How to Obtain and Use a Visa

A visa is a stamp, sticker or document that is attached to your passport that allows you entry into a country.

A visa may be of several different types that allow different activities while visiting a country. The most typical visa is a tourist visa. Tourist visas usually preclude gainful employment while in the country. Other visa types, such as student, worker, diplomatic, etc. may allow longer term visits and/or limited or full employment.

Visas are usually limited in duration. The duration is often linked to the type of visa. Tourist visas terms typically range from 14 days to six months. The time limit for the visit may begin at the time the visa is issued or may begin when you enter the country. It is very important to know when the time window opens for your visit, and how long it will remain open. It is sometimes possible to have a visa extended to allow for a longer stay. If you wish to extend your visit longer than a normal tourist visa will allow, check with the embassy of the country you plan to visit to learn if this will be possible.

Countries in the same economic or political union, such as the European Union, do not require visas for citizens of member nations. Check the country's web site or with their embassy to see if a visa is required for entry for your country of citizenship.  

Visas are obtained at the border entry point or from the country's embassy or diplomatic officer prior to attempting entry. It is critical that you know if a visa can be issued at the border prior to attempting entry. Many countries require visas to be obtained in advance, and the process may take several days to several weeks. Check with the country's embassy or web site, or with a visa service bureau to learn a country's visa requirements prior to attempting to travel there.

In order to obtain a visa, you must send your passport to the country's embassy or to a visa service bureau for them to present to the embassy. The visa is then stamped or affixed to the visa pages of your passport. Some country's visas can take up an entire page or even multiple pages of your passport.

If your passport is nearly full, you may obtain additional pages from the U.S. passport agency. This process can take several weeks, so allow plenty of time to get additional pages prior to your travel.

Your passport may be processed by a country's local consulate in a major city, or it may be required to send your passport to the country's main embassy in Washington, D.C. (or your country's capital if non-U.S.).

You will need to fill out a visa application and may be required to provide multiple passport sized photos of yourself with the application. Application forms are often available for download from the country's web site or from the visa service bureau's web site.

It is highly recommended that you send your passport to the embassy or visa service bureau via an overnight courier service such as FedEx or DHL. Make sure that you accurately record the airbill tracking number in case you need to track your passport. Include a pre-addressed return airbill and empty envelope for the return shipment. Again, ensure that you have accurately recorded the airbill tracking number of the return shipment.

If you are obtaining multiple visas for an extended tour, you may need to juggle the application process to obtain the shortest time window visa last, so that you will have maximum time to get to that border prior to your visa expiring.

Visas are usually available for single, double or multiple entry. This means the visa will allow you a single entry into the country, two entries into the country or multiple entries into the country. All entries must be made within the time window provided by the visa. It is best to obtain a multiple entry visa if it is available. This allows you to take a side trip into another country to visit an interesting site, or make a quick trip home for an unexpected emergency and easily resume your travels.

Some countries have strict restrictions on visas. Some countries, such as Bhutan, restrict the number of visas issued annually. Others, such as Syria, will not issue you a visa if you have traveled to a forbidden destination, which in Syria's case is Israel (occupied Palestine). You must be careful to properly sequence your travels if you wish to visit both Syria and Israel.

Costs for visas range from nominal to significant, and change on a regular basis. Check with the country's web site or with a visa service bureau to obtain current visa costs.

Some countries require you to report to local police or other authorities within a specific time frame after entry. In order to prevent later problems, it is important to follow all requirements associated with border entry and presence in a foreign country.

If you are on an extended world tour, you will need to obtain visas in embassies and consulates for your next country or countries as you travel. Use the web in internet cafes to locate the embassies and consulates of your destination countries. It is best to present your passport in person rather than trust any form of shipment while overseas in the developing world. You may need to leave your passport for several days or weeks at the embassy to obtain a visa. In some cases, the embassy must send your passport back to their home country for visa processing.

We have used a visa service bureau, Travisa, for all of our visa requirements. Their service has been quick, efficient and affordable. They work with the embassies every day, so they know the ins and outs of the requirements (number of photos, forms to fill out, etc.) for each country. Travisa is highly recommended.

Please note that some countries will not issue a visa and/or allow entry without proof of immunization. Be sure to carry your immunization records with your passport.

Sample Images of Visas