Here’s the important thing to know about getting your visas:
THEY REALLY MEAN WHAT THEY SAY ON THE WEBSITE.
I guess this might seem self-explanatory, but I totally dropped the ball on this one and didn’t read carefully enough through the consulate websites. I figured it would be simple – just show up, give them your passport and pick up your visa (and passport) later in the day. NO NO NO NO NO. THIS IS NOT HOW IT WORKS. (You can read about how educational (i.e. awful) our experiences were here, here and here.)
Different countries have different rules. Read them. All of them. This is especially confusing when you’re trying to get more than one. Some places only take cash, some will take only money orders and some will even take credit cards. Some of them require you to fill out a form online, some don’t. Some have a mail-in service, some don’t. For instance, to get a visa for China, you HAVE to have someone drop off the application and then pick it up. You can’t mail it in or even have it mailed back to you. All I can tell you is don’t make the same mistake I did and think that you can get three visas in two days. It might be possible with careful planning and requesting a rush order (which costs extra, of course), but it’s probably not something you really want to do.
Also, don’t forget your visa photos. They’re basically the same as passport photos (2″ x 2″), and you can print some out for free at epassportphoto.com. We did this for our second set and saved ourselves $20. The instructions are foolproof, because even WE were able to take our pictures, size them and print them out successfully.