¨Of all the books in the world, the best are found in the pages of a passport.¨
International Travel Visas
Note: These comments are guidelines only. Governments constantly change entrance requirements, and regulations can be confusing. Please check with the country’s consulate you are visiting, guidebooks, your home country’s travel advisories, and online travel forums for more up-to-date and accurate information.
What are International Travel Visas?
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.
Generally, US and Canadian citizens are allowed to stay in most countries for three months on a tourist visa. (Here is a post about what you need to do to stay in another country for three months or more)
The term “international travel visa” is sometimes confusing because, technically, all a visa means is permission to enter a country.
International travel visas are a method to ensure that immigrants and visitors will not cause harm.
There are four types of visas issued by most countries:
- Tourist visa (usually for one or three months)
- Immigration visas (generally, there are two types of immigration visas: temporary residency or permanent residency. You will often have temporary residency for a while (4 years in Mexico, for example) and then apply for permanent residency, often followed by citizenship).
- Student visas (for studying abroad)
- Business or work visas (for working, which include both non-immigrants and immigrants)
Most Fifty-Plus Nomads will be primarily interested in tourist visas (discussed more below).
However, if you stay in one country for more than legally permitted as a tourist, you will have to apply for an immigration visa.
You will typically have to apply for immigration, student, or business visas before entering the country. In some cases, like Mexico, you can live in the country as a tourist and then go back to your home country to apply for an immigration visa.
To encourage more business and tourism, most countries allow people to visit on a tourist visa without much fuss. Americans only need to apply for full-fledged visas (not Electronic Travel Authorizations) in advance in about 25 countries (of 200) worldwide!
Most of the time, tourist visas are issued to US and Canadian citizens by an immigration official upon arrival in another country. However, sometimes you must receive the tourist visas in advance from the country’s consulate (often only available in your home country).
Occasionally you will read that a tourist visa is required to enter a country (particularly on the consular website). Then, find that, in reality, you can get that visa on arrival. Sometimes the visa is issued after you make a small payment on arrival. (Ten years ago, this was the case when I entered Nicaragua. The visa was, in reality, a $5 entrance fee).
Traditionally when guidebooks and tourist-oriented websites say that you need a visa to enter a country, they mean you need to get permission before entering the country. (You get consent by applying in person, online, or by mail at the country’s consulate or embassy).
Most of the time, consulates and embassies are in the capital of your home country or the nearest big city to your hometown. People are often denied flight access because they don’t have the proper visa.
When Do You Need to Apply for International Tourist Visas in Advance?
Before Covid, citizens of most developed countries (including the USA and Canada) did not need to get international tourist visas in advance to visit most countries in Asia and Latin America as a tourist.
In most developed countries (US, Canada, Australia, European Schengen area), citizens will require Electronic Travel Authorization before entering each others’ countries. (US and Canadian citizens do not need an electronic travel authorization before entering each others’ countries, however). Once you enter any European Schengen country, you will not need documentation to visit any other country.
If you do not need a visa or an Electronic Travel Authorization in advance, you will get your visa at the airport on arrival. The immigration official will give you permission (sometimes called a visa) to enter after showing them your passport (and any required entry forms) and answering their questions. (Normally, immigration officials will ask one or two questions, like how long you will stay in the country, and that is all). You will get the required entry forms on the plane (if applicable) or at the check-in counter for your flight. (More information about airport immigration).
As a whole, most US and Canadian citizens will need to get permission (typically called a visa) in their home country or online before entering the following countries:
- Most large countries – China, India, and Russia.
- Many countries do not receive many tourists- i.e., most sub-Saharan African countries (South Africa is a notable exception) and some former Soviet republics (Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, etc.).
- Most Southeast Asia and South Asian countries (including Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, and Cambodia. The most notable exception is Thailand).
That said, always check to make sure a visa in advance is required or not before travel. Probably the most accessible place to find out if a visa is required for US citizens is the Country Information Pages on the US Department of State website. (Consult here for Canadians).
How Do You Apply for an International Tourist Visa?
Remember that most countries no longer require you to apply to the consulate for a tourist visa. However, you may be required to apply online for an Electronic Travel Authorization (see below) for travel to developed countries or a full-fledged tourist visa from some countries (outlined above).
If you need to apply in advance, check out this post.
Want More Information About International Travel Visas?
Check out this excellent post from Go Abroad.