Everything You Need To Know About Visas
What Is a Visa?
A visa is an official document that allows the bearer to legally enter a foreign country. The visa is usually stamped or glued into the bearer's passport. There are several different types of visas, each of which afford the bearer different rights in the host country.
What Is a Travel/Tourist Visa?
Travel visas allow the bearer to enter a foreign country for touristic and leisure purposes only and stay for a predetermined amount of time. These visas do not entitle the holder to work or engage in any business activities in the host country.
What Is a Work Visa?
Work visas are required for individuals who wish to take on employment or engage in business activities in the host country. There are several types of work visas that depend on the nature of the work and length of stay. For example, working holiday visas allow individuals to temporarily take on employment while travelling through the country.
What Is a Business Visa?
A business visa allows the bearer to enter the host country and engage in business activities without joining that country's labour market. For example, an individual may require a business visa if they are travelling to a country to do business with another company or if they are attending a business conference. The visitor typically must show that they are not receiving income from the country.
What Is a Student Visa?
A student visa is a type of nonimmigrant visa that allows the bearer to enrol at a postsecondary educational institution in the host country. High school foreign exchange students must typically obtain a visa for temporary residence.
What Is a Refugee/Asylum Visa?
Refugee visas and asylum visas can be granted to individuals fleeing persecution, war, natural disasters and other situations in which their life is at risk.
What Is a Working Holiday Visa?
Working holiday visas allow the bearer to undertake temporary employment in a country through which they are travelling. Not every country offers a working holiday program. Australia has the most popular such program.
What Is a Spousal Visa?
Spousal visas allow partners to visit each other when the couple does not hail from the same country.
What Is a Transit Visa?
Travellers may sometimes require transit visas in order to pass through a country that is not their destination country. Transit visas are typically required if you have a layover in a country of more than a few hours.
What Is an eVisa?
An eVisa, or electronic visa, is a digital visa that is stored in a database rather than stamped or glued into the bearer's passport. The eVisa is linked to the individual's passport number. Applications for eVisas are typically done over the Internet and the applicant will receive a paper document to present while travelling.
Immigrant Vs. Nonimmigrant Visas
Travel visas can be separated into two categories: immigrant and nonimmigrant. Immigrant visas allow the bearer to reside permanently in the host country, whereas nonimmigrant visas allow the bearer entry into the host country on a temporary basis.
What Does a Visa Look Like?
Traditional visas can either be stamped or glued into your passport. If your visa is glued into your passport, it is usually a small document that includes your name, passport number, place of birth, reason for travel and expiration date. Stamped visas typically have less information on them. They usually only have the destination and date from which the visa is valid and official instructions stating how many days the visa is valid for.
Why Do I Need a Visa to Travel?
Visas are necessary if you'd like to travel to a country that does not have a visa policy in place with your home country.
Many countries have visa policies and agreements that allow their citizens to travel freely between them without the need for a visa. For example, Canadians and Americans do not need visas in order to travel to each other's countries, only valid travel documents. However, Canadians do need visas to travel to Bhutan, for example, since no visa agreement exists between the two nations.
Check on Passport Index to see if you need a visa to travel to your next destination.
What Is a Visa Policy?
A country's visa policy is a rule that states who may or may not enter the country. The policy may allow passport holders of one country to enter visa-free but not the passport holders of another country. Most visa policies are bilateral, meaning that two countries will allow visa-free travel to each other's citizens, but this is not always the case. For example, Canadian passport holders may travel to Grenada visa-free, but Grenadians must apply for a visa in order to travel to Canada.
There are no hard and fast rules for countries when determining visa policies. However, some typical considerations include diplomatic relations with the other country, the history, if any, of illegal immigration from the country, cost and tourism factors, and more.
Why Do Certain Countries Have Visa Restrictions?
Countries have visa restrictions in order to check and control the flow of visitors in and out of the country and to prevent illegal immigration and other criminal activities. Forcing travellers to apply for a visa allows the authorities to vet potential visitors. For example, individuals may attempt to travel to a country with better economic opportunities in order to work illegally there.
When Do I Need a Visa?
When you need a visa depends on where you'd like to go. If your home country has a visa agreement with the country to which you intend to travel, then you likely will not need to apply for a visa beforehand. However, if your home country does not have a visa agreement with your intended destination, then you must apply for a visa before travelling.
See our Passport Index to find out where you can travel visa-free with your passport.
Applying for a Visa
How Do I Apply for a Visa?
Using your preferred search engine, find the official government immigration website of the country you intend to visit. Once you've found and read all the information, including the visa application requirements, fill out the required travel visa application form. You may be able to send in the form electronically or you may be required to send it by mail. If your destination requires visa on arrival, then you don't need to worry about applying for a travel visa beforehand. In this case, once you get to your destination you may be required to fill out a visa form and pay any applicable fees. Double check the requirements with the relevant website or consulate as you may need to bring a passport-sized photo as well.
What Are the Requirements for a Visa?
Each country has its own visa application requirements. Make sure to check with your destination country's appropriate government website to find out. Requirements typically include filling out the visa application form, providing your passport for stamping if required, a photograph, and additional documents such as your flight itinerary, hotel booking or letter of invitation.
