All you Need To Know about Getting a Tourist Visa
When traveling from the United States to foreign destinations, passports are not always sufficient. Often, other documentation such as a visa is required and it is important to do a little research while planning your trip.
Many assume that a country does not require a visa because its surrounding countries do not. However, this theory proves inefficient when it comes to countries like Israel, Morocco or Tunisia, which do not require visas for short visits, but almost all other Middle East and North African countries do require them.
The most visited destinations by Americans that require visas are Australia, India, China, Vietnam, Kenya, Brazil, Chile and Russia.
Single entry tourist visas typically range from about $20 to $100 per person depending on the place you are visiting. Make sure to factor that cost into your total trip expense because fees are usually non-refundable.
You must be sure to specify if you are going to need a multiple entry visa, if you are planning on only passing through a country, or if you may be taking a side-trip while visiting that country.
Once you receive your visa, immediately check for mistakes to make sure there is no reason for hold up once you get to the country you intend to visit. A small mistake or typo on a visa can cause a major delay in your travels.
How To Apply for a Visa
Applications are available at the consulates or embassies for the country you intend to visit. You are going to need to send in your application with the necessary fees, your passport photographs, and self-addressed, stamped envelope sent via secure overnight delivery; express mail or Federal Express. Some countries require a copy of your airline tickets as well.
Visas can take from a few hours, to as long as a month to process. There is usually an option to pay for rush delivery, but make sure you allot enough time to receive your visa before you leave for your trip. If you need several visas in a hurry, you can often pay for a commercial visa service to take your applications between embassies instead of waiting for each embassy to issue a visa and send it back to you.
China no longer accepts visa applications by mail. Travelers have to hand-deliver and pick up their applications at the embassy. Other countries, including Russia and Bhutan, require you to be on a prepaid tour or have a local sponsor before they will issue you a visa.
You may also be asked to show proof of sufficient funds. Many countries will not allow you to enter if you do not have a return ticket, or proof that you have the funds to purchase one.
Going to China
China requires visitors to have a passport and a visa to enter the country. A special permit is also required if you plan to visit Tibet.
Even if you are only switching planes in China, you must present a visa, or they will not allow you to pass through the country. You may face large fines if you arrive in China without proper documentation. Beware of organizations that claim they will arrange a visa for you once you are there. It is unlikely that they are reliable. If you intend to stay in China for long periods of time, you may want to have proof of an AIDS test, or they may require one once you are there.
Russia has very serious documentation requirements. If you arrive in their country without a visa, you are immediately deported at your own expense.
Visas must contain the specific dates you plan on entering and exiting the country and you must leave by the specified date. If you plan on being in Russia for more than three days you must register your visa through your hotel or a sponsor.
In the event that you are visiting Russia on business, you have to first obtain a business visa by presenting a letter of invitation from the company.
To get a transit visa for just passing through the country, you will need to present your airline, boat or train tickets.
India is another often visited country that requires a visa to enter or exit for any reason. You can not obtain a visa upon arrival and will be subject to immediate deportation if you do not arrive with one.
In an effort to prevent international child abduction, many countries require documented evidence of the relationship between you and the child you are taking over the border. Birth certificates, family photographs, a copy of the absent parent’s passport and a notarized letter of consent to be traveling with the child is usually sufficient.
Most Sub-Saharan countries require a visa even for stopping in their country en route to another destination. Make sure that you plan ahead because it is difficult or impossible to obtain a visa once in the country and consequences include fines and having to take the next plane out of the country. However, planes often do not come into the country for hours, even days or weeks, and there are not always sleeping or eating accommodations in the airport for you while you wait.
Remember, you aren’t entitled to a visa because you are willing to pay for one. By applying for a visa you are asking for permission to enter the country. Obtaining a visa is typically not a difficult process, but you may encounter some minor inconveniences along the way. Keep in mind that it is their prerogative to let you into their country, so try to be pleasant and grateful during the process.
Jessica Taryn is an intern at GoNOMAD. She attends the University of Massachusetts.
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