15 December 2008

Singapore to Southampton & New York

Now is the time to take off a month and sail from Singapore to Southampton on the new Cunarder, the Queen Victoria, or all the way to New York on the grand ocean liner Queen Mary 2.
The most exciting segment of the 2009 world cruise of the Queen Victoria departs Singapore on 19 March 2009, and arrives in Southampton on 20 April, after a 32 day voyage around India, up to Dubai, through the Suez Canal, into Turkey and Greece, through the Mediterranean, and our into the Atlantic up to Southampton.
When Cunard began selling the voyage, the lowest price was US$7315 for an inside (no window) cabin. With the voyage soon upon us, and unfilled space, Cunard just announced a dramatic drop in price. The same cabin can now be had for only US$4199. This comes to $131 per day.
At the same time, the Queen Mary 2 is completing her third world cruise, and offers a segment from Singapore to New York for an amazingly low price. Taking only 31 days, the QM2 will follow roughly the same route as the QV, but carry on across the Atlantic to New York for only US$2899, or only $94 per day. The Mary leaves Singapore on 14 March, docking in New York on 14 April 2009. That is less than the price of a good hotel room, and includes room service.
Honestly, it is nearly impossible to get that many destinations for that low a price, and be housed and fed for a month, all while ending up right back in North America.

04 December 2008

Bangkok & Mumbai Travel Situation

This past week has not been the best of times to fly into either Mumbai or Bangkok airports.
Thailand's capital city has been struck by airport paralysis as angry pro-democracy demonstrators invaded the airports and shut down commercial service to one of Asia's most popular cities.
The deadly attacks in central Mumbai last week did not target the airport, but have disrupted life and caused fear amongst the travelling public.
These airports are now open for scheduled international air traffic. You can safely use these airports for tourism and business travel. However, various international airlines, such as Air Canada, are willing to make changes to tickets to both cities in light of the current situations. Check with your airline or travel agent if you are still concerned.
Canadians do not need a visa to visit Thailand.
India absolutely requires Canadians to have a visa before travel. Click here for an Indian visa.

26 November 2008

The Queen is Dead

This morning Cunard's venerable ocean liner QUEEN ELIZABETH 2 arrived at the port of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates: its final stop on a forty-year voyage.
Launched in 1967 and in service in 1969, the ocean liner has sailed the equivalent of thirteen round trips to the moon. She has carried over two million passengers. She has even been to war: ferrying troops to the Falklands/Malvinas in 1982.
I had the pleasure of being on her last true round-the-world cruise in 2007, and can truly say I will miss this ship and all who sailed on her.
The QE2 now becomes an attraction in Dubai, and will be turned into a hotel, convention centre, and museum. So if you did not have the pleasure and privilege of sailing on her, you can now visit her in a climate more welcoming than the cold North Atlantic!
Now the excitement builds as we anxiously await news of the replacement Queen Elizabeth, or as I call her, "the QE New".

19 November 2008

World Toilet Day

Today is international World Toilet Day. The day is meant to bring attention to the single greatest health issue on the planet: sanitation. With close to 80 per cent of all disease being caused by fecal matter, the problems of access to toilets is a global one.
It is estimated that 2.6 Billion people do not have access to sanitation facilities. This means about 40 per cent of the world’s population lives their lives literally surrounded by excrement. This does not mean they do not have a toilet as we know it, but that they do not even have a bucket or the knowledge of sanitation measures.
Now imagine if somehow all people had access to toilets. All of a sudden we would cut the prevalence of disease by billions of cases per year. Medical and drug costs would drop. People would be healthier.
Now what does this have to do with travel? Well, as travellers seek more exotic locations, they are faced with more places without enhanced or even basic sanitation means. Let’s face it: having to go to the bathroom in some places in Africa and Asia is a trying experience for us soft Canadians. As a seasoned traveller I recommend you always carry a small roll of toilet paper on your person whilst travelling. And let’s be truthful here: it can be very useful not just in a village in Cambodia, but also in an airport boarding lounge. Before travel to an exotic location, I collect the ends of regular toilet paper rolls. The last bit of the roll is small and convenient to carry. Removing the cardboard tube helps. Put it in a zip-lock bag if it might get wet.
To learn more about world Toilet Day, visit the World Toilet Organization (WTO) by clicking here.
And wash your hands.

11 November 2008

Brazil - new prices

Bad news. Due to recent fast and furious dollar fluctuations and depreciation, fees for Brazilian visas have been upped dramatically.
As of November 2008 there are new fees for a Brazilian visa. Tourist visa prices jumped 50% from the old $90 to the new $135 per person. The business visa is also higher, at $126 per person. Prices for US citizens living in Canada have climbed to an astonishing $252 per person.
So if you are visiting Brazil by plane or ship or bus, or even stopping for a day at Iguaza Falls on the Argentine border, you need a visa at the new price. Visas acquired at the old price are still valid if they have not reached their expiry date.
Click here for Brazilian visa details.

09 November 2008


There is good news in Visaville.
Quietly and without notice the Chinese embassy in Canada began processing visa requests in under 48 hours if required and if paid at double the standard rate.
So we are once again pleased to offer Now visa service for China. If your application arrives before 09:30, then it will be handed back by the Chinese the next day.
The fee for this new fast service, re-instated now that the Olympics are past and things have settled down in China, is only $125.
The other good news is that multiple-entry visas are again available if you can prove you had one in the past. A previous multi visa in your current or previous passport is proof. Of course, you have to provide the old passport in case of the latter.
So click here to get your Chinese visa from VSC: Canada's best and most trusted visa provider.

05 November 2008

Passports for US travel

Even with the defeat of the Bush group in Washington, there is to be no respite for travellers. As of 01 June 2009, all people seeking entry to the United States of America by land, sea or air will need to present a full passport.
At the beginning of 2008, the US Department of Homeland Security and the US border agency began requiring all air passengers to present a passport in order to board a flight to the USA. At that time land and sea border crossings needed only a birth certificate and another item of government photo identification such as a driving license. But this was only temporary.
No border crossing into the USA will be possible without a regular passport. This becomes the rule as of next June: only seven months from now.
So go out and get your passport renewed, or get your first-ever passport. Visit the passport office on-line here. Passports applied for in person take two weeks, or four weeks if by mail. For 24 hour service you pay an extra $70 above the basic passport fee of $87; but you have to apply in person. Those wanting more pages should pay the extra $5 for a double-thick passport.
And remember, any visa you already have in your passport automatically expires with the passport, and cannot be transferred to the new passport. Your passport number will change, too. So if you applied for anything under the old passport, or used the old passport as ID for a cruise ticket, this will all have to be changed. Remember to update your airline on-line preferences, as these are automated to hasten border crossing procedures and linked to your old passport.

03 November 2008

Brazilian financial requirements

For reasons unknown to the general public, the Brazilian government has carved up Canada into four consular jurisdictions for the purpose of issuing visas for tourist and business travel.
For visa applications to any and all of the jurisdictions, we at VSC require applicants to provide financial data. The standard requirement is that all applicants provide either a recent bank statement with their name on it, or their recent Revenue Canada "Notice of Assessment" which usually arrives about two weeks after you file your taxes.
Now some people naturally disagree with having to supply what they rightly see as personal financial information. Of course, the Brazilian government is under no obligation to provide a visa, either!
Making the whole thing even more complicated is the fact that the four jurisdictions have different financial requirements.

Ottawa: "self-employed or unemployed applicants must present statement of earnings. Statements of earnings of spouses or parents in case of students can be accepted."
Ontario: None listed.
Eastern Canada: "proof of financial means: - copy of recent bank statement, with complete name of the account holder; - copy of last income tax."
Western Canada: "Proof of income or employment: - copy of recent bank statement, with complete name of the account holder; - copy of recent pay stub; - copy of last income tax."

