The Beach Resort of Isla Mujeres
The next time there's a cheap flight to Cancun, grab it! But don't even slow down for Cancun itself. Take a shuttle van directly from the airport to the Puerto Juarez ferry terminal and sail on to Isla Mujeres (Isle of Women). This small island (approximately five miles long by a half mile wide) has all you need: comfortable accommodations, calm beaches, good food, and inexpensive prices. Forget Cancun's high-rise hotels, expensive meals, and crowds. Isla Mujeres is within eyesight of that gaudy hotel strip but many miles away in ambience and price. Despite the boatloads of Cancun tourists who come on quick tours for part of the day, the island retains its relaxed atmosphere. English is widely spoken and American currency is accepted, although paying in pesos instead of dollars is often cheaper, and it is always courteous to learn as much of the language as you can.
Arrival and orientation
The shuttle trip from the Cancun airport to Puerto Juarez (on the northern edge of Cancun) takes about half an hour and costs 77-144 pesos ($8-$15) depending on the number of people sharing the van. Buy your ticket at the kiosk in the airport. The fast ferry from Puerto Juarez to Isla Mujeres takes 15 minutes and costs 35 pesos ($3.70) per person.
The island is long, narrow, and nearly flat.
The town of Isla Mujeres itself is on the north end and is only about 24 blocks. Most restaurants, shops, and small hotels are in this area. Moving south, the island narrows near a small airport and then widens into a residential area, and the south end of the island is the highest, widest, and least developed.
When you arrive on Isla Mujeres, you will be in the downtown area on the north end of the island. The tourist bureau is across the street to the left. Taxis will be waiting to take you anywhere on the island for 7-20 pesos (75¢-$2.10). You are within walking distance of many downtown hotels, but for mid-island or south-end lodging, you will want a taxi. During the day, buses make the circuit around the island for three pesos (30¢). If you are staying in the residential area in the middle of the island and you like to walk, you can go on foot from the middle to either end in about 40 to 60 minutes.
Rental vehicles on Isla Mujeres run heavily to golf carts or mopeds. Both are perfect for transportation around the island, and discount coupons for them are found on the island's Web site (www.isla-mujeres.net). A golf cart rents for about 400 pesos ($42) per day, with bargaining permitted.
Beaches and picnics
Most island visitors will spend their time on the beaches, visit the high-quality crafts shops (hidden among the T-shirt shops) downtown, eat in a different restaurant each evening, and relax in the warmth of the air and the people.
Playa Norte has to be one of the country's best beaches. It is a public park right on the edge of downtown and it spreads its white sand along the beach and out into the clear, calm water. On my most recent stay, there weren't many people on the beach, although on Sunday afternoons there were small pleasure boats anchored in the area so a few more people were around. If the wind is too strong on the north side, just move around the corner to the west to Playa Caribe where the beach continues and locals congregate.
Other beaches are found on the south end of the island in Garrafon National Park, somewhat beyond the end of the bus line. It consists mostly of beach, and since it is run by a concessionaire, there is an atypically high entrance fee of 144 pesos ($15). Don't pay it. Right next door is the Playa Garrafon de Castilla resort. For an admission charge of 20 pesos ($2.10), there is access to a small beach with good snorkeling around the pier and the artificial reef. There are chairs, tables, changing rooms, bathrooms, a snack bar, and a gift shop.
Mexican beaches are very civilized. Little restaurants dot the edges, and tables and chairs and/or lounges are usually free or nominally priced. As long as you buy soda, drinks, snacks and/or meals, waiters are happy to serve you and (if it is not too busy) will watch your things while you swim.
Where to stay and dine
My own favorite, Villa Chiquita (998/888-0173, firstname.lastname@example.org), is about in the middle of the island in a residential area. The bus line runs half a block away, so it is convenient to everything. Owners Jose and Zandra built the four one-bedroom apartments only a few years ago, and they are spotlessly clean, well furnished, and extremely practical. (Having an apartment makes it possible to fix occasional meals and lunches for beach trips.) Units rent for 2,345 pesos ($245) per week or 335 pesos ($35) per day in high season (mid-December through April), and 239 pesos ($25) per night at other times (May to mid-December), with discounts for longer stays or small groups. A bonus: The local softball, baseball, and soccer fields nearby seem to have games every evening, and the local people are welcoming.
Closer to the main activities is Hotel Roca Mar (998/877-0101, email@example.com), perched on a rocky, windward cliff with great views on the edge of downtown. While rooms on the ocean rent for 660 pesos ($69), you can get a town-side double room for 431 pesos ($45) in high season and still enjoy the lovely garden, pool, and restaurant, which also have views. Other recommendable downtown hotels include the family-run Hotel Osorio (998/877-0294), one block from Playa Norte and with a small courtyard. A double room is 258 pesos ($27). Que Barbara Studio Apartments (to book, contact Mornings in Mexico, www.sundreamers.com/mim/home.htm) is two blocks from the beach downtown. It has rooms with kitchenettes for 287-431 pesos ($30-$45) per night and 1,914-2,776 pesos ($200-$290) per week.
Finally, toward the south end of the island, Mar y Sol Beachfront Apartments (also book through Mornings in Mexico) has three efficiency units right on a secluded beach just past the end of the bus line. They each rent for 287 pesos ($30) per night or 1,914 pesos ($200) per week year-round. Villas Punta Sur (998/877-0572, firstname.lastname@example.org), set amid palm trees and tropical vegetation, has six apartments renting for 431-479 pesos ($45-$50) for one bedroom and 622-670 pesos ($65-$70) for two bedrooms (high season, less by the week).
Budget meals Your most memorable low-cost meal will be a tiken-xic (fish fry) at Playa Lancheros toward the south end of the island, where fish is caught fresh during the night, cleaned, split, and scored, then rubbed with salt and spices and placed in a handheld grate for grilling over an open wood fire. You watch the cooks in action. Fifty pesos ($5.25) brings enough for two to eat, along with seasoned rice and cabbage. Meals are served on Mexican time in early afternoon.
La Cazuela M&J, which is open only for breakfast and lunch, is located next to the Roca Mar Hotel on Avenida Nicolas Bravo at the edge of downtown. Sitting at outside tables watching the sun and waves crashing on the rocky east coast is a really good way to start the morning. Breakfast specials include a fruit plate with yogurt and granola, cazuela mexicana (a baked dish of tortilla, ham, and refried beans covered with a fried egg and mild salsa), and omelettes, all served with coffee and all costing 35 pesos ($3.70), less a 10 percent discount with the coupon found on the Isla Mujeres Internet site.
At Balcon de Arriba on Avenida Hidalgo, on a balcony overlooking the downtown street, you can have red snapper in a mild salsa, cole slaw, and rice with a cinnamon seasoning for 60 pesos ($6.30), or beef fajitas with spiced potatoes and cole slaw for 50 pesos ($5.25)-both of them memorable dishes, in my experience. And at Jardin de Delicias, a small French restaurant on Avenida Matamoros, two of us recently split a salad Nicoise (30 pesos/$3.15) and an order of filet of fish in garlic sauce (40 pesos/$4.20), which made for an entirely filling meal of tasty food. Walk along Avenida Hidalgo downtown and look at the menus posted in front of other restaurants. Pick one that looks good and enjoy.
