What is a Visa?
A visa is an official endorsement or permission for a person to enter, stay, or travel through a foreign country. It is issued by the government of the foreign country and is typically required for travel to that country.
There are two main types of visas: immigrant visas and nonimmigrant visas. Immigrant visas are for people who wish to live permanently in the foreign country, while nonimmigrant visas are for people who are traveling to the foreign country temporarily for a specific purpose, such as tourism, business, study, or work.
Visas may be stamped or glued into a passport or may be issued as a separate document. The requirements for obtaining a visa vary depending on the country and the purpose of travel, and may include a valid passport, a completed visa application form, a photograph, and supporting documents such as a letter of invitation or proof of financial support.
You have to apply for a visa before travelling, either at an embassy, consulate, or online. Sometimes you can also obtain a visa on arrival. Visas are usually affixed onto your passport and state how long you can stay.
Most countries impose visa requirements for foreign nationals as a security measure: to keep track of who enters and to stop illegal immigration. Visas are also used as a defensive effort, stopping security risks from entering a country.
A Brief History of Travel Visas
The word visa originates from Modern Latin “charta visa,” which means verified paper or translated into “paper that has to be seen.”
The concept of a travel visa has a long history dating back to ancient times, when travelers were required to obtain permission from the authorities of the countries they were visiting.
In modern times, the use of visas as a means of regulating international travel began in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when many countries began issuing visas to foreign nationals as a way of controlling immigration.
In the aftermath of World War II, the international community established a number of organizations and agreements to facilitate international travel and cooperation. One of these was the Geneva Convention on the Passport System, which established the principle that a passport should be issued to any national who requested one and that visas should be required only for stays of longer than three months.
In the decades since, the use of visas has continued to evolve, with many countries adopting more streamlined and efficient systems for issuing visas to foreign travelers. Today, the majority of countries require visas for foreign nationals who wish to enter their territory, and the process of obtaining a visa has become a routine part of international travel for many people.
Types of Visa
Some of the common visa types by purpose of travel include:
There are many different types of visas that are classified into various categories based on the purpose of travel. Some common categories of visas include:
- Tourist visas: These visas are for people who are traveling to a foreign country for leisure or personal purposes, such as tourism or visiting friends and family.
- Business visas: These visas are for people who are traveling to a foreign country for business purposes, such as attending meetings, conferences, or negotiations.
- Student visas: These visas are for people who are traveling to a foreign country to study at an educational institution, such as a university or language school.
- Work visas: These visas are for people who are traveling to a foreign country to work, either on a temporary or permanent basis.
- Family visas: These visas are for people who are traveling to a foreign country to join a family member who is a citizen or permanent resident of that country.
- Transit visas: These visas are for people who are traveling through a foreign country en route to another destination.
- Diplomatic visas: These visas are for people who are traveling to a foreign country as diplomats or officials representing their own country.
- Medical visa. You can apply for a medical visa to seek medical treatment in a foreign country. Medical visas are short-term issued for the duration of the medical procedure and the patient’s recovery time. To qualify for this type of visa, you need to provide evidence from your doctor regarding your condition and proof that you have found a hospital and a doctor in your destination country who will perform the required procedure.
- Working holiday visas. Working holiday visas are short-term permits that can be considered a mix of the tourist and work visas. The purpose of this visa is to allow you to explore a foreign country like on a holiday while working to support your trip financially. Most countries have restrictions on what type of work you can do and how many hours you can work. Generally speaking, working holiday visas are issued for a year or two, and you can only apply for the visa once (except Australia’s working holiday visa). To be eligible for a work and holiday visa, in most cases, you must be between the ages of 18-30.
- Investment visas. An investment visa allows you to become resident in another country if you make a significant financial investment. The required investment varies (in a startup, bonds, a government fund, etc.) but the result must be the same: a positive financial impact and/or employment opportunities. In some countries, you may also acquire a visa if you purchase real estate property.
- Official visas. Official visas allow you to do diplomatic work as a representative of your country abroad. Some of the most commonly issued official permits are diplomatic visas, but some countries also provide service and courtesy visas.
- Refuge or asylum visas. You can apply for a refugee or an asylum seeker visa if you are being persecuted in your home country due to religious, racial, or political reasons. Every country issues their own visa to accommodate persons who have refugee status.
- Digital nomad visas. To qualify for a digital nomad visa, you must meet the definition of a digital nomad. This definition varies depending on the country, but it’s usually someone who can work remotely either for a company or individual clients. To apply for this type of visa, you must find a country with a digital nomad immigration program.
- Retirement visas. A retirement visa is issued to foreigners who want to retire outside of their home country. It is issued only to those that have reached their retirement age and is given in form of a residence permit. Usually, authorities require proof of sufficient funds to support yourself.
- Pilgrimage visas. Pilgrimage visas are issued to people who want to complete a religious journey in another country. An example of a pilgrimage visa is the Hajj visa issued by Saudi Arabia to Muslims who want to complete the sacred journey of Hajj in Mecca. These types of visas are usually issued for a group of people rather than an individual and are valid only for the time it takes to complete the pilgrimage.
