Back to BasicsBack to BasicsWe all have that one seemingly “easy” task we’ve never quite figured out. This week, no problem is too trivial, no question too stupid. Just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s not a hack.
International travel involves a lot of moving parts:from getting a passport and booking your itinerary to budgeting your trip and learning the basics of the language and local customs. An additional component you may need to figure out is whether or not you need a visa. Thankfully, the United States has visa-free travel to 184 countries around the world. However, there are many countries such as Cuba, China, and Ghana that require US citizens to obtain a visa before boarding your flight.
A visa is an authorization or approval by another country granting you the ability to travel across international borders and into their country. It can be an actual sheet of paper big enough to fit within your passport, or a stamp with an entry and exit date written on it. It lets international customs and immigration know that you went through the proper parameters to travel to their country which may include passing a background check, health screening, or an in-depth interview.
There are also multiple types of visas including tourist, transit, work, student, and residency. The type of visa you would apply for would depend on the nature of your travel. Are you going to school there? Are you working there? Will you be living there past the allotted “tourist” time?
You can find the list of countries where visas are required for U.S. citizens here.
Countries that require visas have consulates: an office where you can go to submit everything required to obtain a visa. Once you make an appointment, they will ask for all necessary documents and in some instances request an interview to find out the nature of your travels.
Some requirements for a visa application may include, but are not limited to:
- Travel itinerary (booked accommodations, booked roundtrip flights)
- Additional passport-sized photos
- Immunization records
- Proof of income
- At least 6-12 months before passport expiration
- Number of blank pages in passport labeled “visa”
Some countries now offer an e-visa. With an e-visa you can apply, pay, and check the status of your application directly online. Once it is approved you can print confirmation of approval and your receipt to take with you for travel. India has a template of what the e-visa process looks like.
Other countries have what is called “on-arrival” visas. These visas are purchased once you land and are placed in your visa before you get to the immigration window. A country like Egypt allows you to bring $25 US dollars to purchase your visa at a window prior to immigration. Once you pay the fee, they will place their visa sticker on one of your passport pages labeled “visa.”
If you forget to purchase your on-arrival visa before getting to any country’s immigration, they will redirect you to the visa window.
Every country has a specified length of stay for foreigners. As a tourist, your visa will state its expiration or the date on which you should be leaving. Some visas may be valid for a long time but your stay may expire in a shorter period. For example, a country may grant you a tourist visa that’s good for 5 years, but that doesn’t mean you can stay for 5 years. Most countries allow you to stay between 30 and 180 days, but you will have to leave before those days are up; if your visa is good for more years, that means you can come back again without having to apply for a new visa.
Failure to leave once your visa or allowed stay arrives can result in fines, deportation or jail.