Where to obtain entry requirement information
A good place to start when identifying a foreign country’s entry requirements is the Department of State website. Under Learn About Your Destination, select the country you are researching. Click on GO. Then click on Entry, Exit and Visa Requirements. In addition to summarizing the entry requirements, this section will usually provide links to the foreign country’s embassy and custom’s sites for more information.
Other websites providing entry and exit requirement information for foreign countries are the following:
- The foreign country’s embassy or consulate website
- The foreign country’s official tourism site
- TripAdvisor, Lonely Planet or Frommer’s websites
- A visa service company’s website
Wikipedia describes a visa as “a document showing that a person is authorized to enter or leave the territory for which it was issued, subject to permission of an immigration official at the time of actual entry”.
There are many types of visas including tourist, business, work, student, etc. Each type of visa has rules regarding the activities you can undertake while in the foreign country. For instance, if entering a country on a tourist visa, you will probably not be allowed to attend school there. Apply for the type of visa that is consistent with the purpose of your visit.
This is the period of time in which the visa can be used to enter and exit the country. The validity period can be as short as a few months or as long as 10 years. Many countries identify the validity as X number of months from the issuance date. Some are different. China, for instance, indicates on their visa that the visitor “must enter by” a certain date. As long as you enter the country by that date, you can stay for the “duration of stay” noted on the visa.
Note that the validity period is different than the duration of stay (the length of time you are allowed to remain in the country).
Duration of stay
The duration of stay (or length of stay) is the period of time that a visitor is allowed to stay in a country before they must exit. The visa should indicate the duration of stay either as # of days or # of months.
Many countries offer different durations of stay; however, the time granted is usually at the discretion of the foreign country based on the documents submitted. Make sure to provide support for the duration of stay requested on your application.
All countries will have a duration of stay even if a visa is not required. Sometimes, the duration of stay will be noted on the immigration stamp that’s placed in the passport. Other times, it will not be noted so make sure you are aware of the length of time you are allowed to remain in a foreign country.
Number of entries
A visa will be valid for a certain number of entries into the country. The options are single entry, double entry and multiple entries. A single entry visa allows the visitor to enter only one time. If they leave the country for any reason, they will not be allowed to re-enter without a new visa – even if there is still validity left on the current one. A double entry visa (not very many countries have this) allows the visitor to enter the country two times. A multiple entry visa allows the visitor to enter the country multiple times as long as the visa is still valid. It is very important to choose the number of entries wisely when applying.
- Example – Assume you are flying into country A, which requires a visa to enter, staying for a day or more, then flying to country B for a few days and then returning to country A for a few more days before flying back home. You will need either a double entry or multiple entry visa for country A. If you only have a single entry visa, you will not be allowed back into country A upon your return until you acquire a new visa which could take several days or more to obtain.
Fee or cost
Most visas have a fee. The one thing to note is that the form of payment might be restricted to a money order or something similar.
What does a visa look like?
A visa that is obtained from the Embassy or Consulate prior to travel is usually a thin cloth-like document, with the appropriate information noted (e.g. visitor’s name, validity dates, etc.), adhered to an entire passport visa page.
A visa that is obtained on arrival might be the same as noted above or it might be a stamp in the passport that indicates the relevant information.
Does the country require a visa?
The short answer is some yes and some no. It varies by country. Some countries allow citizens of certain countries to enter without a visa and will require those of other countries to obtain a visa. Some countries have a visa-waiver agreement with the U.S. thereby allowing citizens of both countries to enter the other without a visa.
If a visa is required, how do you obtain one?
A foreign country will either require a visitor to obtain a visa prior to arriving in their country or will allow them to obtain the visa on arrival (aka VOA) in their country. Be careful! Some countries will grant a visa on arrival at certain border entry points but will require a visa be obtained prior to arrival at other border crossing points. Vietnam and Jordan are two examples of this.
Prior to arrival in the foreign country
- The applicant will normally have to apply to the embassy (Washington DC) or the consulate location that has jurisdiction for the state in which they live. Note that sometimes, you can obtain the visa from the embassy or consulate when traveling through a 3rd country. For instance, I have obtained a Myanmar visa from the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok.
