This article is a travel topic
A visa allows the person issued it to travel to a foreign country and there request entry into the alien country that issued it. Depending on that foreign country's legal system, the visa may also be the legal basis for staying in and/or exiting from that country.
In most cases, visas are affixed or rubber-stamped within a passport but, in some cases, they may be issued on separate sheets of paper. An increasing number of countries issue visas electronically so there is nothing physically to see, but airlines and other carriers will still be able to see that their prospective passenger is cleared for travel.
Most countries make it possible not to arrange a visa beforehand, at least to some nations, by allowing visa-free entry or providing visitors with a short-term visa stamped or affixed into their passport upon arrival, either free or for a fee. This article deals mainly with visas which must be obtained in advance. It's important to find out which of these two situations applies to your destination for your nationality.
Nevertheless, even if you've arranged a visa for a country in advance, this does not mean you are entitled to enter. The final decision is made by the immigration officer at the border. In some countries like the US or the UK, immigration officers normally conduct interviews of all arriving aliens to find out if they are admissible. In other countries, officers exercise their authority to deny entry only in exceptional cases.
Countries require visas from visitors for regulatory, security and economic reasons. It is important to confirm visa information with a current and reliable source, such as the local embassy of the country you're travelling to. 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. These requirements can also change regularly.
Your residency usually does not matter in whether or not you need a visa, only the nationality indicated by your passport. For this reason, if you are a non-citizen where you currently reside, never rely on local advice as to whether you need a visa to visit a nearby foreign country or other popular location abroad. They may not need a visa, while you do, or vice versa. Also, be sure you will be allowed back into the country where you are residing. If you are not a permanent resident and not a citizen, you may need a permanent residence visa in your foreign passport to be allowed to return.
On the other hand, your residency does matter in where you apply for a visa. Most embassies and consulates won't process your visa application unless you can prove that you're legally residing in their respective responsibility area.
It is important to realize that no source of information (even an official one) is completely immune from errors, misinterpretations or outdated information. Cross-check visa requirements whenever possible.
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. Members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (or ASEAN), except Myanmar, allow visa-free access to each other for business and tourism purposes. The United States allows nationals of certain highly-developed countries to enter under the Visa Waiver Program for tourism and business only, provided they fill out an online application prior to their arrival. European Economic Agreement nations also allow US, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand nationals to enter visa-free for tourist and business purposes as well and vice versa.
Some countries still do not require transit visas for transits of certain lengths, such as Saudi Arabia (in airport, 18 hours), China, and the United Kingdom (only applies to certain visa required nationals).
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). In fact, it's a good idea to inquire if you're traveling for any reason other than being a typical "tourist". This includes getting married, speaking to an audience or congregation (even if unpaid), journalism, research, professional photography, etc. Check to make certain of your status before entry. In some cases you may in fact need a visa, in others you may simply need to bring more documentation to the border. For example, Canada requires all non-visa nationals (apart from US Citizens living in a handful of border communities and who hold a special NEXUS expedited border clearance card) present a letter of invitation if they're seeking entry for any reason outside the scope of traditional tourism - including visiting family or friends. Also, you may need a special visa if you visit remote areas where indigenous people live who are not part of the mainstream society (e.g. parts of the Amazon Basin, Andaman and Nicobar Islands off the coast of India, etc.)
In advance or at entry?
Some countries may provide you with a short-term visa on arrival stamped or affixed into your passport, either free or for a fee. Still others require an application and visa to be in your passport in advance, and prior to boarding any flight.
If visas are issued at points of entry, sometimes they are only issued at some points of entry. For example in some developing countries major airports may issue visas on arrival, but some land borders may require a visa issued in advance.
Classes of visas
Visas come in many forms, so it is very important to obtain the appropriate visa for what you intend to do. Attempting to enter the host country on an incorrect visa can see you refused entry, deported and even banned from re-entry. Not all countries offer the same types of visas. Here are some of the most common varieties:
Tourist Visas are issued to persons wishing to travel to a country for sightseeing or vacation. Tourist visas usually only authorize short stays (typically, up to a month, three months, or six months). Some countries' visas (e. g. US, UK) may last as long as five or ten years (for periodic visits), but the issuance fee may be proportional to the length of visa. To successfully get this, you must demonstrate to the consul that you are definitely going to return home after your stay in their country. Employment is not allowed unless it is issued together or in conjunction with with a working holiday visa.
Private Visit Visas are issued to people visiting their friends or relatives legally residing in a country. Some countries require a formal invitation issued through a governmental office. For others, an informal letter of invitation is sufficient.
Transit Visas are issued to people passing through the country without a significant stay, normally for anywhere from 24 hours to ten days. A special case is Airside Transit Visas required sometimes for mere change of planes in an airport without clearing immigration.
Business Visas are issued if one needs to conduct financial transactions in the country, sign contracts, attend training or meetings, and a plethora of activities in connection to one's work or profession back home. Employment in the host country is forbidden.
Student Visas are issued to those who wish to undertake a course of study in another country. Proof of admission, enrolment and proficiency in the local language are necessary. In some countries this can come with limited, part-time employment rights.
