BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO VISAS
Travel, Study, Work and Live!
If you're fortunate enough to hold a passport from a country where it is very easy to travel the globe like the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand to name a few --- be appreciative! Many others have to go great lengths in order to board that same flight.
Although, which ever passport you hold, a certain amount of research must be put in place when you're planning a trip abroad. Will you need to get a Visa before you arrive?
It depends on which countries you're visiting, where you're from and what you're planning on doing while you're there. It can be confusing in certain places of the world, but a little preparation and investigation will go a long way!
I wanted to write a simple guide on the basics and to help anyone that didn't know anything about Visas. Below I'll cover the types of Visas you're most likely to come across, How to get a Visa, How to Extend a Visa and What happens if you don't have one.
So what is a Visa? It's basically a document held within your passports database that allows you to visit a specific country. It could be shown as a sticker/stamp in your passport or paper document but every Visa will limit you to be in the country for a certain amount of time and will allow you to do a certain thing such as visit temporarily as a tourist, study or work.
Every country has different immigration rules and regulations and issue their own type of Visa. However, they usually fall under the same category. You should head to a country's official government or consulate website for their correct up to date visa requirements and information. Lets look at which Visas you will more than likely come across or have to get while wandering the world.
VISA EXEMPT (aka FREE TOURIST VISA ON ARRIVAL)
This is when you don't need a Visa to visit a country but will still have only a limited amount of days there. It's easy -- all you have to do is arrive to your destination and you will have your passport checked. You will not be charged and are free to travel as a tourist for a certain amount of time stated by the country. You will be given a stamp with the date you have arrived and a date you must leave by. This amount of time can range from 14 days to 90 days or even 180 days. If your stay in the country goes past the expiry date then you will have 'overstayed' and could be charged. Being Visa Exempt means you can visit the country to explore, visit friends and family and have a holiday -- it does not permit you to work.
TOURIST VISA ON ARRIVAL (FEE)
The process and rules of travel are basically the same as above but this time you need a Tourist Visa to enter the country, which will be given to you upon entry. You will be charged the cost of the Visa either at the border or at the airport when arriving. It's usually around $30 and can be paid in US dollars or local currency. Some places will ask for a couple of passport photos to support the application so it's best to carry spares with you on your travels. Your passport should have at least 3-6 months left before it's expired but you should check with the country's requirements before departure in case it's more.
Also, some countries charge an Entry or Exit fee or both when arriving/disembarking which can usually be paid in US Dollars or local currency too. That's why it's good to carry US dollars in cash with you while backpacking for times like these.
TOURIST VISA (TO BE ACQUIRED BEFORE ENTRY)
A country may require a traveller to get a Tourist Visa before their travel date and won't let you enter said country without one. You will have to fill out an application form, pay for the Visa and show any supporting documents that's asked including passport photos. You may also be asked to show your bank statements or proof of funds so they know you have sufficient money to visit the country and return home.
You can also obtain a Tourist Visa before you trip if you would like to visit a country longer than a Tourist Visa on Arrival lets you do so. These may allow you to stay in the country for 3--6 months or even a year. These long-term Visas will be more expensive and may come in the form of 'Single Entry' or 'Multiple Entry'. Single Entry means your Visa will terminate when you leave the country (even if it's before the expiry date of the Visa). Multiple Entry Visas mean you can come and go until your Visa expires.
EDUCATION / STUDENT VISA
This Visa lets you study, enrol in University or carry out a course in that particular country. It depends on the place but you may be able to apply for the Visa once you're actually there or you might have to be outside the country to apply. To obtain this Visa you will have to provide the required supporting documents such as a letter from the school or education centre you wish to study in. Once you have the Visa, there are usually check ups in place to make sure you're attending what you've signed up for.
NON IMMIGRANT / BUSINESS / WORKING HOLIDAY VISA
A non-immigrant or business Visa lets you attend meetings, conduct work, find a job or start a business in the issuing country. They vary in length and all have their own terms and conditions. You usually have to apply for this Visa before you enter the country.
A working holiday Visa lets you travel and work for usually at least 1 year and can be extended once used if you meet the certain terms and conditions. There are stricter age restrictions that will apply and stricter background checks carried out before the Visa is granted that may be repeated once you have entered the country. You must be able to show proof of sufficient funds for your trip --- the amount suggested is usually enough for your flight home and to start off your travels.
