Visas and passports
can be costly!





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 destination.

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 travel agent:

(i) 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;

(ii) 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;

(iii) 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 business visa;
  • 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 countries.

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:

(a) The travel agent has advised a visa is required for entry into [country]

(b) We have made it our responsibility to obtain a visa, and the issue of the visa is at our own risk

(c) 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 denied entry

(d) 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.)


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

© Copyright 2017 Cordato Partners