Many countries also have inadmissibility guidelines when it comes to issuing visas. Potential visitors may be deemed inadmissible if, for example, they have a criminal history, are a security risk, have a serious health problem, have serious financial problems and more.
If you do not meet the visa requirements for the country you intend to visit it is highly likely that your visa application will be denied and you will not be allowed entry into the country.
What Are the Supporting Documents Required for Visitor Visas?
When filing your visa application with the embassy of the country you intend to visit, you will be asked to include supporting documents with the main visa application. The following is a list of commonly requested supporting documents:
- Letter of invitation.
- A photocopy of the information page of your passport.
- One or two photographs of a specific size determined by the visa office.
- Proof of financial support during the trip.
- Travel insurance.
- Airplane tickets.
- Proof of purpose of travel.
- Visa application fees.
What Is an Invitation Letter for a Visa?
Some countries, such as Canada and the United States, may require the visitor to include a letter of invitation with their travel visa application. A letter of invitation is a formal letter from the person you intend to visit stating that they are inviting you to visit them in that country. Invitation letters help travel authorities vet potential visitors by making sure that a temporary visit is indeed the true nature of the visa request. Check with your intended destination's government website for details on what needs to be included in a such a letter.
What to Expect During a Visa Interview?
Once you have filed your visa application, you may be requested to submit to a visa interview by the country you intend to visit. Most visa applications are approved or denied without the need for an interview, but the visa officer may request one. The following are common questions you may be asked during a visa interview:
- Why do you want to travel to X country?
- Why do you want to visit at this specific time?
- Do you have a criminal record?
- Are you travelling with someone else?
- Who will you be visiting?
- How long will you stay?
- Where will you stay?
- Have you booked airline tickets?
- Do you have health insurance for this trip?
- If you are currently employed, do you have proper leave from your workplace for the duration of the trip?
- Will you return to your home country after your visit?
What Are the Fees for Obtaining a Visa?
Each country has different fees for obtaining a visa. Check with your intended destination's government immigration website to find out the costs. For example, visa application fees for visas to the U.S. start at US$160.
What Are Visa Processing Times?
Every country processes visa applications at a different rate. Make sure to check the government website of the country you intend to visit to find out how fast they process visa applications. For example, visa applications from Russia to visit Canada take approximately 8 days to process, while Canadians looking to travel to India are advised to submit visa applications at least 15 days in advance.
What Visa Services Does an Embassy Offer?
Embassies typically offer visa application services, assistance and up-to-date information regarding visa and travel requirements. It's always a good idea to check the embassy of your destination country to learn about travelling there.
What Can I Learn From the Visa Restrictions Index?
Passport Index focuses not on the visa restrictions but rather on the possibilities and freedom that passports offer. The Passport Compare tool allows users to see which countries they can visit visa-free and compare their passport against others.
Which Countries Can I Travel to Visa-Free?
Check out Passport Index to find out where you can travel visa-free with your current passport. Currently UAE has the most visa-free access with 175 countries, while Afghanistan has the least access with visa-free travel to only 30 countries.
What Are the US Visa Restrictions?
The United States has several visa restrictions that affect whether a potential visitor is granted a tourist visa. Visa applications may be denied on the grounds of health, a criminal record or other security reasons. For example, anyone with a significant communicable disease or a physical or mental health disorder that poses a safety threat will not be allowed entry into the US.
See the United States government's full list of restrictions.
Visa-Free Vs. Visa on Arrival Vs. Visa Required
Visa-free refers to the ability to travel to a foreign country without the need for a travel visa. In such a case only a valid passport is required for entry and exit purposes.
Visa on arrival means that travellers must obtain a visa in order to enter the destination country, but it can be obtained upon arrival. Visitors do not need to apply for a travel visa beforehand.
Visa required means that travellers must apply for a visa to the country before actually travelling there.
See our Passport Index to find out where you can travel visa-free with your passport.
Which Countries Can I Visit Visa-Free With the US Passport?
The U.S. passport has a mobility score of 166, meaning holders can visit 156 countries without the need for a travel visa. See our Passport Index for the complete list.
How Many Visitor Visas Does the US Accept and Reject Each Year?
According to the US Office of Visa Services, the US issued 10,381,491 nonimmigrant visas in the 2016 fiscal year and refused 3,121,950 nonimmigrant visas in the same period. This means that 28.66% of nonimmigrant visa requests were denied.
Which Countries Can I Visit With a Schengen Visa?
The Schengen zone comprises 26 countries in Europe. A Schengen visa allows the bearer to enter one Schengen country and then travel freely throughout the rest of the zone. The following is the list of all Schengen member states:
Austria, Germany, Luxembourg, Slovenia, Belgium, Greece, Malta, Spain, Czech Republic, Hungary, Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, Estonia, Italy, Poland, Liechtenstein, Finland, Latvia, Portugal, France, Lithuania, Slovakia.
When Was the First Visa Ever Issued?
The first mention of what we would think of as a visa is in the Bible's book of Nehemiah from approximately 450 BC. A prophet was given a "safe conduct" letter from the Persian king Artaxerxes asking that he be granted safe passage to Judah.
Global Visa Issuance Over Time
According to the US Office of Visa Services, from 2013-2017 the US issued an increasing number of nonimmigrant visas each year, with an average increase of 11% per year. include tourism visas, temporary worker visas and student visas.