Excursions and visits
Apart from beach-lolling, swimming, and dining, the top thing to do is visit the Tortugranja (turtle farm) at the south end of the island, where loggerhead and green turtles are protected while they lay their eggs, and their babies are then kept in tanks until they are released. Turtles of different sizes are also displayed in shaded pools for educational purposes, and there is a small museum/aquarium. The short guided tour here costs 20 pesos ($2.10), and you can spend the rest of the day on the nice beach.
Because there are so many cheap fares to Cancun, Isla Mujeres is a real bargain. From luxury to budget, everything is available-and it's all superbly described on the island's Web site, www.isla-mujeres.net, which contains numerous recommendations to add to my own. Get there quickly before the word spreads!
Caribbean Adventure Vacations
To some weary souls, a vacation in the Caribbean means baking in the sun and doing scarcely anything at all. To others the goal is the exact opposite-they crave physical activity, challenge, excitement. They come to hike and bike mountains taller than any in the United States, east of the Mississippi (in the Dominican Republic); to dive with an assortment of fish that could rival any aquarium in the world (in Bonaire); to try their luck bonefishing in the waters off Eleuthera, Bahamas. Here are nine of the Caribbean's finest outdoor adventures, all amazingly affordable: Diving Bonaire A mere decade ago, this island was known only to scuba enthusiasts; it was a clandestine gem discussed in hushed tones. Now that the secret is out, travelers are learning that nature thrives here both above and below the water. The reef's proximity to the coast is ideal for divers and snorkelers who want to swim with blue and yellow queen angelfish and orange trumpetfish in waters with visibility of 100 feet or more. Bonaire's semi-arid landscape is home to some 200 types of birds, including one of the world's largest colonies of pink flamingos (numbering some 15,000). On the water and managed by American diver Bruce Bowker, the Carib Inn (599/717-8819, www. caribinn.com) offers double rooms starting at $99 a night. Add six boat dives with unlimited air fills for $189 per person, and you and your loved one can be on a seven-night/ six-day dive package for $535.50 apiece. Windsurfing Margarita Just off the coast of Venezuela, the resort island of Margarita is known for trade winds that blow at a steady 15 to 25 miles per hour. Add water that's only waist-deep, and you have a locale that's ideal for novices and experts alike. Vela Windsurf Resorts (800/223-5443, www.velawindsurf.com) has been specializing in windsurfing vacations for more than 15 years. On Margarita, it's located on the south shore of the island, at El Yaque, one of its most popular beaches. Packages start as low as $400 per person for seven nights in a double room at Casa Rita, including all breakfasts and windsurfing rentals. Perched on a small hill overlooking El Yaque, Casa Rita is only a six-minute walk to Vela's windsurfing center. You can try the latest gear in the sport and opt for windsurfing lessons at its renowned school. Five one-hour group lessons cost $175. MultiSport St. John Only a few miles east of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. John has virtually nothing in common with its overdeveloped neighbor. More than 60 percent of the island and its surrounding waters comprise Virgin Islands National Park, a mecca in the Caribbean for the active traveler. Twenty-two hiking trails weave through the arid and semitropical terrain past some 800 species of plants. On the shore, white-sand beaches lead to coral-covered bays (Trunk and Leinster are two of the best) where snorkelers spend hours mesmerized by the vivid neon fish. Arawak Expeditions (800/238-8687, www.arawak exp.com) takes full advantage of this locale by featuring St. John Adventure Week (consisting of seven nights on the island). During the day, you'll hike, snorkel, sea kayak, mountain bike, and dive St. John. In the evening, you'll be seconds away from the beach at Maho Bay Camps. Maho's owner Stan Selengut has reaped accolades for his eco-sensitive resort, where 114 tent-cottages are woven into the tapestry of the landscape. The cost of the trip is $1,295 per person. Sea kayaking the Exumas Stretching more than 100 miles from Beacon Cay in the north to Hog Cay in the south, the Exumas are some of the least-developed islands in the Bahamas. Starfish/The Exuma Adventure Center (877/398-6222, www.kayakbahamas.com), the first outfitter to open in the Exumas, offers seven-day/six-night (three nights camping, three in a hotel) trips through the islands for $875. Spend four guided days paddling in the pale jade waters of the Great Bahama Bank. You'll kayak some three to six hours daily, edging along another half-moon stretch of sand whose blinding whiteness obscures the islands' wild and scraggy interiors-a mix of twisted mangroves, gumbo limbos, and stunted palms. Clearly visible beneath the surface, the reefs are coated with green coral, lavender sea fans, and thronged with marine life such as schools of stingrays. You'll pass several more islands the size of boxing rings before arriving at your beach for the evening. Then spend the next two days on your own, sailing, kayaking, or mountain biking. All trips include food and camping equipment, and the season runs from November to June. No experience is necessary. Mountain-biking the Dominican Republic With the highest mountains in the Caribbean, Pico Duarte (10,417 feet) and La Pelona (10,161 feet), you can bet your sore bum that the Dominican Republic is a mountain-biking paradise. On Iguana Mama's (800/849-4720, www.iguana mama.com) nine-day/eight-night Dominican Alps Tour, you'll be zipping through the lush countryside past coffee plantations and cabbage fields, fording rivers where villagers wash their laundry, and climbing through forests to heights of 5,500 feet. All the while, you'll be surrounded by the Caribbean waters in the distance. For breaks, stop at the fruit stands and sample the fresh passion fruit, sweet lemons, and guanabana. The $1,450 price includes all meals, guides, and accommodations in small village inns. Add $150 for mountain bike rental. Surfing Barbados The rugged east coast of Barbados is a welcome mat for the Atlantic and its myriad of moods. On any given day, expect swells that break from 2 to 20 feet. This is especially true from September through December, when surfers congregate on the shores and catch the waves at Soup Bowl and Parlers, massive swells that can often break as high as 40 feet. From December to March, the more consistent waves are on the western coast, at Half-Moon Fort. Serving the surfing community for more than 50 years, the Edgewater Inn (246/433-9900, www.edge waterinn.com) is perched on a cliff in a tropical rain forest overlooking the Atlantic. Rooms start at $49 a night in summer and $69 a night in winter. Bonefishing Eleuthera Over 100 miles long, Eleuthera, one of the Bahamas' Out Islands, barely exceeds two miles in width. Firm white-sand flats and shallow water ring the island, perfect for hooking the elusive bonefish. On a clear day, you can wade knee-deep in the water and spot the shimmering scales of the darting bone. The challenge is getting one of these suckers to take your bait. A little patience, a graceful cast just beyond the reach of the school, and a bonefish just might take that fly and run off some 75 yards of line in a couple of seconds. You'll get the feverish feel of what it's like to be connected to a remarkably fast and furious fish. Britain-based Bonefish Adventure (011-44/1202-474-343, fax /1202-474-261, www.bone fishadventure.com) offers seven nights at the Rainbow Inn, all breakfasts and dinners, a rental car, and two days of guided fly-fishing for $1,173. Hiking Dominica Something of an anomaly compared to the rest of the Caribbean, Dominica gets visitors for its interior, not its beaches. Tropical rain forest covers much of the mountainous terrain, earning the island a reputation as the most rugged in the West Indies. Ken's Hinterland Adventure Tours (767/448-4850, www.kenshinterland tours.com) is the premier hiking guide on Dominica and, judging from his Web site, is a favorite with celebrities like Mick Jagger, Jimmy Page, and Jimmy Buffett. In a weeklong package that includes seven nights' accommodation at the Fort Young Hotel and seven breakfasts, Ken's will take you on five excursions into the wilderness. You'll hike through rain forest in Morne Trois Pitons National Park to visit Ti Tou Gorge, where a waterfall lies hidden on the side of a mountain. You'll also crisscross Sari Sari River, jumping from boulder to boulder, to reach the pool at the bottom of Sari Sari Falls. The cost of this package starts at $690. Sailing the British Virgin Islands Sailors know the B.V.I. as legendary (and rather upscale) cruising grounds. Here, in places like Virgin Gorda, Peter Island, and Tortola, you'll find sheltered marinas with good anchorages, shopping, restaurants, and small hotels that are popular with yachters. Even better, you can sail to these various islands without venturing away from the reefs into the open ocean. But you won't have to worry about navigational charts on Madden Enterprises' six-day/five-night cruise around the B.V.I., since a skipper comes with you. Madden's 45-foot catamaran, which sleeps eight guests, has been plying these waters since 1980, so you can rest assured that the crew members will take you to all their favorite haunts. The cost of the trip, including all food, starts at $899. The boat is only available from April 15 through June 10. Call Madden at 800/262-3336 or access www. sailmadden.com.
