Put simply a travel visa is authorisation provided by a government of a country to a foreign national to enter that country and remain for no longer than the specified period of time. A visa has specific criteria that the owner of must comply with when in that country, such as the right to seek employment. Non compliance of the rules risks a fine, deportation from that country and potentially a barring from ever visiting that country again!
So what does a visa look like? do you need one? what do you need to do if you do need one and what does it cost? In this article I will answer and explain all of these questions.
How do Visa policies work?
Visas are often based on reciprocal agreements between governments, i.e. country A allows citizens of country B to visit their country without a visa so country B allows country A’s citizens to also visit a without visa. This could also be adopted the opposite way so country C’s citizens can’t visit country D without a visa, so country C doesn’t allow country D’s citizens to visit without a visa. Is this all making sense?
Countries may enforce a visa policy on a specific country based on how stable that country is both politically and in terms of safety. Many developing or war torn countries require their citizens to obtain visas to visit a lot of other countries and as mentioned before reciprocal actions are often enforced where a lot of these countries don’t allow many countries citizens (even well developed countries) to visit them without a visa
Are visas something that can be measured?
Yes they are, there exists something called the Henley Passport Index which is a global ranking of all recognised passports of the world based on the number of visas that the holder of that passport has to get or doesn’t have to get. At the time of writing this article, Japan is ranked 1st being the strongest passport in the world with holders of a Japanese passport enjoying access to 190 countries without a visa. At the bottom of the ranking at 106th is Afghanistan with access to only 30 countries. These ranks are forever changing, influenced by political and social events and who is at the top today may not nessercerily be at the top tomorrow!
What does a visa look like?
A Visa can take various forms? It can be a full page sticker that is physically placed in your passport, an example of this is my Russian tourist visa that I needed to get in 2018. This type of visa sometimes requires you to post your passport off to your local embassy of that country and receive it a couple of days later in the post with the visa sticker inserted. Alternatively if the country you are planning on travelling to allows it you can also get a visa on arrival in which case you get the immigration officer to stick the visa into your passport in front of you when you are at Passport Control
Regardless of if you get a visa in advance or on arrival at your destination you need at least one specified sized passport photo, filled visa application form and your visa fee (which on arrival is typically in cash and in US dollars as it’s the most commonly accepted currency in the world)
A visa can also take the form of an electronic visa also called an eVisa. You fill out an online form, pay your fee online and then provided it is accepted will receive a confirmation email with a reference number. The reference number is what the immigration officer will refer to when you arrive at passport control to see that you have a valid visa. Although the eVisa system is setup to reduce hard paperwork it is often wise to print off your visa confirmation page with your reference number on in case of any technical issues at the border.
Some countries such as Turkey and Cambodia allow you to get a visa by both options so if you are running low on passport pages or want to get a visa before you travel to reduce time at the border you can you have more flexibility!
Do I need a visa for where I am visiting?
Well that depends firstly where you are going, how long you are staying and what you are planning on doing when you are there.
A country you are visiting may require you to get a visa regardless on how long you are visiting for otherwise you will be allowed to stay for a period of time before you have to leave, depending on what you are doing in the country such as paid work you may have to get a visa to allow you to do this, even if the visa policy of that country is very generous when visiting as a tourist.
For British Citizens the best site to use for visa requirements and if you need any for your future travel plans is the UK Government foreign travel advice page which you can view here. Each country and territory has a page full of up to date info that allows you know important details before you arrive in the country. Under ‘Entry Requirements’ you can find if you need a visa or not. You may also find some details like if you need an onward plane ticket to enter the country or be in possession of a certain amount of funds to support yourself whilst staying there. Alternatively you can also contact your home embassy of the country you are planning on visiting via their website or by phoning.
What does it cost?
This is a difficult question to answer as it depends on any your nationality, your duration of your intended stay and the country your are visiting. Some can be $30 such as a Cambodian Visa, some can be up to £130 such as my Russian visa, but you may also have to pay for some passport sized photos to be made, an embassy fee and even return postage to get your passport and application down to the embassy. I even had to factor in travel down to Manchester from my home, which is a 4 hour return journey to go to the processing center to submit all of this information – so it can total up to be a very expensive piece of paper in your passport! The best way to find out is by going on the FCO travel advice site or by contacting the actual embassy of the country!
One trick that allows travellers to almost stay indefinitely in some countries without having to move too much internationally is by doing border runs. This process involves staying in a country for as long as you are entitled to then a day before your visa free dry runs out or on the exact day you travel to the nearest border with a country, cross the border and then immediately recross it back into the country you came from.
This can often come with its own issues for example the nearest country might have a visa policy of its own or the immigration officers might not allow you to return back if they suspect you are ‘resettling the clock’