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 unless special arrangements exist between your home country and the destination country. This is because the primary requirement to be considered for a work visa is that nobody in the employer's local job market is qualified and willing to do the job the employer needs to fill. It might slightly be easier for you to get a working visa if you possess an advanced degree (i.e. MA, MS, PhD) from a reputable school or an undergraduate degree with extensive and substantial related experience. If the work visa does not automatically allow you to permanently immigrate (i.e. you're a contract worker), the visa will usually be restricted as well to a particular employer and job type.
Working Holiday Visas are work visas that allow short-term jobs to be undertaken to subsidize a vacation. Often this is available only by certain countries to nationals of selected countries as part of special agreements.
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. See Retiring_abroad#Visas.
Immigrant Visas permit one to resettle in a country.
As the mechanics for long-term and work visas can get complicated, it is advisable to engage the services of an immigration attorney to properly assess your eligibility for the desired type of visa, and facilitate the necessary paperwork.
Usually, countries impose requirement that visitors' passports be valid beyond the planned period of visit and will refuse visas if this condition is not met. The required margin may be up to 6 months. Sometimes this requirement is waived for nationals of certain countries (this is especially often true between neighbouring countries).
Having a criminal record in your home country may be grounds for denial of a visa. It can also be grounds for refusal of entry when travelling without a visa. This is true even for countries with land borders and no visa requirement for tourists such as at the U.S.-Canadian border. To avoid disappointment, it's best to inquire at the nearest embassy or consulate. In some cases, this information might be on the host country's web site. However, it is still best to inquire about your particular situation, as legal matters can be enormously complex--especially in an international context. The host country's definition of a certain crime may be totally different from your own (even differences between dialects of same language such as American and British English can come into play). Moreover, the host country's criteria for time served may be based on the penalties imposed if the crime was committed in that country. If you have a criminal record it is usually best to apply for a visa in advance, as being refused a visa at entry is considerably more inconvenient. If you have declared your criminal record during the visa application and it is granted, then you are unlikely to be refused admission for that reason at the border crossing.
It is also important that you have not violated the terms of any previously-issued visas to you. In other words, you should have not for instance overstayed by even just a single day or worked on a tourist/student visa. Doing so may make it difficult to re-apply and be granted another visa with some countries.
Being in a stable financial and employment situation is strongly advised as it can demonstrate that you have less reason to potentially overstay or violate your visa. Hence, be ready to procure financial documents from your bank, certificate of employment, affidavit of support, etc. in advance in case the consulate requests this. If you are applying for a work or immigrant visa, the financial situation of the prospective host or employer will also be very important.
Fraud and Third-party agent concerns
Be extremely careful with persons or organizations whose services you wish to engage to help you apply for a visa. Some of them claim that they can get you a visa quicker than conventional methods. If a proposition sounds too good to be true it probably is. You will be held liable for whatever fraud or misrepresentation they commit in your application. If you commit fraud either by yourself or with the help of your agent, your application will almost certainly be refused/denied. In addition, you face the following consequences:
If you don't have at least one of the documents to prove your eligibility, it is better to explain its absence than present a fraudulent/false/forged document. Even if your visa application is denied as a result of such, a truthful explanation and presentation will usually not jeopardize future applications or preclude you from applying again.
Obtaining a visa in advance
Your first stop on your journey to get the valuable visa is the website of the immigration authorities, foreign ministry or embassy of the country or countries you wish to enter. They will provide the list of documents you need to get and specific procedures you need to undergo for your case. They will also provide instructions on how to apply in case they are not directly represented in your home country.
The list of documents you need to present to a consulate or embassy varies greatly from country to country. Basically, only three items are required always:
Other documents countries may typically require from you for a short-term visa include but are not limited to:
Once you have all the necessary documents, you can start filling-out the application form/s. In some countries, this is only possible to do online while in others, it has to be hand-written or type-written. In the case of the former, you will have to print-out the submitted application form. Next you can set an appointment using the website or phone number assigned by the visa-issuing authorities. You will then pay the fee but this may sometimes have to happen before setting an appointment (see the Visa fees subsection for more information). A commercial third-party accredited by the embassy/consulate may handle administrative aspects of your visa application (i.e. you could be dealing with them in submitting your application rather than the embassy/consulate itself) but they have no influence over the outcome of your application. The embassy or consulate will tell you if you need to come for further interviews or require further information/documents.
A personal appearance by the applicant is increasingly becoming compulsory especially as the applicant may have to undergo bio-metric fingerprinting and photographing to ensure the integrity of the application. When applying, a pre-arranged appointment is also a must, you just cannot walk-in to the application centre.
As much as possible, please start the application process at the earliest possible opportunity. Processing of your application can take weeks but some countries may have priority processing available.
When visa fees are charged they can vary according to your nationality, the number of times you will enter, the length of stay or validity, purpose of travel and sometimes how and where you apply.
Should your own country charge a fee for visitors of your destination, a reciprocal visa policy and fee may apply. Sometimes particular nationalities are charged additional visa fees for reasons that are difficult to ascertain, with country groups assigned to particular fee bands. Brazil and China are both known to do this, levying a US$160 fee for US citizens to apply for a visa to match what the US charges Brazilians and Chinese.