Tax-free Travel Shopping
In foreign travel, there are few experiences that are more common and banal yet cause so much confusion as the tangled web of taxes, refunds, duties, and exemptions. The vicissitudes of just trying to figure out what you do and do not owe on a couple of souvenirs can get so complicated that most travelers throw their hands in the air, bite the bullet, and pay what all the governments tell them to. I say "governments" because there are actually two government levies involved in shopping in a foreign country-and the good news is that you don't have to pay either one of them. Like I said, there are two times a government tries to swoop in and take a percentage of your purchases. The 911 on the V.A.T. The first levy is a sort of national sales tax--most countries call it a "Value Added Tax," or VAT--that the country in which you are traveling charges on all purchases. Unlike state-imposed sales taxes in the US, this amount (which ranges anywhere from 3 to 22 percent) is already included in the sticker price on an item, so you rarely realize you're paying it. Foreign nationals are usually exempt from having to pay this tax on purchases (but not on such things as restaurant meals, hotel rooms, and car rentals), but since the VAT is already included in the price, you end up paying it anyway. The way foreign governments set this right is by allowing alien shoppers (that's you) to get that VAT refunded to them at the end of their trip by waiting in line at a counter in the airport--in the case of the EU, at the airport of the last EU country you'll be visiting. This means you must be sure you keep all receipts handy to fill out the VAT refund form at the airport (you mail this in after returning home). However, shops that have a "Tax Free Shopping for Tourists" sticker in the window can fill out the paperwork for you when you make your purchase. Quite a number of businesses belong to this network, including tons of mom and pop operations, not just those vast souvenir warehouses near tourist sights. Your only job after that is to drop the forms and receipts off at the airport counter, where they hand you a pile of crisp dollars and shiny new coins as your refund (yes, dollars, because getting local currency just before stepping on the plane to leave the country would be silly). One catch. To keep the line at this counter short, not every minor purchase counts for getting your VAT back. There is a minimum amount you must spend in a single store, which varies by country anywhere from around $50 to $200 (the VAT Calculator on the Web site globalrefund.com gives specifics for major countries) before the right to claim a VAT refund kicks in. That said, in those shops that honor the Tax Free Shopping for Tourist system can often do the paperwork for you even on smaller purchases. OK. So much for VAT. You save your receipts, you stand in line at the airport, and you either get cash back immediately (in the case of having those pre-filled-out forms from the "Tax Free Shopping for Tourists" shops), or they give you the stamped form and an envelope for you to fill out while waiting to board your plane, then you mail it in within 90 days of returning home. Eventually, you'll get in the mail a check for your refund. Sometimes this takes a week or two. Sometimes this takes six months. There is no rhyme or reason, so just be patient. "Duty Free" I'd like to pause for a moment and explain about the "Duty Free" shop in the airport, a phenomenon that dates back to the early transatlantic flights in the 1940s but these days means mostly homebound travelers wandering the airport carrying plastic bags stuffed with cartons of cigarettes and bottles of rum. The first scheduled transatlantic arrivals began touching tarmac at Ireland's Shannon airport in 1945; within two years, an entrepreneur named Sean Lomass had opened a kiosk he called "Duty Free" at the airport, and the idea (ahem) took off. The "duty" you are avoiding paying when you shop one of these places is the VAT, that local government tax, plus most import/export tariffs or duties. The practical upshot is that, on heavily taxed items such as alcohol, perfume, and tobacco, duty free prices can be up to 25 or even 50 cheaper than the normal local retail price. You save a bit on other items bought at the Duty Free as well--jewelry, clothing, tchochkies--but nowhere near as much as you do on the more tax-burdened products appealing to vice and vanity. It's a loophole merchants and governments have agreed upon, basically creating a little bubble between the security checkpoint and the ramp to the airplane where, for tax purposes, you're already considered to have left the country (this is why you can only buy from the duty-free when leaving). Note that since the EU is a single economic zone now, you can buy Duty Free only if you are flying to a country outside the EU (or are connecting a flight out of the EU that same day). That means if you have a ticket from, say, Rome to Paris, you can't do the duty free. (This, incidentally, has done a number on the bottom lines of Northern Europe's ferry lines, which once depended heavily on Duty Free shops for revenue and have already been struck severe blows by the newly emerged competition of the Eurostar train through the Chunnel, no-frills airlines, and the 7.8km Orerunsd Bridge linking Denmark with Sweden.) Now remember, I said you were avoiding the local taxes, duties, and tariffs on those purchases. Uncle Sam will still want to have his say about your purchases--whether Duty Free, "Tax Free Shopping," or simply stuff you bought overseas--once you get them home. I do declare! Once you arrive at a US airport, the US government reserves the right to charge you an import duty on any foreign purchase you bring into the country. In practical terms, they overlook souvenirs and such by allowing you to bring home a certain dollar amount of goods duty free. The amount you are allowed was for a very long time limited to $400 per person, but it was recently raised to $800 per person from most countries, $600 for most of the Caribbean. Fine art and certified antiques are exempt. There are some funky exceptions for folks returning from U.S. possessions and territories. There are also some fussy time-related rules largely aimed at airline employees and others who fly internationally more than once a month and return from trips abroad within 48 hours; it gets complicated, but basically those people can only bring in $200 a pop (this nasty little rule is mainly designed to keep flight attendants, pilots, etc. from become under-the-table importers/exporters). Beyond that $800 limit, customs reserves the right to charge you a duty, starting at around 3 percent for the first $1,000 over the limit. One way around this is, while still on the road, to mail to yourself up to $200 worth of items each day, marked "for personal use"--though this only makes sense if the postage rate will be cheaper than the duty. You may also mail up to $100 worth of items per person per day to friends and family marked as "unsolicited gifts" with a short list of the items contained and their values written on the outside of the package. Sending these loved ones an actual gift for them to keep, rather than just your personal purchases to hold on to for you, would be a nice touch. They also have restrictions on the physical amounts you can bring in on some items, especially those vices and vanities: 200 cigarettes, 100 cigars, and a ridiculously tiny limit of one liter of alcohol of any sort--wine, beer, booze, whatever. This is in addition to the long, odd list of things you may absolutely not bring back in to the US, or need special permits to do so, such as drug paraphernalia, plants, game trophies, firearms, art and ancient artifacts, absinthe, items from embargoed countries (Cuba, Iraq, Lybia, etc.) and a long, qualified list of meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, runny