What you need to know before you apply
More than just tickets to ride, tourist visas are important legal documents you must take seriously, or risk getting kicked out at your holiday destination’s border before your holiday has begun.
While passports have been around since ancient times, visas granting authorization to travel emerged as important documents little more than a century ago. While your passport is your legal document to prove who you are, the visa is your ticket to enter a country as a foreigner under certain conditions.
Be aware governments can and do change the rules around visas at a moment's notice, and in some cases travelers have arrived at their destination to find the rules changed while they were mid-air.
While you can’t prevent a last-minute rule change, it helps to understand how visas work and what you might need to know before you apply for them.
Many countries require proof of a certain level of travel insurance cover for specific events to obtain a visa. Before you buy your travel insurance with World Nomads:
Obtaining and completing visa forms: To find the form you’re after start with the government website of the country you’re planning on visiting – that’s where you’ll most likely find all the information you need about visas. There are two common ways to apply for a visa:
Choosing the right visa: It’s important to choose the right kind of visa for your planned activities. For example, if you’re planning on working at your destination you’ll need a work visa. Planning on studying? Then you’ll probably need a student visa. Selecting the wrong visa type may see you turned back at the border, held in detention and sent back home with nothing to show for your getaway. Take the time to read the eligibility criteria for all visas and ask questions if you’re not sure on what is required or what they mean.
Valid and up to date passport: No matter what kind of visa you’ve been granted, be sure your passport has several blank pages and at least six months left before it expires or you may not be allowed to depart your home country. Also some countries like the United States of America require you to have a passport with an electronic chip to issue visas under their visa waiver program. If in doubt, play it safe and renew your passport.
Supporting information and reference letters for your visa: The information travelers supply when they apply for a visa allows officials to control who comes in (including their health, wealth and intentions) and what they can do while they’re there.
Proof of travel insurance coverage for your visa application: The rise of COVID-19 around the world has seen a change in the visa rules for many countries. We are increasingly seeing additional requirements for tourist to show proof of travel insurance coverage in order to get a visa. Cruise ships typically also require passengers to show proof of travel insurance before boarding. If you’ve booked your travel insurance with World Nomads you can contact us and we may be able to help. If it’s not with us, contact your travel insurer for help.
Where, what and how long your plan to stay: You may need to provide proof of your financial ability to look after yourself for the chosen length of stay, where you’re going, any job offers that your visa is dependent on, or confirmed study at a certain institution. Make sure you have all this information to hand before you submit your application and don’t leave anything out that is needed – insufficient information is one of the many reasons visa applications are refused and you may not get a second chance to supply that information later to prove your eligibility.
Letter of invitation: Some countries require you to be invited to the country and have proof of it, before you apply for a visa. Speak to a travel agent about how you can obtain these or check the relevant government website. Sometimes it’s as simple as booking some travel and accommodation in advance and the letter will follow…sometimes it’s a little more official than that and unless you’re a diplomat you won’t be getting that visa.
Did you know: the word ‘visa’ stems from the Latin charta visa, meaning ‘paper that has been seen’. After World War I, the League of Nations championed a global passport standard and visas soon followed as a way to control immigration. The easier it became to travel from one country to another – by land, air and sea – the more important it became to control who and how many people did so.
Travel Tip: Although some countries have reciprocal healthcare agreements, these are few and far between which means travel insurance may still be necessary when you leave your home country. Without travel insurance, travelers can quickly find themselves in debt if they get ill overseas. Travel insurance may provide cover for medical assistance, cancellation, delays, evacuation, repatriation and more.
As a gesture of goodwill, some countries have mutual agreements that allow citizens to come and go between them for holidays, or even work, without obtaining a visa. In some cases, that still means registering for travel but it’s a quick and easy process (usually online), and travel is often valid for much longer than a typical visa. If you come from a country that’s excluded from a visa waiver program, all may not be lost, you will need to apply for a normal visa to match your plans.
Transit visas are designed for travelers passing through a country to get to another destination, and not intending to stay or visit in that country. These can be valid for up to 10 days, or for as little as 24 hours. If you have a stopover but won’t be leaving the airport, find out whether you still need to apply for a visa. Some countries won’t allow you to continue on with your journey without a transit visa in place, and you might find yourself having to return home at your own expense.
If you’re booking flights with the help of a travel agent, double check any visa advice you receive and take a worst-case approach. A delayed flight that has you missing your connecting flight will make you glad you went to the trouble of applying for a transit visa – a hotel is a lot more comfortable than an airport to wait for the next available flight.
Traveler tale: "Our Finnish World Nomad was travelling to Kathmandu with a stop over in New Delhi. Unfortunately – they hadn’t checked visa requirements for New Delhi as they were transiting through and didn't think it would matter. When questioned by the airline at check-in as to whether they should have a visa for India, they didn’t know and neither did the airline. As a result, the airline cancelled their ticket and they couldn't board their flight.”
So like this Nomad, you’ve turned up at the border ready to exit but turned out you were having so much on holidays you got your dates wrong and you’ve inadvertently overstayed your visa… what happens now?
Depending on the country you’re in, you may be able to talk your way out of it, pay a small fine or lead to detention, deportation and being banned temporarily or permanently from re-entering the country.
What happens if you overstay: If you can avoid staying longer in a country than your visa permits, do whatever it takes to do so. The penalties can be harsh and impact your travels well into the future. Even if you overstay on medical reasons, you may still find you’re banned from that country in the future.
Generally, the longer you overstay, the longer the period you won’t be allowed back. Fines and imprisonment can also be expected in some countries, even if overstaying your visa by as little as an hour or two. The legal expense and hassle involved in getting yourself out of jail just aren’t worth it.
Traveler tale: "An American Nomad had their passport stolen in Thailand while they were in southern Thailand. They were due to fly out the next day when their visa also expired. Instead they traveled to Bangkok to get a replacement passport and overstayed their visa by 5 days, paying a fine on exit."
How and when to extend your visa: Many countries recognise that plans change and allow travelers to extend their tourist visa if they want to stay a little longer – or have to. Just how long that extension is, and whether it’s granted at all, depends on where you are in the world as well as your home country. Apply as soon as you know you might need it.
Special visa conditions if you overstay due to reasons outside your control: If you can’t leave a country due to border closures or limited return flights home, there may be temporary visas available to you – and they may even allow you to work. The lingering effects of COVID-19 have led to a range of special visa conditions being introduced throughout much of the world, but be sure to allow plenty of time to apply for an extension or special visa.
There are all kinds of reasons your visa application may be refused, including having previously overstayed your visa as mentioned above, and not all of them may seem fair if you’re given a reason at all. Not many countries welcome people who have a criminal record or have previous visa/immigration violations, and some countries will refuse a visa application for such reasons as:
What’s good moral character, you may ask? That depends on the country making the decisions. Even if you don’t have a criminal record, if you’ve been subject to a domestic violence order, have failed to file or pay taxes, are guilty of adultery, or have violated controlled substance laws, a government may consider they have reason enough to refuse you entry.
If you fall into these categories, give yourself plenty of time to get your visa and address any queries along the way. If you’re refused you may be able to reapply again with more information to help your case, or appeal the decision.
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Gaza−Israel conflict: For travellers in, or planning on travelling to, Israel or the Palestinian Territories, please see our travel alert with more information.