The lesson is that the requirements are on average for everyone (not just the self- or unemployed). Only Toronto does not specifically ask for the info, but is still subject to the rules set down by the Embassy in Ottawa. This is why we inform people of the requirement to provide either the Notice of Assessment, or a recent bank statement. Either document must have the name of the person applying on the original document. Photocopies are encouraged. The account number or the SIN can be deleted.
I hope this explains why we stand by this requirement. There is no use in having the visa process grind to a halt just before an important and expensive departure just because a simple document was not submitted.

23 October 2008

Pets abroad - by air and sea

With more and more restrictions on travel, it is getting more difficult to take your pet cat or dog abroad.
My preferred method of pet transport from Canada to Europe is by ocean liner. Cunard Lines has a purpose-built kennel compound on the Queen Mary 2. The twelve kennels are overseen by a full-time kennel master who feeds, cares for, and walks the animals. Owners can visit and spend time in the kennel compound with their pets. This expensive service is only available trans-Atlantic, and must be booked well in advance. Also, in order to land a pet in the UK, it must be quarantined for six months. This tends to cut down on the desirability of such ports. However, a sailing to France or Germany would avoid such bizarre restrictions.
For those of us without the time and money to sail to Europe or anywhere else, there is the usual way: Air Canada. Air Canada only allows cats and dogs, and no longer allows them in the cabin with passengers unless they are trained and certified service animals (guide dogs for the blind) and are pre-registered with Air Canada Medical Assistance Desk.
All pets must travel in the baggage compartment as checked luggage. You have to pre-register your pet within 24 hours of booking your ticket (1-888-247-2262). Within Canada and the USA the additional cost for a pet is $105 plus taxes; and for any other destination $270 plus taxes. Kennels must weigh less than 32 kg. “International regulations state that the pet carrier must be big enough to allow the animal to stand, turn around and lie down comfortably. If the pet carrier does not allow the animal to do this, Air Canada must refuse transport.” (Air Canada) Please note no airline accepts any responsibility for the death or injury of pets carried by the airline at any time.
As planes tend to be full during holiday periods, there are no pets carried on Air Canada during the Christmas and New Years’ period (18 December - 7 January); and during the summer (20 June - 10 September). During the winter period pets will not be carried on the CRJ and Embraer aircraft due to unheated cargo holds. Also, during the summer you cannot send you pet through the following airports: ATL, MCO, MIA, FLL, LAS, IAH, PHX.
NEVER ever tranquilize your pet before travel: this causes illness and the pet cannot take care of itself when drugged. As an aside, please refrain from dressing them in costumes at Halloween: it degrades you and the animal.

According to Air Canada, here are some current restrictions on pet transport in the most popular destinations.
AUSTRALIA Pets can only travel via cargo due to strict controls.
CANADA Contact the Animal Health Division of Agriculture Canada.
EUROPEAN UNION A Health certificate information form must be filed.
HONG KONG Pets can only travel via cargo due to strict controls.
JAMAICA Pets can only travel via cargo due to strict controls.
NEW ZEALAND Pets can only travel via cargo due to strict controls.
TRINIDAD & TOBAGO Pets are not accepted due to quarantine laws.
UNITED KINGDOM Pets are not accepted into or through the UK in the baggage compartment due to quarantine laws. Air Canada was the first North American carrier allowed to participate in United Kingdom's Pet Travel Scheme (PETS) which permits pet dogs and cats to enter U.K as cargo without the usual 6 months quarantine as long as certain conditions are met. Customers wishing to travel with a service animal should contact the Medical Assistance Desk at Air Canada Reservations.
UNITED STATES of AMERICA Pets can only travel via cargo. Pets cannot be shipped to Hawaii at all due to extremely strict agricultural regulations.

13 October 2008

Sail the Mekong

Until now, quickly and comfortably sailing up or down the Mekong River between Saigon and Phnom Penh, Cambodia, had been impossible. There was either speedboat service which was fast and uncomfortable, or slow boat service which was very comfortable but took a week.
That is all set to change with the introduction in July 2009 of the new riverboat now being built in Saigon by the international riverboat company Pandaw Cruises. Pandaw is about to launch the RV Indochina Pandaw, with only thirty cabins, and holding a maximum of 60 passengers. The Indochina Pandaw will make a two night journey (up to three a week) along the mighty and massive Mekong River, linking the two large cities of the southern Mekong.
I have personally sailed the Mekong with Pandaw, and can recommend nothing better in all of southeast Asia. You have a mahogany-paneled cabin with air conditioning. Your door opens to the side of the boat and the wrap-around terrace. Meals are a mix of Asian and European foods prepared for a single small sitting. All excursions are included in the ticket price.
This is a great way to see the real Vietnam and the real Cambodia. Watch as life unfolds along the river. Sit atop of the sun deck as the boat glides past villages largely unchanged for hundreds of years. The river really is the only true life-line here, and all life centres around it.
What makes this even better is that the road between the two cities is awful and a very undesirable way to travel. Also, flights are short, but you do not get to experience the river delta region. This is the most productive rice area in the world, and you have to see it from a boat.
There is no better way to combine a trip to Vietnam and a visit to Cambodia than by riverboat.
Lots more information about Pandaw’s new RV Indochina Pandaw can be found here.
Canadians do not need to have a visa for Cambodia before travel. You can buy your visa at the airport or border upon arrival for only US$20. Click here for visa details for Cambodia.
You must have a Vietnamese visa prior to arrival. Click here for visa details for Vietnam.

08 October 2008

Bra-ziiiill !

Good news. Brazil, although requiring Canadians to get a visa before travel to Brazil, is giving very generous visas to Canadains in return for the inconvenience.
Yes, Brazil is giving multiple entry and long-term visas in response to requests for simple tourist visas. It is common to see multi-entry visas valid for two years being placed in Canadian tourist passports. So for the price of one visa application, you could set yourself up for a few winters of sun and fun on the beach and at Carnivale, or jungle adventures up the Amazon. This applies equally to people flying or taking a cruise.
Click here for Brazilian visa details.

06 October 2008

Visit Viet Nam

I am secretly Vietnamese, but you cannot tell by looking as I have a large caucasian birthmark which covers my entire body. I love Vietnamese cuisine. This is perhaps the most perfect of all Asian cooking styles. There is little deep frying, and the freshness and crispness of the vegetables comes through with every bite.
Viet Nam is a very long slender country, and the best way to see it is by train or by riverboat. The train will take you along the full length of the country. A riverboat will take you through the Mekong Delta: the world epicentre of rice production.
To my mind the best way to travel in and see much of Viet Nam is by train. To find out how easy this is, I recommend you visit Seat 61 dot com and puruse the page on trains in this crowded and active country. The Vietnamese state rail company also has an English language website, and will take advance booking.
In Hanoi the greatest cultural attraction is the Thang Long national water puppet theatre at 57B Dinh Tien Hoang (near the N.E. corner of Hoan Kiem Lake in the centre of the city. This is a national treasure, and an amazing sight. The puppets come up out of the pool of water used as the stage. Performances are daily.
My choice for the place to stay is within the confines of the old city. The Old quarter, with streets named after the craft practiced there (such as tin, or silk, or tombstone street) hosts hundreds of inns and hotels and great eateries. This is one fo the world's great travel bargains. And if you want the ultimate rooming experience, then the Metropole is just east-south-east of the central lake.
In the centre of the country, not too far from the thin waist of the nation, is the old royal capital city of Hue. This place is best known to the west as the site of the battle of Hue during the Tet offensive in February 1968. Now it is a pleasant resort town with world heritage site ruins of the royal citadel. Daily trains from Hanoi run to Hue. A first class ticket on the SE1 overnight train costs about $30.
Four hours south by train is the stop in Da Nang, and up-and-coming industrial and port city. The ride between Hue and Danang is the most beautiful train journey (trains SH1 and SE3 cost about $6) on earth. The verdant hills and waterfalls, with the South China Sea spread out to the east, is simply stunning. Once in Danang, quickly leave for a short 20km motorcycle hop to the exquisite town of Hoi An. The town is a gem of old architecture and good food. Watch for ancient Hoi An pottery sunk in 1490, and recovered lately. Small jars can be had for $20.
The southern capital of Saigon (formally titled Ho Chi Minh City) is big and noisy and full of so much traffic you will be unable to cross the street. In Saigon it is usually worth getting massages and foot rubs on Dong Koi street. Also, if you want a professional oil portrait done, this is the place. Take along a good qaulity image you would like painted, then find a gallery in the area between the Rex Hotel and Dong Koi. They will paint it in one month, then send it by post to you in Canada. We had this done, and are still delighted with the result. A train (TN7) from Da Nang to Sai Gon (TP HCM), first class sleeper overnight, costs about $35.
So go soon. And fall in love with Viet Nam.

