Thankfully Only a Few Countries Require Americans and Canadians to Apply in Advance
“The value of your travels does not hinge on how many stamps you have in your passport when you get home.”
How to Apply For An International Tourist Visa In Advance
This blog was written before the COVID Pandemic. The COVID epidemics played havoc on the travel business. In 2022, Fifty Plus Nomad decided to focus on traveling and living in Mexico and language learning posts. We will only update these long-term travel-related posts on a time-permitting basis. We would appreciate your comments and updates on these posts.
How Do You Get International Tourist Visas?
One of the more trying aspects of long-term, round-the-world travel for most Fifty Plus Nomads is when you have to apply for tourist visas before you begin your trip.
Fortunately, fewer countries are requiring tourists to apply in advance for visas than in the past. In addition, many countries that require visas in advance now allow you to apply online directly from the country’s Consulate or Embassy.
If you can apply online, you usually have to submit a digital photo, a scanned copy of your passport, pay a fee and fill out an online form. Sometimes, you will also have to provide your electronic flight itinerary.
Some large countries (most noticeably, India, China, and Russia) require you to submit your application to the consulate nearest your legal address.
I have had some problems with this requirement. My legal address is in California. However, I am seldom physically there. I applied for an Indian visa in San Francisco but was physically in Montreal. To avoid problems and delays, I used a visa service that submitted the application in San Francisco. Then they sent my passport and visa, after consulate approval, to Montreal. (The consulate would have sent it only to my legal address near San Francisco).
You can also usually apply to the country’s consulate or embassy in person in the US or Canada. Often, they will have the visa ready the day after you apply. One advantage of applying in person is that you will immediately know if there is a problem with any documentation or photos. Then, you can correct the problem right away.
Some countries require you to submit the visa application by mail or in person. (They do not allow you to apply online). If you apply for a visa by mail, it usually takes at least a week to process the application. You will often have to send the passport along with the application. So make sure you won’t need your passport until you get it back.
When is it Complicated to Get International Tourist Visas? What to Do When Getting International Tourist Visas Becomes Complicated?
Russia requires US citizens to submit a letter of invitation along with the other application requirements. If you are going with a tour company, they will be able to help with this quickly. If not, many online agencies will issue these letters on your behalf for a fee. (I cannot vouch for the quality of these services).
Some consulate websites, like the Bolivian and Tanzanian consulate, make it sound like you need to apply directly to the consulate in your home country to get a visa. However, if you do more research, you will find that most travelers get that visa upon entry to the country.
That said, these countries can make it a bit difficult to get a visa on arrival. Sometimes there is a limited number of border crossings and airports that can issue the visa on arrival. Often you will be required to submit some of the same things you would need for a traditional visa, such as photos. The only consistent requirement is that you must have exact change in US dollars (usually well over $100) to pay for the visa. (All these warnings aside, I had minimal difficulty getting a Bolivian visa on arrival at the airport in La Paz).
International Visa Expediting Services
I would encourage you to consider using visa expediting services, especially whenever you:
- Are going to visit several countries.
- Are applying for a visa by mail but will not be at your home address when you apply for the visas. (Most consulates will only send the passport back to your home address).
- Applying for a visa for a country well-known for its bureaucracy (mainly India, Russia, and China).
- Need to get a visa quickly.
- Want to make sure that your application is complete before submission. (I get nervous about potential problems with photos, etc.).
I have used visa expediting services three times and have been very happy with their service. The additional fees are modest. The visa expediting services could get the visas much quicker and more efficiently than I could.
A Final Note on Complicated International Tourist Visas
You can find first-hand comments about visas by reading travelers’ comments online or directly from the US and Canadian governments. (The part of the US Department of State Country Information Pages about visas is thorough and traveler-oriented).
Read these comments carefully, particularly if you plan on getting a visa on arrival when the requirements are unclear (i.e., Bolivia). Pay attention to the date these comments were posted, as visa rules change quickly and without much notice.
Even though tourist visas can be a pain, we are lucky to be Americans or Canadians. Generally, the US and Canada make it quite difficult for Third World residents to demonstrate that they intend to return to their home country.
In addition, every year, fewer countries require US and Canadian citizens to apply for visas. (In fact, in 2019, Brazil eliminated its visas, and Argentina eliminated the requirement that US citizens pay a reciprocity fee). Also, thankfully, we can apply for most visas online. (Almost always easier than by mail).
A Few Other Issues that Can Cause Problems Entering a Foreign Country
- A criminal record in your home country (or the country you visit). For example, US citizens with a DUI (driving under the influence of alcohol) may be refused entrance to Canada, etc. You may also be denied entry to another country if you have:
- Visited a country in the past that the government does not like or recognize. Until recently, this was a significant problem for people visiting countries in the Middle East with an Israeli stamp on their passports. (Fortunately, most citizens of developed countries will be able to visit most Middle East countries, most notably the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Jordan, with an Israeli stamp on their passport).
- No proof of your relationship to your children and/or have no evidence of consent from any non-accompanying parent(s).