cheeses, and other foodstuffs. These are all items that the government considers "...would injure community health, public safety, American workers, children, or domestic plant and animal life, or those that would defeat our national political interests." Most of these rules have good reasoning behind them--the Mediterranean fruit fly epidemic that swept the West Coast and cost $100 million to fight back in the 1980s was traced back to a single piece of infested fruit brought home by a tourist. And let's not forget Dutch Elm Disease. Or Mad Cow. Those are all the regs of concern to most tourists. In practice, customs officials are pretty lenient as long as you are honest and don't break the set-in-stone rules, like trying to smuggle in prohibited foodstuffs. I've flown home from international destinations dozens upon dozens of times, and I always fill out the customs declaration form they hand you on the plane before landing as honestly as I can, listing all the goods I'm bringing home with a fair estimate of the cost. I've been waved through even when declaring $100 to $200 over the limit, when carrying four or five bottles of wine (really, "one liter" is so silly), with tins of pate (technically, canned meats are on the no-no list), and more borderline cases. You can get much more info, and more specifics, at customs.gov/. For specifics on which food items you can bring back, check out the rules aphis.usda.gov/travel.
Save Money When You Change Your Money
With a fluctuating world economy and the U.S. dollar selling at varying rates against other currencies, it becomes more and more important to avoid or reduce the 10% loss that most of us incur on changing our currency or traveler's checks into foreign funds. That statement--with its 10% reference--will come as a shock to many. Yep, whenever you exchange money, chances are you're giving away around 10% of its value during the transaction. The dollar is not doing so well nowadays, so it's silly to needlessly give away a decent slice of currency to middlemen. Might as well get as much as you can, right? Every little bit counts, and the place to begin saving is in the initial purchase of traveler's checks for the trip. For years, the U.S. Department of Justice has investigated the strange coincidence that almost all sellers of traveler's checks (most of them banks) charge a uniform fee--ranging from $1 to $2 per $100--for doing so. Since these banks enjoy other forms of income from the lucrative travelers check business, they really don't need that fee, and a few of them waive it. As the first step towards saving that ultimate total of up to 10%, you should seek to buy your checks from a bank that charges no fee. Often, the friendly manager of a small bank will waive the fee for a good customer. Some banks waive the fee for people with special accounts, or for members of their travel club, or for senior citizens, or for any number of other promotional reasons. Ask your own bank manager to consider waiving it for you, a long-time depositor. Saving the fee is the first step towards enjoying even greater savings overseas. Once abroad, you'll discover to your horror that most exchange offices charge both a fee and a commission for changing your traveler's checks into the local currency, in addition to imposing a hideously-weighted (in their favor) exchange rate in doing so. Calculated even conservatively, those fees and commissions can often add up to as much as 8% of the average transaction at those little, one-person booths called "Bureaux de Change" that are scattered about Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square, Place de la Madeleine and Via del Corso, in London, Paris and Rome. Therefore, the first, unbreakable rule of smart travel--I wish it were written in neon in the heavens above--is never to change your traveler's checks (or dollar currency) in any such exchange office, but only in a big, huge bank in the very center of the city. Not only in a big, huge bank, but in a bank affiliated with the issuer of the traveler's checks you're using. Cash Barclay's Travelers Checks at a Barclay's Bank in London, cash American Express Travelers Checks at an American Express Office, Thomas Cook Travelers Checks at a Thomas Cook office, and so on. If you do, you'll usually save the "encashment fee" that alone can amount to 5% and more at a "bureau de change." (I say "usually" because a handful of European countries require a fee by law, and in those countries, even the well-known travelers check companies can't avoid it. Since the mandated fee is a flat sum per transaction, regardless of the amount you cash, it pays--in those countries only--to cash a fairly large amount of traveler's checks at a time, in order to reduce the percentage of your loss). But even if you can't get to a bank affiliated with the issuer of your brand of travelers check, go to a bank nevertheless; they invariably impose much lower commissions for cashing traveler's checks than do the small "bureaux de change" to which I've referred. It almost always pays to stifle that impulse to dart into a closet-sized Piccadilly Circus currency shop, and walk a few further blocks instead to a big, stuffy bank. You'll save. The only place where banks themselves turn into the polite equivalent of highway robbers--no matter how prestigious their names, no matter how venerable their lineage--is at airports. In my experience, the moment a bank is given an airport location, it becomes just as rapacious, just as immoderate, as the flashiest, cockney money-changer. Possibly because they must pay heavy concession fees to the airport for the right to deal with a captive audience, the rates, commissions and fees of airport banks are calculated to cost you as much as 8% of the amount you exchange--considerably more than you'd pay at the very same bank in town. The other locations where you should never cash traveler's checks are hotels (you should also never send laundry from, or make international phone calls from, a hotel). Hotels regard money-changing as a "profit center" opportunity. While their fees and commissions may be reasonable, the exchange rates they use are ridiculous. To summarize this initial point: always cash your traveler's checks in a big, in-city bank. And try to use a bank affiliated with your brand of travelers check. But which brand of travelers check should you buy? In my firm view, any of them, there being very little difference among all major brands. All such companies maintain literally thousands of affiliated offices overseas that will replace your checks if they are lost or stolen, and with approximately the same speed and efficiency. I once visited the awesomely-impressive, indeed cavernous, refund offices staffed by hundreds of employees and equipped with hundreds of computers and telephones at the Florida headquarters of a major, travelers-check-issuing company--and it was not one of the top two or three firms. Buy the brand handled by a bank that will waive the issuance fee. Should you, though, buy dollar-denominated travelers checks or those in foreign currencies--euros, pounds and yen? Contrary to the advice you'll receive from well-meaning friends, there is no answer to that question. If you think the dollar is about to decline in value in the time between your purchase of traveler's checks and your use of them, then buy foreign-currency traveler's checks. Then, if the dollar does decline, you'll gain. If you think that the dollar is about to strengthen, then buy dollar-denominated travelers checks; and if you're right, you'll be better off. Trouble is, you're gambling either way; and since you don't know what the currency markets will do in the weeks ahead--no one really does--there's no sure way of making the choice. Tussling with that conundrum, one banker-friend of mine advises people to "hedge." Buy half your traveler's checks denominated in dollars, he says, and the other half in a foreign