30 September 2008

6 months remaining on the passport

Woe is the traveller-to-be with only five and a half months validity left on their nearly-empty passport.
The standard requirement of countries around the world is for you to have at least 6 months vaility remaining in in your passport after you leave their country.
This means if you are going to be in Egypt or China or Russia (oe anywhere else)until the end of January, then your passport can expire no earlier than the beginning of the following August.
And yes, visa offices do catch this a lot. Visa applications will be rejected for the simple matter of a passport with not enough months of validity remaining. Do you really want to lose hundreds of dolalrs in visa fees just because your passport was too near expiry?
Also, with machines reading passports at airports and borders, expiry dates are checked and flashed to the border agent without that person having to do the math to figure out the expiry. And you do not want to be turned back at the airport once you are already in the country!
The good news is Passport Canada is likely to change the Canadian passport system to one more like the UK and USA. This means as of 2011 at the earliest, Canadians will probably be able to get 10 year passports.
Right now the best we can do is buy an extra 24 pages of space in the five year passport.

19 September 2008


There is bad news in Visaville.
Yesterday the Chinese embassy in Canada announced to its closest suppliers the bad news about fast visa service: it was over.
In a flash there is no longer one day or three day service on Chinese visas. All visas are being processed in five days.
The fee remains the same at $50 for a single entry visa, and $75 for a double entry visa. Multi-entry visas remain unavailable for the foreseeable future.
So click here to get your Chinese visa from VSC: Canada's best and most trusted visa provider.
The lesson to all of us is to plan ahead and be prepared.

World cruise opportunity, and visa nightmare

The 2010 Crystal World Cruise on the MV Serenity is a dream itinerary, covering 41 ports in 37 countries in 108 days. The combination of Crystal's service and the ports will be a once in a lifetime experience for virtually any traveller. This is the opportunity.
Now for the nightmare.
As the itinerary calls for stops at many new and unusual ports, there are onerous visa requirements. This world cruise will be stopping in the following visa countries: Brazil, Tanzania, Kenya, India, Oman, Iran, Kuwait, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Russia, and Turkey.
Oman will give Canadians a visa upon arrival. Bahrain will issue a tourist visa valid for two weeks at the port of entry without pre-arrangement. Kuwait grants visas upon arrival to Canadians for $35. And the UAE issues visas upon arrival to Canadians, valid for a thirty day stay.
The two most interesting of the stops, for visa puposes, are Iran and Saudi Arabia. Technically, Saudi Arabia does not offer a tourist visa at all, and certainly not to non-Muslims. Iranian visa processing can sometimes take months.
We at Visa Services Canada sincerely hope Crystal is arranging group visas for the entire passenger list.

Bizarre travel issues

There is a story making the rounds right now, which although probably untrue, is a funny and cautionary tale.
A senior United States senator called an airline reservation office regarding a question about the documents he needed in order to fly to China. After a lengthy discussion about passports, the agent reminded him that he needed a visa. "Oh, no I don't. I've been to China many times and never had to have one of those." So the agent checked again, and confirmed the politician needed a visa to enter China. The befuddled politician angrily responded "Look, I've been to China four times and every time they have accepted my American Express card!"
Moral of the story: you need a visa to go to China.
Other moral of the story: there are no intelligent politicians.

31 August 2008

Travel warnings

There is too much news for one person to know. "All the news that is fit to print" should really be re-worded to say "all the news we think fit to tell you about places which interest editors".
The fact is you cannot know all the things you should about the places you will travel. That is why governments have made up travel warnings. These warnings, updated frequently, and posted on the internet, bring what could be a wealth of security information to your home.
Whether it is an military insurrection, coup, or civil war; or a natural disaster, these travel warnings can alert you to very timely events at your destination. However, as the common traveler, you and I have to make do with these public warnings. Private companies often use specialist international risk assessment companies to prepare detailed reports before trips and business activities. But we cannot afford that, so we use the internet.
Below I have listed three important and generally reliable government travel warning websites for English-speakers.
Some of you will notice the omission of the US government. This brings me to the basic problem with the travel warnings: they are often very political rather than non-partisan assessments of a security situation. The worst offender remains the US State Department travel warning system, which seems more geared towards frightening US citizens with scary stories about places and regimes not currently in favour in Washington, than it does with actually presenting useful security information.
So here are three sites, which taken together, will give you a fair idea of what is going on out there.
I recommend you check all three sites about any one country, and compare and contrast the advice. This will give you a more comprehensive picture of the situation on the ground in your intended destination.
Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.
UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs.

25 August 2008

A Russian voucher is NOT a Russian visa

Okay, we all realize how tough it is to get a Russian visa due to the curious two-step visa application process.
First you must get an invitation and VOUCHER. This document, issued under the authority of the Russian government, but issued by a private company, allows you to apply for a Russian visa. Without the voucher you will not even be allowed to submit your forms at the embassy.
The good news is that we at Visa Services Canada can get you a Russian tourist voucher in 36 hours for only $50 ($55 for international cruise ship passengers). Business travellers can wait up to three working weeks for a business voucher. However, business people can also use an authorized invitation from a Russian company as their visa support. The Russian company letter must be stamped by the Russian Interior Ministry.
The reason I bring up what seems like a rather obvious topic is that serveral people have tried to apply without a voucher; while others have gotten to the airport thinking the voucher, which is in Russian, was their actual visa. The voucher is not the visa: it only allows you to get a visa for the period specified on the voucher.
The second step is to apply for the visa. VSC will both acquire a voucher, and apply for your visa all in one conveniet step on your behalf. You no longer have to worry about trying to get a voucher and a visa. We do it all for you.
Click here for the Russian visa details.
Click here for the Russian visa forms.

