A Guide to Travel Visas

02.22.23 by Travelex Insurance
Image credit: Getty Images

The details of obtaining a visa can be confusing and daunting. With countries all over the world changing their requirements, it can be hard to know what you need when traveling internationally. The last thing you want is to arrive at the airport unprepared. Use our handy travel visa guide to help clarify and point you in the right direction.

Differences between travel visas and passports

What is a travel visa?

A travel visa is an official document but differs from a passport in purpose. A visa gives a traveler permission to enter a country they are visiting temporarily. The visit can be for pleasure, business, education, and other types of visits. There are different types of visas depending on the nature of your visit and how long you intend to stay. Your visa will only be valid for a set length of time allowed in the country you’re visiting. Visa requirements are different from one country to the next, so check the visa requirements ahead of time. Some countries require a visa and others do not. Check the U.S. Department of State website to find out what you need to know before you go. Electronic visas (eVisas or ETAs) are applied for online and typically sent as an email to print out and carry along with a passport. Consular visas (stamped or sticker visas) are issued at a consulate or embassy.

What is a passport?

A passport is a legal document issued by the government proving your citizenship and identity. To travel abroad and to gain re-entry when you return to the U.S., you must have a passport. It's important to ensure that all of your legal and personal information is completely accurate, as even minor mistakes (like photo issues and spelling errors) can keep you from leaving the country. For U.S. citizens, passports are good for 10 years if you’re over the age of 16, or 5 years if you're under the age of 16. Just make sure you renew your passport as most countries won't allow entry if it's set to expire at least six months before your final day of travel.

What passports and visas have in common

Both are travel documents allowing you to travel abroad. Both require photos that are simple in nature, but have to be done correctly or you may be turned away. When a visa is needed, you will need to travel with a passport and a visa — a visa alone won't work.

The importance of getting the photo right

Every year, more travelers than you think get rejected from entering a country due to invalid photos. Why risk it? Whether a passport or visa, get your photo done correctly the first time so there are no delays. Always check for updates before you get your photo done to be sure it meets current requirements of the country you want to visit.

What countries require a travel visa?

Again, always check out the details of the country you’re traveling to before making plans. Each country differs in requirements, ways to obtain the visa, how long the process takes, and necessary fees. Some offer online applications, while others require paper forms, an appointment at the country’s consulate and if required, an interview.

Since the process can be confusing, here are some steps you can take to find out what’s required:

  • Check the Passport Info website and the CIBT Visas quick check. The website lists each country in alphabetical order, the length of stay and if available, has links to get you started in the process.
  • Explore the Department of State’s Traveler’s Checklist for links to information.
  • Contact the embassy of the country and/or the government’s immigration website you will be visiting for more information and confirmation.
  • The Passport Index is another good site to reference for general visa questions and types.

What do I need to get a visa?

Time frames widely differ for visa turnarounds. It can be days with an expedited service, or months. According to PassportInfo.com, RushMyTravelVisa.com and G3 Global Services LLC offer expedited services and assist you in getting the correct visa before you travel.

Depending on the destination and what type of visa you’re applying for, a few commonly requested items may include (not a comprehensive list):

  • Letter of invitation (business travel)
  • A photocopy of the information page of valid passport
  • One or two photographs of a specific size determined by the visa office
  • Proof of financial support during the trip
  • Travel insurance
  • Airplane tickets, hotel reservations
  • Proof of purpose of travel
  • Visa application fees

What is a visa on arrival?

Some countries requiring visas ask that you apply for it before traveling, while other countries may grant a visa on arrival (VOA) to an airport in their country. Be aware that not all countries offer this option, countries change their requirements frequently (and often with little notice), and there can be long waits at the airport once you arrive. Fees differ from country to country (some requiring cash only) and worse, can border on outright scams. The Department of State warns about known reported or suspicious scams, so always check their website to see the latest security information about the country you intend to visit. Do your research to see which destinations have a reputation for processing VOAs easily.

Be sure to prepare well in advance of your trip abroad, and always have back-up copies of your important documents. Traveling to Europe’s Schengen area? Check out what you need to know before you go. If you need to expedite a passport or protect your travel investment with customizable coverage for your international trip, Travelex can help. Get a quote today.

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