If you are travelling around border regions you can often reduce visa fees by structuring your movements around such fees, taking an open jaw flight into one country and out of its neighbour can avoid multiple entry fees. If taking a quick visit to a neighbouring country, keeping your trip to a single day can often avoid fees too.
Children are sometimes charged a reduced fee, or no fee at all. The maximum age of the child can vary from under 12 up to 18.
Applicants on government-sponsored scholarships may have their visa fees waived. See the website of the embassy of the country of your school for more information.
The embassy or consulate of the country will also tell you how your payment has to be remitted. Some methods include direct payment by debit/credit card upon submission of your on-line application, bank deposit, purchase of manager's cheque.
Transit is when you enter a country for a short period for the purposes of transferring to an onward transport leaving the country again.
Working out which rules apply to a transit can often be more complex than working out the visitor visa requirements. Some variables include the length of your stay (often measured in hours), and whether you will need to leave the sterile transit area of an airport. Some countries that require visitors to have visas will allow transit without a visa under some conditions, but may require a transit visa if these are not satisfied.
If the transit entry conditions require you to stay in the sterile area during transit, you have to consider your luggage. Some airlines will not check your luggage through to your destination. This can be because they are a budget airline operating on a point-to-point basis, or even with multiple full-service airlines without the correct affiliations to transfer luggage between them. Countries which don't normally require visas for a sterile air-side transit may require you to procure a visitor or transit visa to collect your bags, since you technically need to enter that country to commence the rest of your journey by checking-in again by yourself. You should consider any visa application fees when comparing travel options.
Some airlines that don't normally offer to check luggage through to a final destination when fares are booked per sector on-line, may do so for the same flights if booked as a connecting flight by a travel agent, or as a codeshare.
After obtaining your visa
First, check to see if all the information printed on the visa sticker is correct (from your name to the type of visa). The usual information printed on the visa are as follows:
'*For validity dates and entries allowed, even if you applied and paid for a longer period, the consul, at his discretion may actually give you a shorter period and fewer entries if he is not fully satisfied that you will potentially comply. It is typical for first time successful visa applicants to get single entry visas.
Having a valid visa does not automatically guarantee entry into the country that issued the visa. When you land at the host country, passport control officers will check once again to see that you are still eligible for that visa. The reasons and circumstances that gave you the visa in the first place must still exist. If travelling as a tourist or a business visitor, make sure you have a return or onward ticket and contact details of your host (including their full address). For other status, have all the documents related to the purpose of your trip in order. Don't bring documents or items a traveller of your type won't normally bring. Your may be denied entry and your visa may be cancelled at the checkpoint if you are unable to demonstrate your eligibility or qualifications for your visa.
From the time the visa is issued to the time you leave the host country, you are responsible for complying with all the terms and conditions of your stay. Even if you hold a multiple-entry visa with a long validity period, the following constitute grounds to automatically invalidate your visa once these are later uncovered:
Length of stay and validity dates
Depending on the country, the length of authorised stay may or may not be printed on the visa and instead be given at passport control. In relation, the validity dates may have different meanings depending on the country.
In the United States for example, the validity period is simply the window in which you can travel to that country. It is not connected to the allowed period for which you can stay in the country. This means you can enter on the last day of your visa but still receive and be allowed up to a full 6-month period in which to stay there. The actual deadline for you to exit will be stamped in your passport by passport control officers - make sure you leave on or before this date.
In other places such as the United Kingdom and most Schengen countries, the last day of your validity period is the deadline for you to exit the country. While the maximum period for you to stay may be printed on the visa, you will either be given that period to stay or until the last day in which your visa is valid - whichever is shorter. This means while you can enter on the last day, you must also exit on that day.
Extending stay and changing status
If you are looking to extend your stay or change your immigration status, please apply at the immigration service centre of your host country before your current status expires. However this is not always possible depending on the rules of the immigration status that you used to enter the country with. For example, those who entered the US under the Visa Waiver Programme are not permitted to change status or extend their stay at all. When it is not allowed to change status in the host country, you must exit first and apply at your home country (make sure you leave before time is up otherwise you will have a difficult time getting that new visa). Other than checking past compliance with immigration history, your application for a different visa is independent of your past visa applications and will be viewed on its own merits.
Russia, Saudi Arabia and some other countries have an exit visa requirement. Those who are required to have a visa to enter these countries must also have a visa to leave them. It is not as dire as it seems, however; only certain classes require a Saudi exit visa; Russian tourist, business, and transit visas are entry-exit visas; and so are Schengen short-stay and long-stay visas.
However, if, for any reason, your visa or permission to remain expires before you leave, you are normally required to obtain an exit visa. This requirement may be waived under certain conditions. For example, Russian exit visa requirement may be waived in case of minor delays due to unforeseen circumstances such as illness or flight cancellation.
If you are required to obtain an exit visa, do so well in advance of your departure. It can take as many as three weeks to obtain an exit visa.
In any case, upon departure, immigration officials in most countries will check your documentation, and, if the country uses some kind of migration control document, will collect that document. If you lost your passport during your stay, these will probably have to be verified or replaced.