18 August 2008

China, after the Olympics

As most of you know by now, travel to China became incredibly difficult this past April as the Middle Kingdom tightened the rules for acquiring a tourist or business or visit visa.
My company, Visa Services Canada, dealt with a lot of customers trying to get to the Olympics. It was our pleasure to be the official provider of visas to Alliant/Bell Canada's contest winners on all the all-expense-paid trips to the Olympics. We even aided some Canadian Olympic team members in getting visas. These were supposed to be be issued automatically, but the bureaucratic nightmare that is a Chinese visa application processes looked for a while to be set to deny visas to several of our athletes. In the end, only days before their flights, we acquired the last visas, and the athletes headed for Beijing.
With the Olympics ending and the demand for visas dropping, there was hope of a return to the former relaxed visa rules. However, I am sorry to report there is no end to the harsh rules in sight.
Tourist visas can now only be issued to passengers with a confirmed itinerary entailing all travel arrangements and a confirmed hotel with full contact data.
Visitor visas are far more difficult. People wanting to visit family must show a copy of the official PRC identity card for their contact, as well as a kinship certificate and a personal invitation letter. They also need confirmed travel arrangements.
The good news is the price: visas are rock-bottom priced at only $50.
China visa details
China visa FORMS

31 July 2008

Fun in Russia

What is big, bizarre, cold, hot, dangerous, exciting, historic, and new? Russia! And the best place in Russia for westerners to visit is the old capital city of Saint Petersburg.
There are tricks to visiting Russia in general, and Petersburg in particular. You of course still need a visa, and we at VSC can help you with both the visa and the visa support.
My favourite time to visit Petersburg is at the end of June for the white nights. It is dark for about 30 minutes per night then, and the city is alive at all hours.
No trip to Petersburg is complete without a visit to the world's greatest art collection: the State Hermitage Museum. The best way to get tickets to the palace is on-line through the museum's own website. You can avoid the long lines at the ticketing office in the museum by purchasing tickets online from the museum website. Get a single day ticket for US$17, or a two-day pass for all their facilities for only US$26. Do not buy from touts or ticket agencies.
Not all culture in Petersburg hangs on the walls. The arts are alive in Petersburg, and one of the best, classiest, and most historic places to see them is at the Mariinsky Theatre, formerly called the Kirov, and originally called the Mariinsky. This is the stage upon which the original Swan Lake was performed. This is a wonderful grand theatre, and the home of the Kirov/Mariinsky Ballet. Get tickets directly from the theatre for the best prices and selection. Weekday box seats near the stage can cost as little as US$35, and you can take your own food and champagne! At these prices touts and ticket agencies will get you seats in the rafters. Get tickets directly from the theatre on-line, for low prices. Dress up and have fun.
Russia, like Britain, has been vilified for poor cooking. But Petersburg is alive with great places to eat. For fine dining in the great Russian tradition, I recommend the Taleon Club in the old Eliseev palace just south of Nevsky Prospect on the Moika canal near the Hermitage. Dinners and luncheons are superb. Brunch is served every Sunday from noon until 16:00, and comes with black and red caviar, lobster, champagne and lots of other delicious dishes for only US$45. Look at the Taleon Club and hotel website to see how wonderful it really is, and then reserve a table on-line.

23 July 2008

Is it really dangerous?

In our daily lives we tail or our movements and activities for safety. When we travel we also do this, although sometimes it is completely subconscious. We do not even consider going to certain places no matter how interesting or inexpensive they may be, as they are beyond our comprehension.
So how much do we really have to fear bombing and terrorism and extreme acts of violence? Well, almost not at all. Tourists are rarely targeted as a group for acts of political or military violence. The largest attacks on tourists in a major foreign destination (in terms of deaths) took place more than a decade ago in 1997 in Egypt, and turned out to be the last attacks. Egypt stepped up security, and the militant groups were totally suppressed.
The real dangers are common street crimes such a pick-pocketting, mugging, and assault. These are far more likely to touch the average tourist than any major or minor political or military incident.
The sad fact is we have become the target for a virtually endless moving picture show of images and sound bites telling us to be afraid of the world. Governments and the media have restricted our outlets to the world by tightening our perception of our own safety zone. By vilifying certain countries and regions and peoples, the power that be have effectively reduced our space to travel. And the result is somewhat bizarre.
The list of the most dangerous places for Canadian tourists is rather strange and somewhat counter-intuitive. The top three countries for violence against Canadian tourists are China and Cuba and Mexico. Mexico and Cuba are two of the top foreign destinations for Canadians, attracting more than a million people each year. Given the number of incidents of violence versus the hordes of travellers, the actual number of incidents seems small.
A good example of a vilified country said to be unsafe would be Iran. There is no question it is difficult to get a visa to Iran, but it is a safe destination. The official Canadian government position is that we should avoid all travel to most of Iran. At the same time, DFAIT says “Travel is safe in most areas.” The fact is Iran remains a safe destination with many wonderful sites such as Persepolis, and an extremely cheap and efficient rail and airline system. This is just to say the travel warning system is politicized, and cannot always be counted upon for good advice.
On a recent cruise we expeienced this phenomenon first hand. Our stop in the capital of Sri Lanka was cancelled due to political tensions in the far north of the country, well away from our port. At the same time, we added a port visit to Colombia which was then engaged in a nasty little war with a great deal of U.S. military aid. Was there a real, or just a perceived, security concern?
Since the 11 September incidents, US tourists, who make up the bulk of the english travelling public, have by a slim but real majority, selected safety and security as their top concern when looking at foreign travel. They have largely bought into the lie, and thereby cut themselves off from real travel.
External Affairs, now known as DFAIT, issues travel advisories and travel warnings about all countries and places. They are easy to check and sometimes fairly clear in meaning. However, there is a degree of political motivation present, as friendly countries are never violent, while unfriendly countries get lower safety ratings. That said, the DFAIT list and the UK Foreign Office list are head and shoulder above the virtually useless and extremely partisan list produced by the US State Department.

11 July 2008

Take the Train, eh!

In an age where we are concerned about the environment, taking the train is an increasingly popular travel option. Throughout Europe, Asia, Australia, and even significant parts of Africa, the railway is the way to get around in comfort while seeing the country and enjoying a true local experience.
But how do you know if the train even runs in the country you will visit? And how do you find out if the train goes to a place of interest to you?
This is now easier than at any time in history, thanks largely to a man named Mark Smith. A few years ago, this train-travel-lover set up a website called “The Man in Seat 61". Seat 61 is said to be the best seat on Eurostar chunnel service between Britain and France.
A quick visit to Seat61.com will tell you immediately about the state of train travel in nearly every country on earth. All countries with passenger train service are listed and detailed. Mark Smith does not hide information, and usually right up top lists the actual rail service website for that country. Smith even tells you about reliable ticket services, and urges readers who have recently used lined and services to write in with comments and suggestions.
If, for instance, you wanted to experience the world’s longest train journey, the Trans-Siberian Express, you would start by visiting the Seat 61 site about the various services which make up this fabled set of routes. Smith even provides the routing to get you from London to Hong Kong without ever being on an airplane, bus, or ship.
If you wanted to move all over China, but not use the airlines, you would visit the Seat 61 section on China.
Rail travel is also possible in several African countries, and Seat 61 covers them all: Botswana, Egypt, Kenya, Mali, Morocco, Namibia, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Tunisia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
You can even learn about rail service in Cuba, and find out how to see the country in comfort from end to end. Cuba has a daily rail service from Havana to Santiago de Cuba (near the US concentration camp in Guantanamo Bay) and return. This service usually takes about 15 hours, and can be done during the day or night. Don’t forget to ride the Hershey Express (named for the former chocolate plant) from Havana to Matanzas.
He also has a new book out: "The Man in Seat 61", published by Bantam Press, July 2008, £12.99

24 June 2008

Mad for Madagascar

What is part of Africa but not part of Africa, and attracting a growing number of visitors? Madagascar, the "Great Island" off the south-east coast of Africa is the correct answer. With more than 5000 kilometers of coastline, and a diversified wildlife and natural biosphere, Madagascar offers a wide range of travel excitements, including ecotourism. Safaris for wild animals, and safaris for gems, are both available. Travel conditions range from backpacker low to luxury high. Aided by the success of the 2005 animated feature film "Madagascar", tourism on the giant island has grown as people flock in to see the wildlife and vast expanses of nature. Unfortunately, there are no singing lemurs.
The Madagascar Tourism Board has a french-language website here. However, many tour companies operate in english, and individual and package tourism is easily available to all.
Air Madagascar flies to Antananarivo from Paris, Brussels, Bangkok.
The absolute best way to travel in many countries is by train, and Madagascar is no different. Badly damaged in 2000 by two storms, the 163km track of the FCE-Madagascar Railway once again takes passengers on a 10 hours journey from the coastal town of Manakara to the highland city of Fianarantsoa through some spectacular scenery. It is one of the world's steepest rail lines, and crosses 67 bridges at a leisurely 25km/hr. There are short stops at 17 villages along the way.
The train leaves Fianarantsoa at 07:00 TuWThSaSu. It departs Manakara at 06:45 MWThFSu. Fares are about $8 first class, and $6 second class. The train has a website here.
Every story has a bad news aspect. Last year the visa fee for Madagascar was around $80, which was average for a visa sold to Canadian citizens that year. This past spring the price jumped 100% to the new rate of $155 per visa. The forms and requirements remain the same as before.
Click here for Madagascar visa details.
Click here for on-screen fillable Madagascar visa forms.

