Visas and passports can
Arranging visas and checking passports are core
obligations for travel agents.
Agents will experience that “sinking feeling” that there is
a visa problem when they receive n irate phone call from a
client who has been denied boarding by the airline at the
‘home’ airport, or when they receive a distressed phone
call, email or fax from a client in an overseas hotel who
has been refused boarding on a cruise ship or been refused
on a tour, because they do not hold a valid visa for the
Agents who overlook visa requirements, or agents who fail to
notify clients of visa requirements and agents who fail to
arrange visas when they have undertaken to do so, will find
themselves footing the bill for their clients’ alternative
travel, accommodation and meals. This can costly, amounting
to thousands of dollars.
Specialist tourism lawyer Anthony Cordato, author of the
book “Australian Travel & Tourism Law”, says recent legal
cases have demolished the kinds of arguments that travel
agents might have used in the past to avoid responsibility
for arranging visas.
A case cited in “Australian Travel & Tourism Law”
illustrates how agents can end up paying for not arranging a
visa. It concerned two travellers who were denied boarding
for a cruise departing Singapore for Thailand, because they
did not have visas for Thailand. The denied boarding was
correct as all Australian permanent residents needed to
obtain a visa to enter Thailand.
The agent who booked the travel allegedly said to the
clients that no visas were needed, and in any event, visas
were the client’s responsibility.
In reaching its decision, the NSW Consumer, Trader and
Tenancy Tribunal rejected these arguments raised by the
- Argued: that there was no duty on the travel agent
to give specific advice on visa requirements. Rejected:
it is incumbent upon a travel agent to ensure that there
would be no obstacle to the consumers joining the cruise
in terms of having the correct visas;
- Argued: that the consumers were responsible for
their visas in that they should have heeded the “advice”
given by the agent to check visa requirements through
the embassy for each country. Rejected: the travel agent
should have made itself aware of the visa requirements
and should have provided specific advice on visa
requirements for each country;
- Argued: that the travel agent could rely on the
booking condition in the cruise brochure that the
passenger is responsible for visa requirements.
Rejected: this condition is inserted for the protection
of the cruise operator, not the travel agent.
The Tribunal awarded compensation to the travellers
payable by the agent consisting of: the cost of: the cruise
($4,750), travel insurance ($260), alternative accommodation
($777), private car transfer ($72) and coach transfer ($44).
For the decision visit http:/www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/NSWCTTT/2004/540.html
Other visa traps for agents include:
- committing clients to bookings where there is no
refund on cancellation, such as for discounted airfares,
without first making sure that visas will be available;
- obtaining a tourist visa when the purpose of the
travel is business, and the destination requires a
- not realising that even a transit stop in the USA
requires a visa for certain nationals.
The requirements for a visa can depend upon the client’s
nationality, specifically, what country passport the client
is travelling under. Some people are dual nationals, some
spouses travel under different country passports.
Cordato says agents should make certain which passport each
member of a family will use on their travels – if possible
making photocopies of the passports to be used. With many
Australian residents holding dual citizenship and two
passports, this is particularly important in terms of visa
requirements and re-entry.
Agents should check that passports will be current for a
minimum of six months from date of proposed entry into a
country, to comply with the entry requirements of many
In Cordato’s view, after the agent gives advice that a visa
is required, then the agent must arrange the visa (for which
a fee can be charged), unless the client desires to make
their own arrangements to obtain the visa. If the client
desires to obtain their own visa, they should be required to
sign an explicit acknowledgement, to this effect:
(To the travel agency):
We [the client] acknowledge that:
- The travel agent has advised a visa is required for
entry into [country]
- We have made it our responsibility to obtain a visa,
and the issue of the visa is at our own risk
- If we do not obtain a visa, we risk being denied
entry into [country] and risk the travel/tour/cruise
fare/price paid, and all expenses that may follow from
- If the visa application requires an interview or our
production of documentation, then we are responsible to
comply with the requirements
(Signed by the client and dated.)
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Note: this was the third in a series of five interviews
in which specialist tourism lawyer Anthony Cordato discusses
issues of vital importance to travel agents.
Published with the kind permission of e-travel blackboard,
where the article was first published in August 2007, and
with the kind permission of Peter Needham.