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The Street
The Street
Veronika Bondarenko

There is a common money mistake people make when applying for an online travel visa

While citizens of the U.S. and other western countries are able to travel widely without a visa in the traditional sense, certain nations still require one while other countries with visa-free agreements ask tourists to register their trip and apply for clearance online before arrival.

Given that the requirements differ for each country and are constantly in flux (the European Travel Information and Authorisation System for travel to countries making up the European Union also known as ETIAS has been delayed at least eight times from an initial launch date in 2021), many travelers often find themselves confused about what they need before a trip — which, in turn, often ends up costing them lost money.

Related: Another country has the title of world’s most powerful passport (the US slipped again)

One such traveler, Jay Raman, was in the process of arranging a family trip to New Zealand and was looking through the flight details on his Delta  (DAL)  travel booking when he saw a pop-up saying that foreign visitors needed to apply for the New Zealand Electronic Travel Authority. The website told him he could apply through the travel visa application platform Sherpa and he followed its lead.

New Zealand requires all foreign visitors to apply for online travel authorization.

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‘How convenient, he thought’: Don’t make this easy booking error

“After entering the details of each of his five family members and paying a total of $532.50, he soon had those electronic travel visas,” Michelle Couch-Friedman of The Points Guy wrote in a feature on the subject. “How convenient, he thought. However, a few days later, as he continued his travel planning, budget-minded Raman got an unpleasant surprise. He learned that the New Zealand government charges U.S citizens just 17 New Zealand dollars ($10) for NZeTAs via a free app.”

Sherpa is one of a number of travel platforms that help travelers apply for travel clearance or tourist visas. While advertised as a way to simplify the process and make sure one’s documents are in order, they often charge a hefty and not always transparent fee for doing little other than typing in the passenger’s information for them into an application that is easily accessible online. 

In the case of New Zealand, the application is available directly on a mobile app created by the country’s immigration department and is very easy to complete as the app guides you through it. For those who have one’s passport information in front of them, the application typically takes no more than 10-20 minutes.

The first step is always to go on the embassy website yourself

After realizing this, Raman ended up having to go through a lengthy process of trying to get the money back. Delta did not want to offer a refund because the terms and conditions on the website say that use of Sherpa is just a recommendation and completely optional while a credit card dispute was also not an option since he applied for the visas voluntarily and the visas (which he did need for the trip) would be canceled even if the transaction was canceled.

After having to go back and forth (and reaching out to The Points Guy for help advocating for him), Raman was able to get part of the fee refunded but the situation required a lot of headache and arguing with call center representatives.

“To begin the process of applying for your visa, you can visit the website of your destination's consulate or embassy,” Couch-Friedman wrote. “There, you'll be able to determine if the travel visa process is simple, as Raman belatedly found out was the case with New Zealand, or if there is a more complicated process."

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