02 June 2008

The Russian (Visa) Revolution

Reciprocity is not dead. For every action there is an opposite reaction, and the visa world is no different. Last week the Russian government announced big changes to the visa regime applicable to Canadian citizens.
In their own words: “Please take note that starting June 1, 2008 the processing period of 15 working days is fixed for all kind of visa application for Canadian citizens.”
This means Canadian passport holders must wait a minimum of three weeks for a visa to be issued for travel to Russia, and there is no expedited service available for Canadians. Until the end of April you could still get same-day service, as well as other fast services. No longer.
Word in the diplomatic community is this new longer wait and lack of faster options is a result of Canadian visa processing times in Moscow. we have had to deal with several universities trying to bring Russian professors to Canada for academic conferences, and waiting inordinately-long periods for a visa answer. The Russians have complained about having to wait months for Canadian visas, and finally decided to act.
And just to make us jealous, the Russians added this little dig: “the visa requirements for non-Canadians remain without changes”. Many Europeans can still get visas in a day: even in the Russian embassy in Canada.
So my advice to those of you traveling to Russia is to apply early. The Russians will issue visas more than three months in advance of travel, so you can safely apply early. You still need a confirmed ticket in and out, and a voucher/invitation issued by a Russian agency.
Prices remain the same as for the old two week processing:
Business and tourist single entry $75.
Business and tourist double entry $100.
Business multiple entry $200.
Russian visa details and prices here.
Russian visa forms (fillable) here.

29 May 2008

World’s safest airlines

Last week I scared you with a list of the worst airlines in the world in terms of safety. Now to the good news.
So you still don’t like Air Canada? In their defence, they have a superb safety record. It has been twenty-five years since there was a death on Air Canada, and that was caused by a smoker setting fire to the lavatory.
So as a long distance traveler, going overseas to Europe or Africa or Asia, what is the best way to protect yourself? Well, the short answer is to fly on a major western airline using Airbus and/or Boeing aircraft. The airline should be using relatively new aircraft, and have a solid service record. There are a handful of great and safe airlines flying over the wide oceans.
The safest way to cross the North Atlantic ocean by air is on (from North America) Air Canada, Delta, North West Orient, Continental, and United Airlines; and (from Europe) British Airways, Lufthansa, SAS, Alitalia, Air France, and KLM.
The best way to cross the Pacific Ocean by air is also with Air Canada, Cathay Pacific, QANTAS, All Nippon Airways, Air New Zealand, Malaysia, Thai International, and Singapore Airlines.
Africa has one great and safe airline: South African. The Middle East has Saudi Airlines.
So as you plan for your globe-spanning journey, think about using a safe airline.

26 May 2008

World’s most dangerous airlines

So you don’t like Air Canada? Well, Air Canada has a superb safety record. At the complete opposite end of the spectrum are airlines so dangerous they are banned from entire areas of the world.
As of April 2008, there are ninety-two (92) airlines and cargo airlines completely banned from flying into or over Europe. Yes, the European Union has totally and completely banned the following airlines from European airspace due to those airlines’ blatant disregard for safety.
For the EU list and updates, click here.
Air Koryo, North Korea.
Air West, Sudan.
Ariana Afghan Airlines, Afghanistan.
Mahan Air, Iran.
Silverback Cargo Freighters, Rwanda.
TAAG Angola Airlines, Angola.
Ukraine Cargo Airways, Ukraine.
Ukrainian Mediterranean Airlines, Ukraine.
Volare Aviation, Ukraine.
All airlines in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
All airlines in Equatorial Guinea.
All airlines in Indonesia, including Garuda Indonesian.
All airlines in Kyrgyz Republic.
All airlines in Liberia.
All airlines in Sierra Leone.
All airlines in Swaziland.
And these are just the worst: there are hundreds of bad airlines, but these are cringingly-scary and life-threateningly awful.
The other bad news is Africa: airlines based in Africa are the most dangerous on which to fly. You are six times as likely on these airlines to be the victim of an airline accident than anywhere else in the world.
So do yourself and your family a favour, and stick to safe airlines with proven maintenance track records.

15 May 2008


The trio of countries, Kenya - Tanzania - Uganda, are high on the itinerary of travelers seeking high-quality safaris in the real wild Africa.
Each of the three countries requires Canadians and all other westerners to have a visa prior to arrival.
The good news is that travel between the countries in this group is rather easy in terms of visas. You can now use a single entry visa (issued for each country to which you will travel), and then re-enter the first country using your single entry visa.
This means you can land in Kenya, visit Tanzania and Uganda, and return to Kenya on your single entry visa. This also means you can land in Tanzania, visit Kenya and Uganda, and return to Tanzania on your single entry visa. This works for re-entry to both Kenya and Tanzania, but not for Uganda. Uganda will sell a second visa at the time of re-entry for US$50.
So get your single entry visas and go on safari in Africa!
Kenya visa
Tanzania visa
Uganda visa

05 May 2008

The dangers of not having a visa

Sometimes people say to me I am only trying to sell them a visa, and not really giving them useful travel advice. At first glance this may seem fair criticism as I do make a living selling visa services. It is also possible in some places at some times to buy cheap (or at least cheaper) visas at the border. But is this really a good idea? No.
Be prepared. Are you really willing to risk travelling half way around the world without that visa just to have saved a few dollars, then find out you cannot buy a border visa upon arrival? The wise traveller has all their visas and documents in hand prior to getting on the airplane.
The following story happened to people with whom I was travelling on a Mekong River cruise from Cambodia to Vietnam in 2005. As the boat sailed from Cambodia into Vietnam, each passenger had to have a valid Vietnamese visa in their passport. These were all collected at the river border post for checking and stamping. One couple had bought a common single entry visa for Vietnam a few months before. This would have been fine had they not already used it! Yes, they landed in Vietnam, then flew on to Cambodia to catch the river boat. Now they were trying to re-enter Vietnam with a used visa. Entry was denied to the entire boat, and we floated on a watery border no-man's-land for 18 hours as one crewmember took a speed boat then a motorcycle back to Phnom Penh to get two new Vietnamese visas from the embassy. Eventually the new visas were acquired and stamped and we were allowed to proceed.
The other forty passengers were very very unhappy with the two people who had bought the wrong visa and whose use of that visa stopped everyones' holiday in the middle of a river. They had no visa when they should have had easy passage.
The moral of the story is be prepared and have your visas in your passport for every border crossing.

