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Visas: What They Are and When You Need Them

· Visas,Travel Advice

After some suggestions from friends, I'm going to start writing a few posts about traveling tips and general descriptions of things that over time I have taken for granted as general knowledge.

First up is visas and I'm not talking about the credit card company! I'm talking about what gives you permission, from a government to come visit their country, and what you're allowed to do while there. A lot of people assume that having a passport is the only thing you need to travel to another country. While this may be the case for some countries, depending on your nationality, others require you to do a little more paperwork before you hit the airport.

What types of visas are there? While every country is going to have a variety of different types offered, here are some of the more common ones. I'm not going to go into a great delve on types such like residents visas or asylum seeking, but stay with the more common visas you'll use for a short trip.

  • Transit Visas - These are visas you might need to get if you're just traveling through a country on the way to another. Example: I'm leaving America and going to visit Turkey, but my flight transfers in England. Depending on what passport I hold, I might need to get a visa from England, saying it's okay to travel through their country. These visas are good for a few hours to a few days depending on your itinerary.
  • Tourist Visas - If you're just planning on staying in a country for a few days or weeks, and aren't planning to work, this is the visa you'll most likely get. It'll allow you the ability to explore the country for a set amount of time. (Most commonly 30-90 days depending on the nation.)
  • Student Visas - If you're studying abroad or seeking a degree overseas this will be the one for you. These visas will allow you to live, study, and sometimes work (though usually a set limit, such as 20 hours per week) for the duration of your studies. Don't plan on being able to stick around forever after you've finished however.
  • Business Visas - Obviously if you're doing business in a country, this is the visa for you. There are different types usually if you're staying long term vs. a short trip.
  • Working Holiday Visas - Something not every nation has (though they are becoming more popular.). Here you are allowed to move around a country, and work short term jobs to subsidize said journeys for a set term (1 to 2 years depending on your nationality, and if you meet the requirements.) **I'm going to come back to this one in a separate entry later.**

So what countries do I need visas for?

The best bet if you're going overseas, is to check with your government. Most have a website dedicated to country specific travel information (ex. this US government site.) Here they'll have information about climate, government, entry/exit requirements, and more. It's best to check with your own government, because if you have a German passport, looking at the site meant for US citizens might not answer your questions correctly.

Another way is to look up the country you're traveling to as well, they usually have their own site dedicated to how, when, and where to apply for needed visas.

How do I apply for a visa?

Usually you'll be asked to gather a checklist of items (these can include passport copies, additional passport photos that will be put onto your visa, copies of your current bank balance, copies of your plane ticket itinerary.) You then usually mail these items (with your original passport so they can put the visa into it) to the embassy. Though if you're in a rush, you can make an appointment with the embassy to stop in and have them do it day of. Depending on the nation you may get called in to answer questions about your trip. This may seem like an abrasive amount of information, but usually these countries are trying to minimize the amount of illegal activity they suffer. So if you're trying to go to Australia on a tourist visa, but only have $200 in your account, they're probably going to assume you're going to seek out illegal employment at some point.

If you're out of you native country don't sweat, you can usually apply at the embassy in whatever nation you are currently in as well. If you're doing a long trip (a year or so abroad) sometimes it can be better to wait and get the visas when you're overseas and have a better idea of your schedule, as you might not have an idea of what countries you will travel to for sure.

Other countries do their applications via the internet now. Australia has a label free system, which means your entire application is done online, and you are then issued a visa number via email. When you enter the country they'll have it on record, but you should have your number handy just in case.

When should I apply?

While you don't need to apply years before your trip. You should do it early enough that you won't be waiting by the mailbox in suspense to see if you're passport will arrive in time for your trip. Check how good from the issue date your visa will be good for (a working holiday visa in Australia gives you one year to enter for the first time before it goes bad.)

While it seems like a daunting tasks, with some simple research you can check if you need a visa and if so how to get it quickly. It's best to check rather then assume you don't need one, as a trip can quickly be ruined by being refused entry onto a plan or having to wait days to get a visa on the go. Be smart and save time for actually having fun on your trip!

Got any questions, or other topics you want me to cover, leave a comment or fill out the feedback tab, and I'll see what I can do!