postal Service prepaid envelope, so bring one with you. In New York, visas are usually ready in 24 hours but must be picked up by someone. If you live near Chicago or D.C., you can apply by mail to those consulates. There's a $10 handling fee; allow at least three weeks. Most Brazilian consulates only accept U.S.P.S. money orders. And if you apply by mail, most require you to use U.S.P.S. Express Mail.
Specialists charge $45-$55 on top of the $100 consular fee (up from $50 as of August 1) to get you a visa in about four days. If you book a package, the operator will take care of your application for $20-$30, shipping included.
To save money Apply in person or send a third party to the embassy in D.C., or the consulates in Chicago, Houston, L.A., New York City, or San Francisco (china-embassy.org). There's no option to apply by mail, but visas will be mailed back to you if you supply a prepaid envelope. You should allow at least four business days for regular processing, or add an extra $30 for same-day service. Cashier's checks, money orders, and cash are OK.
U.S. passport holders can pay $15 for a visa at the Cairo airport. Stop by the visa-payment booth before getting in line for immigration and customs.
To apply in advance You can apply by mail to an Egyptian consulate; allow a week or more for processing (egyptembassy.net). You can also go to the New York consulate and get a visa that day; the San Francisco one needs at least 24 hours for processing. Some consulates only take money orders and certified or cashier's checks. A visa specialist can get a visa in three days starting at $45.
To save time Travelers with Foreign Independent Tours and Misr Travel can pay an extra $20-$25 to have a staffer meet them at the Cairo airport with a prepaid visa sticker. That way, they can go directly to immigration.
Beware the 15-day transit visa: It only costs $30, but the countdown begins the moment the consulate stamps the visa. Instead, opt for the $60, six-month tourist visa. If you're booking your trip through a tour operator or travel agent, ask them to deal with the visa. Many will do it for free--all you have to pay is the fee (with a cashier's or certified check or a money order) and fill out the forms, which they can help with. The process takes about a week. Getting a visa from a consulate yourself via mail also takes about a week.
To save time Apply before 12:30 P.M. at any of the five consulates in the U.S. (indianembassy.org), and you can get a visa that afternoon. Cash, money orders, and certified or cashier's checks only.