30 April 2008

China: now even more difficult

Reforms in China years ago made travel to the Middle Kingdom easier than ever, and certainly easier than to almost any other closed society. Tourists only had to show an air ticket and the intention of staying in a hotel. The embassy did not even care to know the hotel. But that was before the 2008 Olympics and the protests over Tibet.
Now China is in full clamp-down, and visas for regular tourists, visitors, and Olympics watchers are harder and harder to acquire.
Basic tourist visas can now only be issued to passengers with a confirmed itinerary detailing all travel arrangements and a confirmed hotel with full contact data.
Visitor visas are far more difficult. People wanting to visit family must show a copy of the official PRC identity card for their contact, as well as a kinship certificate and a personal invitation letter. They also need confirmed travel arrangements.
Multiple entry visas are now almost impossible to arrange, and this is not likely to change between now and the Olympics.
The only good news in all this is the prices remain the same; with a visa rock-bottom priced at only $50.
So my best advice to you is to apply early and be prepared for your initial application to be rejected for lack of some detail not needed in the past.
China visa details
China visa FORMS

15 April 2008

Trans-Siberian Express

It is one of the greatest, and almost certainly the longest single train journey on earth: the Trans-Siberian.
In reality the Trans-Siberian is three different trains on three different routes. The proper Trans-Siberian train (the Rossiya) leaves Moscow every other day for the 9258 km, seven day, journey to Vladivostok on the Pacific coast near Japan. The problem with this train is you have to either begin or end in Vladivostok, which is not really on the tourist map. The whole journey costs between $500 and $850.
The slightly more popular route takes you to Beijing China. The Trans-Manchurian (train #20) leaves Moscow once a week, and costs between $500 and $700.
For touists the most popular route, and the best journey between Moscow and Beijing, runs through Mongolia. The Trans-Mongolian (train #3/4), leaving Moscow on Tuesdays, is a 7621 km, 6 day journey which crosses the Gobi desert and affords spectacular views. The trip costs between $450 to $700.
Yes, you need a visa or visas for these great trips. The Trans-Siberian trip stays inside Russia, so a Russian visa is all you require.
The trans-Manchuria train rides the rails in both Russia and China, and you will need both Russian and Chinese visas.
The Trans-Mogolian train takes you through Russia, China and Mongolia, and all three countries require visas.
For those of you who like trivia, the true longest single train journey on earth is a Russian train which runs from Donetsk, Ukraine, through Mowcow towards Vladivostok, then on to Pyongyang in North Korea.

26 March 2008

Thailand now even cheaper

Visiting Thailand is one of the great joys of travel. Bangkok has a great international airport. English is a common language. The streets are exciting and glittery and always filled with fun things to see and do and especially to eat. The public transport skyway works very well. Prices are low for everything, including luxury hotels. Last year I stayed in a suite in the Peninsula Hotel, one of the best hotels in Asia if not the world, for only $150. Many men go to buy handmade suits, which even with the airplane fare included come out less than a similar items in the west.
And making it even easier is the fact Canadians do not need a visa to visit Thailand. A Canadian passport with at least six months validity, and a confirmed ticket out of the country, is enough to get through Thai immigration and be allowed to stay for up to thirty days as a tourist.
However, if you plan to stay more than thirty days, or are in Thailand for business, a conference, to do research, or for some other purpose, you will need a visa. The good news is the price of a Thai visa is dropping to only $35 on 01 April 2008.
So if you are going to Thailand for a very long holiday, or for business, click here and we at VSC will handle all your visa needs.

19 March 2008

Visiting Kosovo

The new state of Kosovo unilaterally declared independance from Serbia on 17 February 2008, and was recognized by Canada just yesterday. At the moment Canadian citizens do not require a visa to enter Kosovo for tourism or business purposes.
Kosovo does not yet have any functioning embassies or consulates. The first diplomatic facilities will probably open in Albania, Macedonia, Rome and Washington.
For the moment, entry to Kosovo by air is limited to Prishtina International Airport. Regular flights arrive from London, Zurich, Istanbul, Budapest and Stuttgart. Immigration formalities take place in the airport, and at the moment seem to consist of a passport check.
The large majority of borders are still in dispute by Kosovo against Macedonia, and by Serbia against Kosovo. Land crossings from Serbia through NATO-controlled UNMIK borders are usually possible. Serbian Railways mainline train #60 from Belgrad to Kosovo Polje (Pristina) run on a regular basis. Land crossings from Albania are also theoretically possible. There is an 80 km highway to Prishtina from Skopje, Macedonia. Canadians do not need a visa to visit Serbia or Albania, but do need a visa for neighbouring Macedonia. Expect long border formalities on the Macedonian side. Please contact VSC if you are not a Canadian and require a visa to Kosovo.
Click here for Kosovo visa information.

13 March 2008

It's easy to get to Canada from Hungary

Most of my blog posts are for Canadians seeking foreign travel. But every now and then an item pertaining to foreigners comes up which deserves attention.
Last week Citizenship & Immigration Canada announced it was immediately lifting visa requirements for several new European Union countries. Citizens of Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, and Slovakia no longer require a temporary resident visa to visit Canada. These people can simply buy a plane ticket and show up with their passport at the Canadian border or airport and be consdiered for entry without further paperwork.
A couple of years ago we invited a Hungarian academic to visit for the summer, and were amazed he had to apply for a visa. He was interviewed, and we had to supply a letter of reference and invitation. This is all the stranger as Hungary has not had a visa requirement for Canadian citizens for many years.
Hungary was a bit of a problem due to the Roma (gypsy) situation. Several years back a rumour spread through the Roma communities in Hungary to the effect of Canada recognizing Roma as a persecuted ethnic group who now qualified as refugees. This was totally untrue, but the rumour led to a flood of Roma turning up in Toronto airport claiming refugee status. Thus the Canadian government tightened visa requirements for all of Hungary to prevent a recurrance of the this unfortunate event.
As of today, only Bulgaria and Romania remain on the visa list for Canada; with the other 25 European Union countries now enjoying visa-free travel to Canada. Since Canadians can travel visa-free throughout the EU and Schengen zone, this enlargement is probably only fair. The minister responsible said her office was working with the two countries to eventually allow for them to join the visa-free regime.
Although my company, Visa Services Canada, does not help people get visas to Canda, we are delighted to be able to tell everyone of the new visa-free status of our new European national friends.
So come visit Canada today!

10 March 2008

Fingerprinting in airports

Fingerprinting of all air travelers is coming, and it is coming fast.
At the end of 2007 the Japanese government began fingerprinting all foreigners arriving in Japan by air.
The British are experimenting with double-checking fingerprints of air travelers with visas at Gatwick airport. Right now only people from Sierra Leone are checked, but all visa travelers to the UK are already fingerprinted in order to acquire a visa. I expect the Brits will soon roll out a system in all their airports to check all visa holders' fingerprints against those taken during the visa application process.
In the USA the border security department requires fingerprints from most foreigners, not including Canadians, Mexicans, and Bermudians. So far this has been limited to one and two fingers, but recently the US rolled out an experimental system to collect all ten fingerprints from foreign travelers at ten large airports.
France is using a fingerprint card to allow some French travelers fast access to airport gates.
For the most part Canadians have been exempt from such police-state measures. However, as borders become harder to cross, and as government paranoia increases, fingerprinting will become more and more common. Privacy is dying. We have sadly come a long way since the days when ordinary people did not need passports to cross frontiers: hundreds of years ago passports were reserved for diplomats.

