Difference between revisions of "Visa"
Revision as of 11:57, 12 April 2010
This article is a travel topic
A visa is a document, normally affixed within the passport, allowing the bearer or alien to apply for entry into the country in question. It simply allows the alien to present himself to an immigration officer at a designated port-of-entry. It does not, however, automatically guarantee entry into that country. Only a very few countries (not known for tourism) require exit visas.
The reason that a foreign country would require a tourist visa in advance for nationals of your country vary, but most do it for security and economic reasons. If relations between the two countries are icy, a visa helps keep out spies and saboteurs. Even where that's not the case, a strong-arm government or a country often at war with a shaky peace may want to keep a close watch on everyone. If the host country is more economically developed than that of the visitor, there may a concern that the visitor will overstay and illegally seek employment, hence the need for a visa. The visa is sort of an endorsement from the host country's embassy in the alien's home country that the alien can potentially abide by the terms of his stay in the country where he intends to travel. These criteria will usually be assessed once again by immigration offers when the alien passes through the border.
Should your own country require a visa from visitors of your destination, a reciprocal visa policy and fee may apply (even though they have no worries about tourists). A few small and exotic countries may see themselves as an amusement park for the outside world, and charge a visa fee to raise revenues and provide government jobs to its citizens.
Do you need Visa?
You may need a visa for any countries you visit or transit on your trip. Visa requirements vary depending on the nationality of your passport, the length of your stay, whether you will leave the airport, the nature of your trip, your point of entry, and the areas you will be visiting. The visit requirements can also change regularly.
It is important to confirm visa information with a current and reliable source, such as the embassy of the countries you are visiting.
Classes of Visa
Visas come in many forms, so it is important to obtain the visa appropriate for what you intend to do. Here are some of the most common varieties:
Tourist Visas are issued to persons wishing to travel to a country for sightseeing or vacation. Most tourist visas last for, at most, six months. A few may last five years, but these usually have a hefty fee.
Transit Visas are issued to people passing through the country without a significant stay, normally for anywhere from 24 hours to ten days.
Business Visas are issued if one needs to conduct financial transactions in the country, sign contracts, attend training or meetings, and a whole plethora of work-related activities, but employment is prohibited.
Student Visas are issued to those who wish to undertake a course of study in another country. Proof of enrollment is necessary.
Work Visas are permits allowing one to hold a paid job in the destination country for a period of time. These are notoriously hard to acquire (especially for countries that have difficulty providing jobs to locals) unless special arrangements exist between your home country and the destination country.
Working Holiday Visas are work visas that allow short-term jobs to be undertaken to subsidize a vacation.
Religious Pilgrimage Visas, such as visas given for the Hajj, entitle the bearer to visit a religious shrine or site. These are common in most Muslim countries.
Retirement Visas allow one to reside in a country indefinitely, so long as they abide by the law and don't seek paid employment.
Immigrant Visas permit one to resettle in a country.
As the mechanics for visas can get complicated, it is advisable to engage the services of an immigration attorney in order to properly assess your eligibility for certain visas and facilitate the necessary paperwork.
Entry without a Visa
Some countries permit certain nationalities to enter without an advance visa, but other conditions may apply for entry and the stay. For example, all nationalities in the European Union can generally freely travel from one country to another with almost no restrictions. The United States allows certain nationals to enter under the Visa Waiver Program for tourism and business only, provided they fill out an online application prior to their arrival.
If your destination allows others of your nationality in without a visa, don't automatically assume that you won't need one, especially if you are planning to stay for extended periods (i.e. to work, study or immigrate either temporarily or permanently). Check to make certain of your status before entry.
Obtaining the Visa
Some countries, such as Cambodia and Turkey, offer provisions for a visa on arrival. This normally involves submitting an application at the border and paying a nominal fee. Others, such as Iran, Armenia, Cambodia, and Australia, offer an electronic visa service where you can apply online, often for a nominal fee. Visit the web site of the embassy to figure out what is needed to apply for your visa, or call them if you have questions.
If your target destination does not offer this, then you need to contact the embassy or consulate. Embassies are normally located in the national capital city (London, Paris, Rome, etc.) Consulates are a branch of an embassy, usually located far away from the embassy. For example, Los Angeles and San Francisco have many consulates, as these are major cities thousands of miles/kilometers away from Washington DC.
In some cases, only your designated consulate or embassy will process your visa, based on where you live. For example, if you live in a small city in the USA and are visiting Washington DC, you might not be able to apply for a visa there if the destination country has a consulate closer to your home. A further complication can occur if you have documents that need to be authenticated by the destination country prior to travel (not common for tourist visas unless getting married). If the documents originate from a different part of the country than where you currently reside, they may have to be shipped to whichever consulate (or main embassy) that handles their particular region of origin.