Visa Free Travel Countries
There are a number of countries that offer visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to citizens of certain countries. This means that citizens of these countries can enter the visa-free country without applying for a visa in advance, or can obtain a visa upon arrival at the border or airport.
The specific countries that offer visa-free or visa-on-arrival access, as well as the duration of stay and conditions of entry, vary widely. Some examples of countries that offer visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to citizens of certain countries include:
- Brazil: Offers a 90-day visa-free stay to citizens of most countries.
- Indonesia: Offers a 30-day visa-free stay to citizens of most countries.
- Thailand: Offers a 30-day visa-free stay to citizens of most countries.
- Vietnam: Offers a 15-day visa-free stay to citizens of certain countries, and a 30-day visa-on-arrival stay to citizens of most countries.
- Hong Kong: Offers a visa-free stay of up to 90 days to citizens of many countries.
It’s worth noting that visa-free or visa-on-arrival access is generally intended for short-term stays, such as tourism or business travel. If you are planning to stay in a country for a longer period of time or to engage in activities other than tourism or business, you may need to apply for a different type of visa in advance.
Visa on Arrival
A visa on arrival is a type of visa that is issued to foreign nationals upon arrival in a particular country, rather than in advance through a embassy or consulate.
Visa on arrival programs are typically available for short-term stays, such as tourism or business travel. They are generally intended for citizens of countries that do not have a visa requirement for stays of a certain duration, or for countries that have a reciprocal visa-waiver agreement with the host country.
To obtain a visa on arrival, travelers typically need to present a valid passport and complete a visa application form at the port of entry. They may also need to provide supporting documents such as a letter of invitation or proof of financial support.
The fees for a visa on arrival vary by country and may be paid in cash or by credit card. In some cases, travelers may be able to obtain a visa on arrival by paying an additional fee for expedited processing.
Not all countries issue visas on arrival.
Even countries that issue VOAs usually limit them only to certain nationalities.
Visas on arrival are usually only available at certain airports or entry points.
Ways to Get a Travel Visa
Most commonly, you apply for a visa through one of the following ways:
- At an embassy or consulate of the country that you will visit.
- Online (electronic visa).
- At the point of entry (visa on arrival).
The method of application depends on the specific country and your nationality. You should never travel without checking your visa requirements.
Visa Application at an Embassy
In most cases, you can apply for a visa at the embassy or consulate of the country you want to visit. You will have to:
- Make an appointment.
- Collect a set of documents.
- Pay a visa processing fee.
- Enter a visa interview (sometimes).
The consular officers will review your application and decide whether to grant you a visa or not. Depending on the visa type, it could take several days to several months to process your application.
Sometimes, embassies or consulates will outsource visa submissions to private travel agencies( VFS, BSL etc.). This means the agency collects your documents and sends them to the embassy/consulate, which then makes the decision.
Online Visa Application
You can also apply for a visa online. Electronic (online) visas are usually issued as printable documents and are not pasted onto your passport. If a country issues electronic visas, then there will be an official application website, where you can:
- Complete an online visa application form.
- Attach electronic copies of your documents.
- Pay a visa fee.
Make sure that the website you are applying through is the official website, as you may have to provide personal information during the application and even pay a fee.
It can take a few minutes to several days to hear a decision on your visa application.
Common Reasons for Visa Denial
These are some of the most common reasons why your visa application may be denied:
- Passport validity. Most countries will require you to have a valid passport with at least a three or six months validity period. However, whether this period begins when you enter or depart the country depends on your travel destination.
- Passport blank pages. The number of required blank pages on your passport differs from country to country, but it is usually two to four pages. Blank pages are required so there is enough space to stamp your passport and visa.
- Vaccination requirements. Several countries in Africa ask you to have an international vaccination certificate; otherwise, you won’t be granted a visa.
- Criminal record. It’s almost impossible to obtain a visa with a criminal record; only a few select countries, i.e., the US, and Canada, will grant a waiver for your criminal record when you need a visa.
- Travel ban. All governments have the power to declare a person “persona non grata.” As a result, diplomats and non-diplomats will not be allowed to enter a specific country.
- Inadequate health insurance coverage. In many countries it is obligatory for all visitors to have travel health insurance coverage.
What is the Difference Between a Passport and a Visa?
While they are both travel documents, the main difference between a passport and a visa is that a passport is issued from your home country, whereas a visa is issued by the country you want to visit. Other differences include:
- The passport is an identification travel document, whereas a visa is attached to your passport, showing you have permission to enter a specific country.
- A passport is issued for about ten years, whereas a visa’s duration is shorter, usually a few months.
What Is the Difference Between a Visa and a Residence Permit?
The terms visa and a residence permit are often used interchangeably. However, a notable difference between the two is:
- You need a visa to travel to and enter a foreign country, either for tourism, business, work, studies, etc., usually for a short period.
- You need a residence permit to settle in a foreign country for an extended period.
Sometimes, you receive a visa first and then convert it into a residence permit once you enter your destination country. Other times, you automatically get a residence permit as soon as you apply for a long-stay visa (work, study, family reunion, etc.)
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