07 March 2008

How to get the best price for travel

How do I get the best price for travel? To get the best price you have to break down the costs into component parts, then aggressively go after sales and offers.
Airlines are constantly posting seat sales. It is worth becoming a member of your usual airline’s loyalty programme. Then sign up for their internet email notices. These usually have the best available prices. I just bought an Air Canada one month pass covering all of eastern North America for the price of a single ticket from Ottawa to Halifax. I will be making four round-trips for a total of $625, or $155 per city, including a trip to Texas!
Another way of cutting airline ticket costs is to search internet travel sites. These prices are based on what airlines offer, so the price is usually the same or a few dollars more than any airline. But the advantage is being able to see all the prices at once.
For long-haul flights one of the best ways to cut prices is to visit your local ethnic travel agency. Say you are going to Asia: visit some Chinatown travel agencies to canvas the bulk prices to various Asian destinations. This works well with agencies which specialize in travel to one specific region. I have found region-specific agencies can often substantially undercut even the airline price. My agent in Chinatown cut nearly 50% off the Cathay Pacific internet price. No website could even come close to this final price.
The other way to lower your airline costs is to fly off-season and to fly on low-volume days of the week. Airlines want to fill the aircraft, so prices are lower on days when the plane will fly partly empty.
A hotel bed which is empty at eight in the evening will be lost revenue to the hotel. They will never make back the lost money. The lesson here is if you can wait until the very last minute, you will be surprised at how low a front desk manager is willing to go to get you into a bed and to thus bring in something rather than nothing for that otherwise empty room.
The big travel websites boast low prices, but are not always great deals. My experience is that hotel websites themselves, run by the company which owns the individual hotel, offer the best prices. So check the hotel’s own website for the best and most current prices. I have used this to get a presidential suite in Paris for a small fraction of the rack rate of $3500 per night, and I have used it to get an acceptable room for $35 when necessary.
The only real upside to the big travel websites is they allow you to see all the hotel prices at once, and to follow the pricing as it moves up and down as your travel date approaches. Use this information to then go directly to the hotel’s own website for bookings.
To ensure you are getting the best price for passport visas, use Visa Services Canada Inc., Canada's number one family and price-friendly visa office.

03 March 2008

Going to Beijing for the 2008 Summer Olympics

The Oympics are coming! The Olympics are coming! Coming to Beijing, that is. This August China hosts the summer games of the XXIX Olympiad. Everyone needs a visa to travel to China, but this is easier than ever. However, with the Beijing Olympic Games coming quickly, there will soon be a rush for visas.Visas for the Olympics are now on sale. People buying a double entry visa can already apply. Fans wanting a cheaper single entry visa will have to wait until mid-May 2008 to apply. VSC can get you that precious Olympic visa without any hassle or fuss. Just click on the link below for full details and forms.Remember, a single entry visa is good for only three months, so you must depart China prior to the expiry date. The same is true for six month visas. So do not apply earlier than three or six months prior to your final departure from China!
China Olympics visa details: http://www.visaservicescanada.ca/countries/olympics.php
China Olympics visa forms: http://www.visaservicescanada.ca/docs/ChinaOlympics.pdf

21 February 2008

My surprise holiday cruise

This past long weekend my husband took me on a surprise holiday cruise to the Bahamas on Cunard's giant ocean liner "Queen Mary 2", sailing from New York. Although I only learned of the cruise a day before departure, the real surprise was still to come. We had one of the six Penthouse suites on the Queen's Grill deck, with a butler, and a lot of floor space, and a spa tub, and champagne and special treats.
Upon bording we were met by our butler Lily who escorted us to our cabin (9067), and settled us in for the four day voyage. Saturday was a sea-day with lots of relaxing and meeting people we knew from previous voyages. Sunday we spent on the beach and snorkeling the reef on Eluethera Island in the Bahamas. Hopefully the underwater camera worked and we have pictures of fish. The beach was part of the so-called private island set up by Princess cruises and infrequently used by Cunard. Sunday night we held a dinner party in our suite for the ship's doctor and his wife who we met on last year's world cruise.
Monday was another relaxing day at sea and superb dining in the Queen's Grill. They even made special scones for me at tea time. The show that night was the fantastic song and dance "Appassionata" which we had not seen for four year, and was very well received.
Tuesday morning we arrived, sadly, on time in New York. But as our flight was not until late in the afternoon, we went to Ellis Island to see the immigration centre and museum. Seeing the Statue of Liberty up close is far more impressive than expected. Of course the flight was delayed: New York is anything but user-friendly!
So I fully recommend getting your husband to buy you a surprise present holiday cruise in a penthouse on the QM2. Four days was not enough, but it will have to do.

11 February 2008

Tough days ahead as US tightens border against Europe

The Bush White House has told the European Union and its 27 member states each will have to agree to allowing armed paramilitary members on all trans-Atlantic US airline flights from Europe to the USA.
Each state will also have to provide Washington with a full range of personal information about air travelers, even if the aircraft is not actually landing in the USA, but only overflying any US territory. This new data will include facts about family member who are not traveling. EU states already provide Washington with 19 bits of personal data about each traveler under a previous agreement. This goes a lot further, and the Europeans are speaking out. The previous Passenger Name Record (pnr) deal allows all sorts of data to be transferred, and airlines were threatened with loss of landing rights if they did not comply.
By this upcoming summer the US Department of Homeland Security will set up an electronic E-visa system for all Europeans traveling to the USA. All EU citizens will have to apply for the electronic permit to enter prior to getting an air ticket. At the moment this process is expected to take severeal days, and the cost remains unknown. A roughly similar system in Australia takes a few minutes. Once this is implemented by Washington against Europeans, it is probably only a matter of time before it is applied to Canadians.
The price for European states to not agree: their citizens will lose their visa-free status and be forced to apply for US visas the long hard slow way. The carrot here is Washington offering a visa-free status to newer EU members whose citizens do not now enjoy visa-free treatment, such as Czech Republic and Greece. In the end it will slow air traffic and lessen the number of travelers from Europe to the USA. Any retaliation, such as requiring visas from US citizens, would cut off an important segment of tourist traffic. No one wins, and the added checks do nothing to protect legitimate travelers from any hypothetical terrorist threat.

05 February 2008

Cheap cruises across the Atlantic

Now is the time to book a cheap cruise away from the over-used Caribbean, and save a lot of money. This is the season when cruise lines prepare to move their ships back from the Caribbean to either the Mediterranean or through the Panama Canal to Vancouver. All winter tens of cruise ships ply the warm still Caribbean waters on dull and over-touristed itineraries. But come spring the ships must 'reposition' for their summer schedules. This is the best opportunity to get an interesting cruise, often to Europe, for as little as $65 per day in an inside cabin. There are repositionings in the sping and autumn, and they go all over the world, so ask you agent for repositionings: you can even get to Asia from Canada.
March and April are the busiest repositioning months, and a review of sale prices reveals two week cruises from the USA to Italy and the UK for as little as $65 per day. Even if you do not like Carnival Cruise Line, you can sail from Miami USA to Rome Italy for $50 per day on a fourteen day repositioning cruise on 26 April. Costa does it for even less per day for the same repsoitioning taking 16 days, and stopping at some interesting ports along the way. You can take the Celebrity Century from the USA to London and Amsterdam in fourteen days for $79 per day.
You cannot buy a fancy dinner for these prices. You can hardly get a hotel room for this money, and not at all in London or New York!
The only problem people encounter with repositioning cruises is the ship does not return to the port of departure. But it allows you to try unconventional itineraries with the same great service and entertainment as on common scheduled services. It also allows you to try more expensive cruise lines which usually deeply discount their repositionings. Oceania Cruise Line regularly repositions their ships to and from Miami, and twelve days on the Regatta costs a mere $88 per day. The beds are perfect and the cuisine far above mass-market cruises.
You could even sail from Florida to Vancouver through the Panama Canal for 19 days on the HAL Volendam for $100 per day. Sail right back to Canada! Can you beat that, or the price?

