A visa is a travel document that allows you to enter a foreign country for a specific period of time. In most cases, you have to apply for a visa before traveling, either at an embassy, consulate, or online. Sometimes you can also obtain a visa on arrival. Visas are usually affixed onto your passport and state how long you can stay.
Most countries impose visa requirements for foreign nationals as a security measure: to keep track of who enters and to stop illegal immigration. Visas are also used as a defensive effort, stopping security risks from entering a country.
Tourist visas are entry permits issued for recreational purposes. Tourist types of visas are short-term, usually valid for three months, and you cannot work while on a tourist visa. There is usually no limit to how many times you can apply for a tourist visa for the same country— as long as the embassy/consulate grants the visa; you can freely travel.
Not everyone requires a visa to travel. Many countries have visa waiver agreements, which means they allow citizens of a select few countries to enter visa-free for short trips. Passport holders of Western countries (such as the U.S., Australia, Canada, and the EU States) can travel to most places without a visa.
The allowed time for visa-free stays is short; it ranges from a few days to a few months. Regardless of your nationality, you should check your visa requirements before traveling.
Most commonly, you apply for a visa through one of the following ways:
At an embassy or consulate of the country that you will visit.
Online (electronic visa).
At the point of entry (visa on arrival).
The method of application depends on the specific country and your nationality. You should never travel without checking your visa requirements.
In most cases, you can apply for a visa at the embassy or consulate of the country you want to visit. You will have to:
Make an appointment.
Collect a set of documents.
Pay a visa processing fee.
Enter a visa interview (sometimes).
The consular officers will review your application and decide whether to grant you a visa or not. Depending on the visa type, it could take several days to several months to process your application.
You can also apply for a visa online. Electronic (online) visas are usually issued as printable documents and are not pasted onto your passport. If a country issues electronic visas, then there will be an official application website, where you can:
Complete an online visa application form.
Attach electronic copies of your documents.
Pay a visa fee.
Make sure that the website you are applying through is the official website, as you may have to provide personal information during the application and even pay a fee.
It can take a few minutes to several days to hear a decision on your visa application
You can apply for a visa at the airport or other point of entry of the country you are traveling to. This is known as a visa on arrival (VOA). In these cases, there will be visa counters at the point of entry, where you have to apply, pay a fee, and then wait for the decision to be made before you can pass through. Depending on the country, it could take from a few minutes to a few hours.
Visas can be issued for the following durations and validities:
A short-stay visa can be issued for anywhere between a few days to several months. This type of visa is usually issued for tourists, business people, or other short-term purposes, like seeking medical attention or visiting family.
A long-stay visa can be issued for months or years. Sometimes, residence permits are also referred to as long-stay visas.
As the name suggests, a single-entry visa only allows you to enter that specific country or area once. After you leave, you cannot return, even if you have remaining days.
With a multiple-entry visa, you can enter a country or area multiple times, as long as the visa is valid.