1. Apply in person? This is generally the quickest way to get a visa, but find out the rules in advance: Some consulates only accept applications until 1 P.M., and consulates rarely accept credit cards or cash (so bring a money order or cashier's check).
2. Apply by mail? Start the process at least a month before departure. Download forms from the embassy's website and include a prepaid return envelope with your submission. Also: Some consulates don't accept FedEx, UPS, or DHL.
3. Shop around When it comes to expediters, the highest price doesn't always guarantee quicker, better service. Unless otherwise stated, expediter prices--in this story or as advertised on their websites--do not include consulate fees.
4. Trust your expediter Expediter services tend to have set appointments at consulates, and will carry your application there by hand, so you don't have to worry that your passport will end up getting lost in the mail.
5. And don't forget If you need a visa, you probably also need an onward or return ticket and a passport valid for at least six months beyond the travel dates.