For most countries, begin the visa process at least four weeks prior to your trip. This will ensure that you can complete all of the necessary work in advance of when you desire to leave. Some countries allow for quicker turnaround times, but this comes with the obvious risk of missing your flight or paying a substantially higher fee. If you cannot visit an embassy or consulate in person, the visa may be obtained by postal mail or air express document shippers (FedEx, DHL, UPS, etc.). If this is not allowed or you prefer the added convenience, there are usually visa processing services in your home country which deal directly with the embassy.
Typically, a visa application package will consist of your passport with blank visa pages, the original and possibly several copies of the application form (including supplementary forms the embassy requests the applicant to fill-out), relevant financial information (bank statements, medical insurance, etc.), photographs, vaccination information where necessary (mostly for yellow fever if you travel to an endemic region), hotel reservations/contact information for your host and plane ticket, an invitation when required (such as Algeria and Russia), local/national police clearance and an application fee. The embassies may or may not look at all these documents but you should have them ready. Keep in mind that some countries reciprocate the visa fee, meaning that you pay what their citizens pay. Brazil and China are both known to do this, levying a US$130 fee for US citizens to apply for a visa to match what the US charges Brazilians and Chinese.
Typically, application fees are not refundable, even if your visa is denied.
Keep in mind that there are some countries where a trip to the consulate is highly advised, if not mandatory. The United States requires a consular interview, as does Germany. Appointments usually have to be set prior to arrival in the embassy/consulate and you can schedule one online.
It is also important to know the holidays of your country as well as the holidays of the country you wish to enter because the embassy or consulate of the latter will be closed on either country's holidays.
Visas may be single entry or multiple entry. If your itinerary involves entering a country more than once, check whether you need to seek more than one visa, and whether you can get all of them at the same time. If travelling to and returning from a territory that has unusual status, check whether the return counts as re-entry. (For example, since Norfolk Island maintains its own immigration control, travelling from Norfolk Island to Australia counts as a separate entry onto the Australian mainland.)
Travelling on a budget airline?
As budget airlines operate on a point-to-point basis, you and your luggage aren't automatically checked-through to your final destination and the traditional concept of connecting flights is non-existent to them. Each leg of your journey on the budget airline is treated independently even if they are contained under a single booking. This means you will have to claim your luggage and clear entry formalities of the country you are making a connection at.
This also means that countries which don't normally require visas for a sterile air-side transit may require you to procure a visitor/tourist visa since you technically need to enter that country to commence the rest of your journey by checking-in again by yourself. You may want to consider adding the visa application fees to the total costs of travelling on a budget airline when comparing them with travelling on normal airlines. Visit the article discount airlines for more information on the complications of travelling on such airlines.
After Obtaining your Visa
Keep careful note of the information on your visa, namely expiration dates and entries. Also, ensure that you obtained the correct classification of visa for your trip, whether it be a student or tourist visa. If not, you could get into serious legal troubles and possibly even face deportation.
Theoretically, a visa does not always guarantee entry into the country or allow for the full validity period to be used. You may still be denied entry at the port of entry, have your visa cancelled there and be subject to immediate deportation. So upon arrival, you must demonstrate to the passport control officer's satisfaction that you are eligible for the visa which you applied for (i.e. that you will not overstay or seek employment or permanent residence under a visitor or student visa). Keep this important caveat in mind as you commence your travel.
Under no circumstances should you ever overstay your visa or entry status (unless hospitalized) . Furthermore, keep in mind that the date given to you by the consulate doesn't always necessarily match the date stamped into your passport by passport control officers. This means that if you are issued a 5-year visa at the embassy, it does NOT mean you can stay continuously in that country for the said 5-year period. The rules on which date to follow will vary per country, but for US visitor visas, you must follow the dates stamped by the immigration officers on entry.
The dates given on most visas are entry dates, i.e. you must enter the country before the date listed on the visa.
Make sure to exit before your status expires. Should you need to stay in that country for an extended period of time, you should legally apply at the nearest immigration service centre, although in some cases, some aliens are ineligible to apply for any kind of extension.
In some cases, your passport may expire before your visa does. You should apply for a new passport, and retain the previous one containing the visa. (Expired passports are automatically returned when applying for a renewal.) You will have to show both when entering and departing the host country.
For more information about a country's entry requirements, visit that country's respective page or contact their embassy.
Russia and Saudi Arabia are two countries that have an exit visa requirement. It is not as dire as it seems, however; only certain classes require a Saudi exit visa, and the exit visa is included in Russian tourist, business, and transit visas.
If, however, you are required to obtain an exit visa, do so well in advance of your travel. It can take as many as three weeks to obtain an exit visa.