04 February 2008

Getting a Passport

Get a passport! Get it now! Get it well before you travel. Even if you are not planning a trip now, get a passport so you will be prepared to travel at a moment's notice.
Applying for a passport is easier than ever, and the wait time is tolerable. Use the internet to visit the passport office at http://www.passport.gc.ca where you can fill in on-line forms and locate the nearest office. This is a great time-saver no matter how you end up applying.
Right now the processing time is six weeks for applications sent by mail or courier or dropped at service centres; but only two weeks if you hand in the application at one of the 32 passport offices across Canada. Ontario has 13 such offices, and BC four.
The cost of a passport is $86 for basic service in person or by courier. If you want to speed the processing, you can pay an extra $30 for 2-9 day services. If you are desperate, and can prove an imminent flight out of Canada, you can get a passport in 24 hours by paying an extra $70.
If you have lots of time, but do not want to stand in line in a passport office, you can always visit one of the many federal government 'Service Canada Centres' or to a Canada Post office authorized to accept passports. There are many more of these offices in Canada, and the wait is usually shorter. Just look under Services Locations on the passport website.
To make it all work to your advantage, remember to have all of your forms and ID cards and birth certificate with you when you apply. These will all be reviewed at the counter. Failure to have even one required document will end the application right there.
In short, a Canadian passport is a valuable and useful document, and it costs only $86. You can get it in two weeks if you visit a passport office, or six weeks through a service centre. So act now, and avoid the rush coming in the summer.

31 January 2008

Closing the Canada-USA land border

Today is the first day of the new U.S. border restrictions, so driving to the USA or taking a cruise into the USA just became harder to do. As of 31 January 2008, citizens of Canada and the USA over the age of 18 years, in order to cross from Canada into the United States by land or sea, will need one of the following pieces of identification:
* Canadian or US Passport
* Trusted Traveler Cards (such as NEXUS, SENTRI, or FAST)
* Enhanced Driver’s License (showing citizenship)
* Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) Card
* US Military Identification with Military Travel Orders
* US Merchant Mariner Document
* Native American Tribal Photo Identification Card
* Form I-872 American Indian Card.
Failure to provide one of these items will result in either outright denial of entry, or a long wait to establish identity. The item used must show both identity and citizenship.
However, the rules still allow for both Canadian and US citisens to use a combination of ID cards when they cannot produce one of the above items. To prove identity a common driving license or military ID card will be accepted. To prove citizenship, US border guards will accept birth certificates and citizenship cards.
People flying across the border already need a passport.

29 January 2008

Dangers of not having a visa

Nearly every country on earth issues visas for entry, but Canadians generally do not notice this as the requirements are often waived for people from rich western countries. But the visa requirements are still there, and violating them can result in paying a heavy price.
In May 2007 Canadian businessman Saul Itzhayek was arrested and charged with "violating India's sovereignty" when he entered from Nepal at the request of the local police to clear up a matter on behalf of his driver. He remains in prison, serving a three year sentence. Mr. Itzhayek claims the police offered him safe passage as he did not have a visa, but then arrested him and demanded a bribe of half a million rupees ($12 000).
The lesson here is to always, and I say again, ALWAYS have your visa in hand when you travel. For many countries the visa must be acquired before travel, and for some you can buy the visa at the international airport. Even if you can buy the visa at the airport, I recommend you secure a visa in Canada before travel. Why stand in line to buy a visa when you could just go straight through border control with a visa already in your passport?
My advice here is to avoid Saul's problem. Never try to enter a visa country without the proper document, even if it seems okay, or someone assures you it will be fine. Can you come up with the necessary bribe out of your pocket? Is it worth spending years in a foreign prison? Get the visa, and travel safely.

24 January 2008

Hotel room security tips

I love hotels. Well, specifically, I love good hotels, but I worry about my safety. Once in a bad hotel I became truly glad I had used the security chain on the door, because some other people turned out to have a key which opened my door, so they tried to come in. People tend to think a good hotel is a guarantee of their safety, but this is not the case. Bad things can happen anywhere, so it is good to be well-armed with a few hotel security precautions and tips.
When you check in at the front desk, never allow your name to be spoken. Hand over a credit card and a business card instead. And when the clerk gives you the key, never allow the room number to be said. If the clerk says the room number instead of writing it down, insist on a different room.
Upon entering the room check to make sure the door has a deadbolt lock and a security chain. Some people even take rubber door stoppers in their baggage. Next check the windows: do they lock? Can they be opened in an emergency?
Never leave your hotel room door open; not even to go down the hall to get ice. This just allows people to slip in unnoticed. Several assaults have happened this way, even in four star properties.
When you leave the roon, place the 'Do Not Disturb' sign on the door. This makes it look like the room is occupied. Leaving the radio or telly turned on gives the same impression.
If you are concerned about staff at the door, call the front desk to confirm their identity before opening your door. Also, you can get room service to call before delivering food.
And when you leave the room, ensure the windows and balconey doors are locked, and that the main door closes and locks behind you. Security starts with you!

17 January 2008

Visas for the 2008 Olympic summer games in Beijing, China

The Oympics are coming! The Olympics are coming! Coming to Beijing, that is. This August China hosts the summer games of the XXIX Olympiad. Everyone needs a visa to travel to China, but this is easier than ever. However, with the Beijing Olympic Games coming quickly, there will soon be a rush for visas.
Visas for the Olympics will go on sale next month. People buying a double entry visa will be able to apply as early as mid-February 2008. Fans wanting a cheaper single entry visa will have to wait until mid-May 2008 to apply. VSC can get you that precious Olympic visa without any hassle or fuss. Just click on the link below for full details and forms.
Remember, a single entry visa is good for only three months, so you must depart China prior to the expiry date. The same is true for six month visas. So do not apply earlier than three or six months prior to your final departure from China!
Prices for the visas remain the same as for standard tourist visas. Our service charge remains at its usual low and competitive level.
China Olympics visa details:
China Olympics visa forms:

11 January 2008

Fillable visa forms now on-line

We are pleased to introduce fillable visa forms on our website. The first forms we converted were for the most in-demand countries of Brazil, China, India, Russia and Viet Nam. Not only is our cover page fillable, but so too are the actual country visa applciations. So now you can fill out the forms on screen, then simply print out the clean and clear final version. This saves time and effort, and ensures the embassy can read your writing! Over the next few months we will be adding more fillable visa applications as demand warrants. We thought this advance would help both our customers, the embassies, and ourselves. Everyone benefits from being able to read the forms. And remember, even though you filled it out on-line, you still have to print it and sign the bottom in ink.

07 January 2008

Tropical island paradise for you

Have you ever imagined staying on a tropical island? Well, it is cheaper than you may think. In the tiny south Pacific island nation of Tonga lies a small island called Pangaimotu (pronounced: pong-eye-mow-to). The island has no residents other than the owners and their family/staff. There are five thatched beach houses (fales) for rent. Four are doubles, and the fifth a dorm. Prices for an entire fale are only T$85 per night (C$43), and dinners from local ingredients and fresh seafood cost about T$24 each. The island is less than 2km from Tonga's capital, Nuku'alofa, and a ferry runs for your convenience throughout the day. But with your own island to explore and reefs to swim and snorkel, why leave? The real beauty of Tonga is the lack of tourists. Tonga remains relatively untouched by tourists, and there are no western chain restaurants or hotels. The kingdom is directly north of Auckland, NZ, and easily accessible by air. I am still seriously considering buying an island in Tonga!

03 January 2008

Libyan visas and passport translation

Travel to Libya has never been easier. Sanctions have been ended, and Libya is starting to welcome visitors to the giant history- and oil-rich desert nation. Tourists are now arriving by both air and cruise ship. Visas are necessary and fairly easy to acquire, but there is one small catch: translation. Your passport must be translated into Arabic before applying for a visa. Since November 2007 the Canadian passport office will add a rubber-stamped template to a blank page of your passport and write your data on the left side. The cost for this service is $12. You then take the passport to a certified translator to have the proper Arabic translation written on the right side of the stamp. Only then can you apply for the visa and visit this amazing new destination.