Even after you have been issued the correct Visa from above, you may still have to obtain a Work Permit in order to physically work or for certain trades. You will have to apply for a Work Permit once you're in the country and have all the supporting documents from your company or employer. Working without a permit when you should have one, means you're working illegally even if you have a working / business Visa. It depends on which country you will be visiting and the requirements and procedure will be different in each.
HOW TO OBTAIN A VISA
Once you have done your research and have found out if you need a Visa to visit a particular country or know which Visa you need to obtain --- the next step is to apply. This process can be done through the following ways.
ONLINE THROUGH THE OFFICIAL GOVERNMENT/IMMIGRATION SITE
Head to the country's official government website for the correct up to date information, visa requirements and application form. You will either have to pay online or send the payment via post. You may also have to email or send any supporting documents they've asked for. From the time of application to the time your Visa is granted should be around 2-4 weeks but of course this could be different for each individual.
Below are the links to apply for a Working Visa in the following countries.
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THROUGH AN EMBASSY / CONSULATE ONLINE OR IN PERSON
There will be an official Embassy/Consulate office for your desired country that you may contact in person or online. The application can either be done through an office at home or in another country you're visiting beforehand. You can easily contact them for any advice and help regarding your Visa and they can talk you through your application if you're struggling with it.
TRAVEL AGENT ONLINE OR IN PERSON
You can seek out and ask a travel agency at home, in a country abroad or online to apply and complete the Visa process for you. They will make proceedings very easy allowing you to do as little as possible. Travel agencies are experienced and know the ins and outs of the system making them a great option if you think for whatever reason it will be difficult for you to be granted a certain Visa! A travel agent will always charge an additional fee for the service so it's always cheaper to carry it out yourself.
IN PERSON AT THE BORDER ENTRY / AIRPORT
In some countries you can pay for a Visa on arrival, usually in US dollars or local currency. Remember before your travel date to check if your passport has 3-6 months left before expiry and to take passport photos!
HOW TO EXTEND /
RENEW YOUR VISA
When your Visa is coming to an end but you're not ready to leave yet, you may be able to extend it or renew it once it has been terminated. If you cannot extend an education or working visa, you should be able to leave the country then re-enter on a Tourist Visa.
IMMIGRATION OFFICE WITHIN THE COUNTRY
You may be able to pay for a Visa extension at an immigration office without having to leave the country. Check beforehand if an appointment is needed or if you can just turn up and get in line. Remember to not leave it too late because if you overstay your original Visa, they can deny a Visa extension.
This is when you will pay a company (usually a travel agent) within the country you wish to renew your Visa, to take you from there to a neighbouring country. Once you're over the border, your old Visa will be terminated, then you can either purchase or be given a new Visa on arrival when the company take you back with a new stamp and new dates! The company will supply all transport, sometimes food and drinks and make the process quicker (less queuing) and help as much as they can.
LEAVE THE COUNTRY + RE-ENTER ON YOUR OWN ACCORD
This is basically the same as above but you cut out the company and do it on your own. You can either leave by flight or through the border, then re-enter when you wish! (Good excuse to head to somewhere you've never been for more exploring). Depending on the Visa you're planning on getting, you can apply for it through a consulate office in the city you're visiting or at the airport once you have re-entered.
In some cases you may be able to apply for a new Visa online once your current one is coming to an end. You must meet the terms and conditions required in order to apply for a new one. Usually if you apply outside the country you wish to stay, you will have to continue to stay out until your Visa is granted. Or if you apply within the country, you shouldn't leave until it's granted.
WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU DON'T
HAVE THE CORRECT VISA?
If you try to enter a country without the correct Visa, work within a country without a work permit / working visa or continue to stay in a country after your Visa has expired --- there will be some sort of consequence.
REFUSE ENTRY ONTO FLIGHT
If you were supposed to apply and purchase a Visa before your trip and didn't -- they won't let you board the fight or enter the country. You would also be very lucky to receive any kind of refund for the money lost.
You may be fined for overstaying your Visa which is usually determined by how many days it has been expired. If you haven't overstayed by much and you have completed the payment without problems -- you should be allowed to return to the country on a new Visa more or less the same day or renew it there and then.
DETENTION + DEPORTATION
In extreme cases when you have overstayed your Visa severely or worked illegally -- you could be held in an immigration detention centre then more than likely deported from the country back home. A hefty fine will come with it along with stamps in your passport stating reason for deportation.
This is highly unlikely and you don't hear about it often but for whatever reason if you have overstayed your Visa outrageously then you could face being blacklisted from the country. This means deportation and denied re-entry, EVER..!