¨Of all the books in the world, the best are found in the pages of a passport.¨
Note: These comments are guidelines only. Governments change the entrance requirements all the time, 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.
Generally, the US and Canadian citizens are allowed to stay in most countries for three months on a tourist visa, here is a post about how to stay longer.
What are International Travel Visas?
The term international travel visas 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. Many times you will have temporary residency for awhile (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 includes 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 the legal permitted as a tourist, you will have to apply for an immigration visa. See this post for more details.
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 as well.
To encourage more business and tourism, most countries allow people to visit on a tourist visa without a lot of fuss. Americans only need to apply for full-fledged visas (not Electronic Travel Authorization) in advance in about 25 countries 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 permission 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. Often people are denied access to their flight because they don’t have the proper visa.
When Do You Need to Apply for International Tourist Visas in Advance?
Prior to 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.
Most developed country (US, Canada, Australia, European Schengen area) citizens will require Electronic Travel Authorization (described in detail in this post) 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 any documentation to visit any other Schengen 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. You will get the required entry forms on the plane (if applicable) or at the check-in counter for your flight. (Normally, immigration officials will ask one or two questions, like how long will you stay in the country, and that is all). (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 that 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 do not require you to apply to the consulate for a tourist visa anymore. 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.
Some Additional Posts About Travel Requirements
- A Short Guide to Electronic Travel Authorizations (ETAs) for the US, Canada, Australia, and Europe (Schengen)In recent years, many developed countries have required citizens from other developed countries to get ¨electronic travel authorizations¨ (ETA) before entering their country. Here is more information to help Fifty Plus Nomads get their ETAs.
- How Long Can US Citizens Stay in a Foreign Country Without Becoming Either an Illegal Alien or a Perpetual Tourist?How long do USA and Canadian citizens usually have permission to travel in another country? What can you do if you want to stay longer? What are some other issues that might cause problems when you try to enter another country?
- An Easy Guide to International Tourist Visas: What to Do If You Have to Apply In AdvanceApplying for a tourist visa in advance is usually not a big problem unless you need it in a hurry. Here are some tips to avoid potential problems for US and Canadian citizens if they need to get a visa in advance.
- International Travel Visas: How to Enter Another Country Hassle FreeFind out when you will be required to get a visa before traveling to another country. (Most are issued on arrival). Also, learn about electronic travel authorizations.
- Easy Answers to Frequently Asked US Passport Questions: How to Apply, Replace, or Renew Your US PassportA series of tips about how to apply, replace, or renew your USA or Canadian Passport.
- 5 Easy, Secret Airline Check-In TipsWithout a doubt, one of the most frustrating parts of living as a fifty-plus nomad is dealing with airports. In my five years traveling around the world, I encountered several issues I did not anticipate including finding the right terminal, not having proof of onward passage, and unexpected fees. This post helps you avoid some of my mistakes.
- 3 Top Little-Known Airport Immigration and Customs TipsMy idea of travel hell is airport immigration and security. In this post, I present three useful tips that hopefully will help fellow Fifty-Plus Nomads avoid some of the problems I’ve had.
- 10 Hassle-Free Airport Security TipsFollowing these 12 airport security tips will reduce the long lines and hassle.