currency, and you can't lose; when one declines, the other usually strengthens, and the total amount of your funds stays absolutely even. Whatever decision you reach on any of the above issues, you should at least convert virtually all your travel money for an overseas trip into some form of traveler's checks--for two reasons: First, the traditional one. Traveler's checks are quickly refunded if they are lost or stolen; you avoid the loss of cash. Often I hear sad tales of tourists whose hotel rooms in Madrid or wherever were robbed of $800 in cash, or their pockets picked in Venice for almost as much--and I marvel. What in the world were they doing with that amount of cash, which they would certainly never carry even in the United States? Buy traveler's checks! And there's a second reason for doing so: all money changers--big and small, reputable and questionable--use a better exchange rate in the cashing of traveler's checks than in the conversion of actual currency, a difference--indeed--of as much as 1% or 2%. In other words, they pay out more foreign money for your traveler's checks than for your U.S. dollars. Why? Money merchants will tell you that for a number of reasons, including those of security, the expense of handling traveler's checks is less than for dealing with currency. Ask any expert traveler, who will confirm that around the world, traveler's checks are worth more in exchange transactions than the equivalent amount of dollar bills. ATM machines abroad How about using ATM machines for your cash needs overseas? This is an excellent option and one that we recommend highly (although not to the exclusion of traveler's cheques; we'll explain why below). Nowadays, there are ATM machines that honor American bank networks (Cirrus, Plus, etc.) in every major city in the world. And ATM machines (as well as credit cards) give you remarkably good exchange rates, similar to those enjoyed by corporations when they exchange tens of thousands of dollars. Fees at individual ATM machines around the world vary, just as charges are different at various spots around the U.S. Also, check with your bank to make sure that it does not charge an additional fee for using your card overseas. The problems with ATM's? Some smaller or more remote locations still lack them, and you can sometimes find yourself without access to one when you need it. ATM's are also not as plentiful abroad as they are in the U.S. While there may be hundreds in every larger city in Europe, you won't be able to find them on every block in every neighborhood. In certain circumstances you may have to hike many a mile before you'll find one that can take your card. Our solution? Always carry traveler's cheques, credit cards, and ATM cards (never rely on just one). That way you're never stuck when a smaller hotel doesn't accept your Visa card, or you find yourself in a village with no ATM machine. When it comes to currency, we follow the Boy Scout's motto: Be Prepared!
An Introduction to Passports and Visas
Some--not all, but some--countries and territories require that you have a passport and/or visa to visit them. Which do, which don't? You can assume, as a rule of thumb, that the requirements become more onerous the farther away you travel from the United States. Let's first consider the "closer-in" places. To enter Canada, you need nothing more than identification, preferably but not necessarily a "photo I.D." (driver's license, credit card, or similar). The worst that will occur if you haven't these items on your person (which once happened to me) is that you'll be taken briefly to an office, interviewed, and made to sign an affidavit swearing that you are a U.S. resident. The Canadians are visitor-friendly. To Mexico and the Caribbean, you'll need "proof of citizenship," which can only be (a) a passport, (b) a voter's registration card, or (c) an embossed birth certificate. Don't take these requirements lightly; though my daughter once entered the Island of Curacao with her library card for identification, I have seen persons treated rudely and put through considerable apprehension, who arrived in Bermuda or Mexico without these papers. If you don't have a passport or registration card, be sure to order a copy of your birth certificate from the municipal authorities where you were born, and specify that it must have a raised, official seal on it. To almost all other places outside the U.S. and its territories, such as the countries of Europe, you'll need a Passport. And to some countries--some--you'll also need a Visa obtained in advance of arrival. Passports Where and how you obtain a passport depends on whether you are applying for one for the first time, and how much time you have before departing on the trip. When it's time to apply for or renew a passport, the first stop should be the federal government's own easy-to-read Web page on the subject: travel.state.gov/passport_services.html. There you will find current fees, application locations, downloadable application forms, and answers to most of the passport-related questions that you might have. Because of light demand, late December through February is the fastest time of year in which to apply for a passport. After March, requests increase and orders can take longer than the official estimate of 25 working days (five weeks) for a regular application. Still, despite a 40% jump in demand over the past decade, improvements within the Passport Agency are shaving waiting time and service is remarkably swift. If you are seeking a U.S. passport for the very first time (and are over the age of 13), or if your last passport was issued more than ten years ago, then you must apply in person at any of the following offices, many of which require appointments: Any of the U.S. Passport Offices (their addresses are online and in the phone books) maintained in the following cities: Boston, Chicago, Honolulu, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, Stamford, Connecticut or Washington, D.C. (and two additional mail-only locations in Charleston and Portsmouth, NH); or A clerk of any Federal or State Court of record, county offices or a judge or clerk of any probate court accepting applications (phone first to inquire); or A designated postal employee at a selected post office (phone first to inquire). Bringing with you, if you apply in person, the following items: Two recent photographs 2 inches by 2 inches in size, full-face; a passport fee of $85 if you are 16 or over (rates went up in August 2002), $70 if you are under 16; Proof of Identity (like a driver's license, or a witness who can swear as to your identity); and Proof of U.S. Citizenship (embossed birth certificate or registrar's certificate, certificate of citizenship, naturalization certificate or notarized affidavit by person having knowledge of your place of birth). You will also fill out form DSP-11 at that time. There are, of course, different requirements for applicants residing abroad, naturalized citizens, or persons claiming citizenship through birth to U.S. citizens residing abroad at the time. If you are leaving in a very short time, and need to have a passport issued in less than four weeks, then you'll need to either apply in person at any of the actual U.S. Passport Offices in Boston, Chicago, Honolulu, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, Stamford, or Washington, D.C. (their addresses are in the phone books and at the federal Web site listed above) or you can renew by mail for a $60 fee (you must include proof of departure date). If you need to have the passport within 10 days, you'll be charged an additional $60 (plus a possible delivery charge additional), and must submit "proof of departure," i.e., copies of your airline tickets. Alternatively (and more and more people are now doing this), you can use the services of a commercial passport/visa service, especially one located in Washington, D.C. They will charge you more, but