- The application process might require
- Applying in person – this can be completed by the applicant or by using a visa service company (a company that will obtain the visa on your behalf for an additional fee). Many times, when a family or friends are applying for a visa, the embassy will allow one person to represent all applicants.
- Applying by mail – mail in a completed application, the appropriate fees (be sure to verify the required form of payment), the applicant’s passport and any other required items. Be sure to use a traceable delivery service when sending and receiving the documents.
- Applying online – complete the application and pay any required fees. Usually, the applicant will receive a form or receipt to be printed and shown upon entering the foreign country.
Upon arrival in the foreign country
- There are usually no requirements prior to traveling when obtaining a visa on arrival (commonly referred to as VOA). However, a few countries require you to complete something prior to arrival (e.g. Vietnam visa on arrival requires a letter of approval issued and signed by the Vietnam Department of Immigration be obtained prior to arriving at one of three international airports. This letter can be obtained online for a fee.)
- Most times, a fee is required for the VOA at the time of arrival in the foreign country. Verify the form of payment prior to departing. Sometimes, cash in USD might be required and credit cards might not be accepted. Know before you go.
- You will probably be required to complete an application upon arrival and provide one or two recent passport photos. Be prepared to provide some personal information on the application including work-related information.
- Some countries that allow a visa to be obtained upon arrival will not disclose this on their Embassy website. You have to find out other ways.
Other general requirements
In addition to a visa, many countries have other rules the traveler must follow when entering their country. Listed below are the general requirements when entering a foreign country. Prior to travel, check the requirements for the country you are traveling to. Sometimes, a country will enforce these rules upon your arrival and sometimes they do not.
- Reciprocity fee – some countries do not require a visa; however, will require the visitor to pay a reciprocity fee upon arrival. This is a fee charged to visitors from certain countries that is equal to the fee that country charges its citizens when visiting. An example – country A charges citizens from country B a fee to enter country A, then country B will charge citizens from country A the same fee to enter country B. For instance, U.S. citizens are not required to have a visa to enter Argentina; however, they are charged a $160 reciprocity fee that must be paid online prior to arrival. The fee is valid for 10 years. Proof of payment must be shown each time of entry.
- A valid passport that has at least six months validity from the end of your stay. Some are less restrictive than this. You will always be required to provide a valid passport.
- Proof of onward travel – this is probably the most common. Countries want to see return tickets to the U.S. or onward travel arrangements (air, train, etc.) to a 3rd country. In addition, you may have to show that you have the ability to enter the 3rd country (e.g. a valid visa if the country requires a visa for entry). Sometimes, the country will be satisfied if you can show the financial ability (e.g. valid credit card or sufficient cash) to purchase an onward travel ticket. Note that many times you are not asked to provide this info.
- Proof of sufficient funds to cover your stay in their country. I have never been asked to show sufficient funds. I think countries have this rule in case someone shows up who looks like they have no money.
- Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate if you are entering, or have been in or have passed through within the preceding six days, any country that is endemic for yellow fever.
- Passport must be in good physical condition and not damaged in any way.
A U.S. citizen, who is also a citizen of another country (dual nationality), has different rules when entering the foreign country where he/she is a citizen. Many times, the foreign country requires them to enter using the passport of that country; however, when they return to the U.S., they will need to use their U.S. passport. They should review the requirements for entering that country prior to traveling. The Department of State website has basic information about dual nationals.
Transiting a country
Most countries have rules when travelers stopover in their country for a brief period of time as they make their way to another country. This happens frequently when your flight from one country to another has a stopover in a 3rd country. It is said that you “transit” the stopover country. Usually, in the stopover country, you will not go through that country’s immigration process. You will remain in an international zone (so to speak) of the airport until boarding the next flight.
Most countries allow travelers to transit through their international airports, for a set period of time, without requiring a visa. However, some have formalities that the traveler must follow. Some countries that require a visa for entry, will have a “transit visa” for those wanting to enter the country for the short time they are there. Check the country’s embassy/consulate website for information.
It is important to consider your situation and review the country’s consular website.