they will get the job done. For "life or death" passport emergencies--usually, the need to leave almost immediately--call 900/225-5674 (this is a toll-call, costing $0.35 per minute). And for other detailed information about passports, write or phone the information specialists at still another passport office, National Passport Center, 31 Rochester Avenue, Portsmouth, New Hampshire 03801-2900, phone 603/334-0500. If your current passport expires within six to nine months, it may be wise to go ahead and renew it now. That's because some countries require foreigners' passports to be valid at least six months from the time they will be visiting their country. If your passport expires sooner than that, you might run into trouble at the border. If your passport is lost or expires while you're abroad, head to the nearest American consulate or embassy with as much identification as possible and they can arrange a replacement on the spot. Likewise, if you run out of space for visa stamps, American embassies and consulates worldwide will sew in a new signature of pages without charge. The federal government regularly compiles a list of world nations and their entry requirements, which is posted at travel.state.gov/foreignentryreqs.html. More on that in our section on visas. Visas Some countries (none are in Western Europe) also require a visa of an American citizen. Visas are usually issued at the Consulates of the countries requiring them, and you may happen to live in a city with such a consulate. Then, you simply stroll over with your passport and have the visa affixed inside. If you don't live near a city with the Consulate in question, you might phone the nearest one to learn their procedures for obtaining the visa by mail (this step almost always involves mailing your passport to the Consulate). Alternately--and many people today are turning to this next option--you can use the services of a commercial visa-obtaining firm, of which there are now many in major US cities. For those who prefer to save the cost of using a middleman, we've compiled a list below, of all the countries that require visas and the required fees. Angola: For stays of up to 90 days, Angola charges a fee of $55 per visa. Contact: The Embassy of Angola, 2100 16th Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20009 (202/452-1042). Web: angola.org/. Armenia: A fee of $60 to $95, with the cost varying by processing time, buys a 21-day visa. Contact the Consular department of the Embassy of the Republic of Armenia, 2225 R Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20008 (202/319/2983). Web: armeniaemb.org/. Azerbaijan: There is no charge for visas issued within five working days. The maximum length of stay is also five days. Contact the Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan, 2741 34th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20008 (202/337-3500). Bahrain: The maximum stay in Bahrain is four weeks. A visa fee of $50 is required. Contact the Bahrain Embassy at 3502 International Drive, N.W., Washington, DC 20008 (202/342-0741). Web: bahrainembassy.org/. Bangladesh: The cost of a visa is $45. The length of stay permitted is determined on a case by case basis. Contact the Embassy of the People's Republic of Bangladesh, 3510 International Drive, N.W., Washington, DC 20008 (202/244-0183). Belarus: A visa allows tourists to stay for up to 30 days. The processing fee is $50 for visas processed within five working days, $100 for next day processing. Contact the Consul General, 708 Third Avenue, 21st Floor, New York, NY 10017 (phone 212/682-5392). Benin: A $40 fee covers a visa good for up to 36 months. Apply to Embassy at the Republic of Benin, 2124 Kalorama Road, N.W., Washington, DC 20008 (202/232-6656). Bhutan: Visas are issued at the point of entry in Bhutan and cost $20 for a 15-day stay. Contact the Bhutan Mission to the United Nations, 2 United Nations Plaza, 27th Floor, New York, NY 10017 (212/286-1919). Brazil: Visas are valid for multiple entries within five years from the date of the first entry, for stays of up to 90 days. The one-time processing fee is $45. Contact one of the following offices: Brazilian Consulate General in BostonThe Stattler Building20 Park Plaza, suite 810Boston, MA 02116617/542-4000 Brazilian Consulate General in Chicago401 North Michigan Avenue, Suite 3050Chicago, IL 60611312/464-0244, 464-0245 Brazilian Consulate General in Houston1700 West Loop South, suite 1450Houston, TX 77027713/961-3063. brazilhouston.org/ Brazilian Consulate General in Los Angeles8484 Wilshire Blvd., suites 711/730Beverly Hills, CA 90211Phone: (323) 651-2664Brazilian Consulate General in Miami2601 S. Bayshore Drive, Suite 800Miami, FL 33133305/285-6200, 285-6209 brazilmiami.org/ Brazilian Consulate General in New York1185 Avenue of the Americas (Sixth Avenue), 21st FloorNew York, NY 10036917/777-7777, brazilny.org/ Brazilian Consulate General in San Francisco300 Montgomery Street, suite 900San Francisco, CA, 94104415/981-8170, brazilsf.org/ Brazilian Embassy in Washington, D.C.3009 Whitehaven St., N.W.Washington, D.C. 20008202/238-2828, brasilemb.org/ Burkina Faso: Visas valid for up to three months, extendible once in country. The processing fee is $25. Contact the Embassy of Burkina Faso, 2340 Mass. Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (202/332-5577). Web: burkinaembassy-usa.org/. Burma (Myanmar): We do not recommend travel to Burma because of its human rights abuses. But should you decide to go, the visa cost is $20, good for three months. Contact the Burmese Embassy (Embassy of the Union of Myanmar), 2300 S St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (202/332-9044 or 9045). Burundi: A multiple-entry visa that is valid for up to two months requires a $40 processing fee for a single entry, $80 for multiple entries. Contact the Embassy of the Republic of Burundi, Suite 212, 2233 Wisconsin Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20007 (phone 202/342-2574). Cambodia: Visa cost is $20 for a 30-day stay. Contact the Royal Embassy of Cambodia, 4530 16th Street, N.W., Washington D.C. 20011 (202/726-7742). Web: embassy.org/cambodia. If you decide to go in person, please note that the consulate closes from 12 to 1 p.m. each day for lunch. West coasters can contact the local honorary consuls for visas. In Los Angeles that is: Dr. Hay Yang, 422 Ord Street, Suite G, Los Angeles, CA 90012 (213/625-7777). For Seattle, contact Daravuth D. Huoth, 1818 Westlake Avenue, N, Suite 315, Seattle, WA 98109 (206/217-0830). Cameroon: A multiple-entry tourist visa costs $65.22 and is valid for stays of up to three months. Contact the Embassy of the Republic of Cameroon, 2349 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (202/265-8790). Cape verde: Single-entry tourist visa requires a $20 payment; for a multiple-entry visa there is a $40 fee. Contact the Embassy of the Republic of Cape Verde, 3415 Mass. Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20007 (202/965-6820). Web: capeverdeusaembassy.org/ . Central African Republic: Processing fee is $150. Contact the Embassy ofCentral African Republic, 1618 22nd St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (202/483-7800). Chad: Visa valid for stays of up to 30 days, $75 fee required. Contact the Embassy of the Republic of Chad, 2002 R St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20009 (202/462-4009). Web: chadembassy.org/. People's Republic of China: A single-entry visa, which allows a 30-day stay, requires a $30 processing fee. Double entry within a three-month period, again for 30-day stays, is $45. Multiple entries within a six-month period: $60. Along with the fee, be ready to produce two 2X2 photos. Be sure to check the expiration date on your passport before you apply for a visa. China only allows visitors from those whose passports are valid for more than six months from the date of entry. If you live in the Washington, DC area, contact the Visa Section of the Chinese Embassy, 2201 Wisconsin Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20007 (202/338-6688). Web: china-embassy.org/. There are five other consular offices that can issue visas as well. They are: Passport & Visa OfficeConsulate General of P.R. China520 12th AvenueNew York , NY10036(212/502-0271) Consulate General in Chicago100 West Erie StreetChicago, IL 60610(312/803-0095) Consulate General in San Francisco1450 Laguna StreetSan Francisco, CA 94115(415/674-2900) Consulate General in Los Angeles443 Shatto PlaceLos Angeles, CA 90020(213/807-8088) Consulate General In Houston3417 Montrose BoulevardHouston, Texas 77006(713/524-0780) Democratic Republic of Congo: Visas are valid one to three months depending on the fee. A single-entry visa costs between $75 and $264 and a multiple-entry visa ranges between $120 and $360. Contact the Embassy of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1800 New Hampshire Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C., 20009 (202/234-7690). Cuba: To visit Cuba, Americans must apply for a license through the Treasury Department. A license can be obtained only if you fit into one of the existing categories, which range from people traveling to Cuba for professional research to people whose travel is related to humanitarian needs. A complete list of the categories can be found on the Treasury Department's Web site, treas.gov/ofac, along with applications. Contact the U.S. Treasury Department, Office of Foreign Assets Control, 1500 Pennsylvania Ave, NW Washington, D.C., 20220 (202/622-2500). The Bush Administration has cracked down of late on illegal travel to Cuba, imposing heavy fines and greatly restricting the number of licenses the Treasury issues yearly. Djibouti: Multiple-entry visas are valid for 30 days and require a $50 fee. Contact the Embassy of the Republic of Djibouti, 1156 15th St., N.W., Suite 515, Washington, D.C. 20005 (202/331-0270). Egypt: A $15 processing fee covers the cost of a visa good for stays of up to three months. American's can simply purchase the visa at their point of entry. Should you wish to take care of this matter in advance, Egypt's main office in the US is the Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt, 3521International Court, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (202/895-5400). Web: touregypt.net/ . But travelers from other areas of the country can obtain visas and information from the following Consulate Generals: Consulate General of Egypt - Chicago500 N. Michigan Avenue, Suite 1900Chicago, IL 60611(phone 312/828-9162) Consulate General of Egypt - Houston1990 Post Oak Boulevard, Suite 2180Houston, TX 77056(phone 713/961-4915) Consulate General of Egypt - New York1110 Second AvenueNew York, NY 10022(phone 212/759-7120/7121/7122) Consulate General of Egypt - San Francisco3001 Pacific AvenueSan Francisco, CA 94115(phone 415/346-9700) Eritrea: The length of stay is determined by the visa type, expect a $25 fee. Contact the Embassy of Eritrea, 1708 New Hampshire Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20009, (202/319-1991). Ethiopia: Travelers can stay up to two years on an Ethiopian visa. The fee is $70. Contact the Embassy of Ethiopia, 3506 International Dr., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, (202/364-1200). Web: ethiopianembassy.org. Gabon: A $60 fee covers stays of up to four months. Contact the Permanent Mission of the Gabonese Republic to the UN, 18 East 41st St., 9th Floor, New York, NY 10017 (212/686-9720). Gambia: Visa allows a one-year stay, the fee is $45. Contact the Permanent Mission of The Gambia to the U.N., 800 2nd Ave., 4th floor, New York, NY 10017, (212/949-6640). Web: gambia.com. Georgia: The processing fee for a visa to Georgia is between $40 and $70, which allows stays from two- to three-weeks. Contact the Embassy of the Republic of Georgia, 1615 New Hampshire Ave., N.W., Suite 300, Washington, D.C. 20009 (202/393-6060). Web: georgiaemb.org. Ghana: Single-entry visas require a $20 fee and multiple-entry visas require a $50 fee. Contact the Embassy of Ghana, 3512 International Drive, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (202/686-4520). Web: ghana-embassy.org. Guinea: Visitors can stay up to six months; there is a $45 visa fee. Contact the Embassy of the Republic of Guinea, 2020 16 St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20009 (phone 202/518-5700). Guinea-Bissau: A $40 processing fee will purchase a visa good for only two days. Contact the Embassy of Guinea-Bissau, 15929 Yukon Lane, Rockville MD 20855 (301/947-3958). India: India has a sliding scale for visas. Transit visas for stays of just 15 days cost $30, multiple entry visas good for stays of up to six months are $60. For serious wanderers, India will issue visas good for up to one year for $85, and for up to five years for $150. Visas begin on the day of their issue. Applicants should bring two passport size photos to any of the following offices: Embassy of India3 East 64th St. New York, NY 10021 (212/774-0662)Web: indianembassy.org/. Consulate General of India, Chicago455 N, Cityfront Plaza Drive, Suite 850Chicago, Illinois - 60611(312/595-0405) Consulate General of India, San Francisco540 Arguello BoulevardSan Francisco, CA - 94118(415/668-0662) Consulate General of India, HoustonSuite 600, 6th floor, 3 Post Oak Central1990 Post Oak BoulevardHouston, Texas - 77056(713/626-2148) Jordan: A single-entry visa requires a $16.50 fee and a multiple-entry visa requires a $31.50 fee. Tourists can visit for six months. Contact the Embassy of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, 3504 International Dr., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (202/966-2861). Web: jordanembassyus.org/. Kazakhstan: Single-entry visa starts at $115 for one month and goes up to $245 for a multiple-entry visa. Contact the Embassy of the Republic of Kazakhstan, 1401 16th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036 (202/232-5488). Kenya: Visitors can stay for six months. The cost for a single-entry visa is $50, multiple-entry is $100. Contact the Embassy of Kenya, 2249 R St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (202/387-6101). Web: kenyaembassy.com/. Kiribati (formerly Gilbert Islands): Expect a $57.75 fee for a single-entry visa, good for a six-week stay. Contact the Embassy of Fiji, 2233 Wisconsin Ave. NW, Suite 240 Washington D.C. 20007 (202/337-8320). Kuwait: Visa fee is $24. Length of stay varies depending on visa type.Contact the Embassy of the State of Kuwait, 2940 Tilden St., N.W.,Washington, D.C. 20008 (202/966-0702). Web: kuwait-info.org/. Kyrgyz Republic (Kyrgyzstan): Visas for stays of up to one month cost $50, up to three months $90, one year $200. Additional fees for multiple entry visas. Contact the Embassy of the Kyrgyz Republic, 1732 Wisconsin Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20007 (phone 202/338-5141). Web: kyrgyzstan.org/. Laos: There is a $30 processing fee and visas are valid for a 15-day stay. Contact Consular Section of the Embassy of the Lao People's Democratic Republic, 2222 S St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (202/667-0076). Web: visit-laos.com/. Lebanon: Single-entry visas are $35 and last three months. Multiple-entry visas cost $70 and cover stays of up to six months. Contact the Embassy of Lebanon, 2560 28th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (phone 202/939-6300). Web: lebanonembassy.org/. Liberia: Visas are valid for three months and require a $45 fee. Contact the Embassy of the Republic of Liberia, 5201 16th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20011 (202/723-0437). Web: liberiaemb.org/. Madagascar: Visas are valid six months from the date of issue. Short-term visas are valid for single-entry up to 30 days. The fee is $33.45. Double-entry visas cost $39.01. Contact the Embassy of the Democratic Republic of Madagascar, 2374 Mass. Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (202/265-5525/6). Web: embassy.org/madagascar. Maldives: There is no charge for a visa here, but you need one to stay up to 30 days. Contact the Mission to the U.N., 800 2 Ave. Suite 400E New York, NY 10017 (phone 212/599-6195). Mali: Allows stay up to one month. Fee is $20. Contact the Embassy of the Republic of Mali, 1900 L. St. Suite 401 N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036 (phone 202/332-2249). Mauitania: Visas are valid for three months and cost $45. Contact the Embassy of the Republic of Mauritania, 2129 Leroy Pl., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (202/232-5700). Modova: The fee for a single-entry visa is $4, which allows a one-month stay. Contact The Embassy of the Republic of Moldova, 2101 S. St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20005, (202/667-1130). Web: moldova.org/. Mongolia: Visas are good for stays of up to three months and cost $45. Contact the Embassy of Mongolia, 2833 M Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20007 (202/333-7117). Web: undp.org/missions/mongolia. Mozambique: Entry visa valid for three months from date of issuance. A single-entry visa costs $40, multiple-entry visa $60. Contact the Embassy of the Republic of Mozambique, Suite 570, 1990 M St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036 (202/293-7146). Nauru: Tourists can visit for a maximum of 30 days. Contact the Consulate of the Republic of Nauru in Guam: Ada Professional Bldg., Marine Dr. 1st Floor, Agana, Guam 96910 (671/649-7106). Nepal: Visas are extendible to a maximum period of 150 days. A single-entry visa is $30, double-entry $55, and multiple-entry $90. All of these visas are valid for 60 days. Contact the Royal Nepalese Embassy, 2131 Leroy Pl., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (phone 202/667-4550). Web: undp.org/missions/nepal. Niger: A fee of $35.58 allows a month stay and a fee of $88.94 allows for stays of three-months. Contact the Embassy of the Republic of Niger, 2204 R St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (202/483-4224). Nigeria: Processing fee is $45. Stays of up to one month are permitted. Contact the Embassy of the Republic of Nigeria, 2201 M Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20037 (phone 202/822-1500 or 1522) or the Consulate General in New York (212/715-7200). Norfolk Island: Visas are issued upon arrival for visits up to three months. The fee is $33. For more information, consult the Australian Embassy, 1601 Mass. Ave. N.W. Washington, D.C. 20036 (202/797-3000). Web: austemb.org/. Oman: Visas for multiple-entry are issued for stays of up to six months and are valid for two years. The fee is $60. Contact the Embassy of the Sultanate of Oman, 2535 Belmont Rd., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, (phone 202/387-1980). Pakistan: Tourists can stay up to one month, visas cost $45. Contact the Consulate of Pakistan, 12 E 65th St. New York, NY 11102, (212/879-5800). Web: pakistan-embassy.com/. Palau: There is a $50 fee for stays of up to 60 days. Contact the Representative Office, 1150 18th St., N.W., Suite 750, Washington, D.C. 20036 (202/452-6814). Web: palauembassy.com/. Papua New Guinea: Visas allow visits of up to 60 days. Single entry visa costs $10.25. Contact the Embassy of Papua New Guinea, 1779 Massachusetts Ave., Suite 805, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036 (phone 202/745-3680). Web: pngembassy.org/. Qatar: Qatar visas come in a number of different flavors, with varying maximum stays. Expect to pay a $45 processing fee. Contact the Embassy of the State of Qatar, 4200 Wisconsin Ave., Suite 200, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20016 (202/274-1603). Russia: The government of Russia charges a $70 processing fee for month-long visas, to be issued within two weeks of application. Higher fees are applicable for rush orders. In addition to three passport sized photos (on matte paper, please), Russia requires visitors show written confirmation, either from their tour operator or hotel, or their travel plans. Make sure that the agency's reference and registration numbers are included in the confirmation material. In Washington, contact the Consular Section of the Embassy of Russia, 2641 Tunlaw Road, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20007 (202/939-8907). Web: russianembassy.org/. For New York the address is: 9 East 91 Street, New York, NY 10128 (phone 212/348-0926). The consulate also has offices in San Francisco (2790 Green Street, San-Francisco, CA 94123, phone: 415/928-6878) and Seattle (2323 Westin Building, 2001 6th Ave, Seattle, WA 98121. phone 206/728-1910) Sao Tome and Principe: Tourist visas for single entry of up to three months ($35) or multiple entry of up to six months ($40). Contact the Permanent Mission of Sao Tome and Principe to the U.N., 400 Park Avenue, 7th Floor, New York, NY 10022 (212/317-0533). Sierra Leone: A single-entry visa is valid for three months, $45 fee. Multiple-entry visa, $90 fee. Contact the Embassy of Sierra Leone, 1701 19th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20009 (202/939-9261). Sudan: Tourist visas for single entry are valid for three months and cost $50. Contact the Embassy of the Republic of the Sudan, 2210 Mass. Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (202/338-8565) Web: sudanembassyus.org/. Suriname: There is a processing fee of $45 for a visa; visitors can stay for up to one year. Contact the Embassy of the Republic of Suriname, 4301 Connecticut Ave., Suite 460 N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (202/244-7488 and 7590). Syria: Visa permits a two-week stay in Syria, the fee is $61. Contact the Embassy of the Syrian Arab Republic, 2215 Wyoming Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (202/232-6313). Tajikistan: The fee is $70 and visas are valid for one month. Contact the Consulate General, 2790 Green St. San Francisco, CA 94123 (phone 415/928-6878). Tanzania: Visas are valid for six months. There is a $50 fee. Contact the Embassy of the United Republic of Tanzania, 2139 R St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (202/939-6125). Togo: $45 is the cost of a visa, however length of stay will vary by visa type. Contact the Embassy of the Republic of Togo, 2208 Mass. Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (202/234-4212). Turkey: American and Canadian citizens can pick up a visa at any port of entry into Turkey for visits up to three months. The fee is $45. Contact the Consular Office of the Embassy of the Republic of Turkey, 2525 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (202/612-6740). Web: turkey.org/. Turkmenistan: Length of stay and processing fees vary on a case-by-case basis. Tourists visiting from one to ten days pay a $31 processing fee. Contact the Embassy of Turkmenistan, 2207 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (202/588-1500). Uganda: Single-entry visas cost $50 and allow a three-month visit. Contact the Embassy of the Republic of Uganda, 5911 16th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20011 (202/726-7100-02). Ukraine: A single-entry visa is $30. The length of stay is determined by type of visa. Contact the Consular Office of the Embassy of Ukraine, 3350 M St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20007, (202/333-7507). Web: ukremb.com/. United Arab Emirates: Single-entry visa enables stays of up to 30 days and a multiple-entry allows stays of up to six months. There is a $51 processing fee. Contact the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates, 3523 International Court, Suite 100, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, (202/243-2400). Uzbekistan: There is a $45 fee for visas covering 15-day visits. Contact the Embassy of the Republic of Uzbekistan, 1746 Massachusetts Ave., NW, 20036 (202/530-7284) or the Uzbekistan Consulate, New York, NY 10017 (212/754-6178 or 7403). Web: uzbekistan.org/