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What is a Travel Visa and Why do I need one?

Travel Visas may be required to visit certain countries depending upon your Citizenship. They became more prolific after World War 1 with the growth in cross border train traffic; but date back hundreds of years to when they were originally just a stamp in your passport, to say that Entry had been granted by the immigration officer.

Typically now travel visas are applied for in advance, but you can still get them on arrival in some countries. It’s worth checking this before you travel.

What Should I know?

Most countries will expect that you have at least 6 months validity left on your passport before you travel. You may have to satisfy the Embassy/Consulate that you have strong reasons to return to your own country in order for the visa to be granted. For example they may want to see that you have a job, or savings, a home, a family, and/or other reasons to ensure that you won’t try and stay in their Country. They naturally assume their Country is better than your Country.

Note that even if you have a Visa you could still be denied entry at immigration. This might be because of facts that come to light after your application, or because of your behavior (no fighting on the plane), or because something happened between your Country and the Country that you are visiting to cause diplomatic relations to deteriorate between them … or for other reasons. It is however very unusual; if you have a visa please don’t stress about it being rejected at immigration.

Some countries will not issue a Visa if you have visited certain other countries. For example some of the Arabic countries will not permit you to enter if you have previously been to Israel.

Some Visas can be for multi-countries, the most well known of which is the Schengen Visa which covers most of Europe and some additional countries. If you are planning to tour Europe this is the one you want, not an individual country Visa.

Travel Insurance

You may also need to prove that you have health and/or evacuation insurance in order for a visa to be granted. A good number of our Aimviva members from countries like India appreciate having an annual policy for this reason. Some countries may also require a medical test (which could include an HIV test) for certain types of Visas.

There are different kinds of visas including

  • Transit Visas – as they suggest for a few hours to a few days in some cases they are just for passing through a territory on your way to somewhere else
  • Short Stay / Visitor Visas  – which is what you would expect to get for a vacation, or short business trip. Be careful about what activities you are allowed / not allowed to undertake on a business trip. we have heard of preachers and even cooking demonstrations being prosecuted
  • Long-Stay Visas – these might include Student Visas, Residence Visas, Temporary Workers, or Journalist Visas as well as Asylum Visas
  • Immigrant Visas – including Spouse Visa, Marriage vIsa, and Retirement Visas. Note that some countries like Malaysia and The Philippines are actively encouraging senior citizens to retire there
  • Official Visas maybe granted to those who are working on behalf of their government and would include Diplomatic Visa status but also Courtesy Visas for those who may not qualify as Diplomats

There are also special travel documents which may negate the need for separate visa applications. For example I have an APEC Business Travel Card (ABTC) which gives me visa free access to numerous countries. This saves me a lot of money visiting places like China and Vietnam which would otherwise carry a high visa cost per trip.

How Can I get a visa?

Usually you apply at the Consulate or Embassy of the country that you want to visit. Most of them now will have the application forms and instructions online so that you can download them and prepare your documents in advance.

Some countries will allow you to apply for and get a Visa on Arrival and others issue e-visas which you apply for online. They create a virtual permission slip for you to enter. For example Australia, where they simply check their database for your passport details on arrival – providing the e-visa has been granted you will pass straight through.

What Happens If my Visa Expires?

For some countries you can apply for an extension without leaving the country, whilst for others you may have to leave and apply to come back. These are known colloquially as Visa runs. They are typical in destinations like China and Vietnam where many visitors want to stay longer than their permitted visa length. Simply cross a border for a day or two before returning. Note that you can get in trouble if you do this too often as it will become apparent that you may not intend to leave.

Sometimes you overstay your visa for entirely valid reasons like a hospital visit. If you overstay your visa by a few days you may have to speak with immigration on your way out of a country and in extreme cases you may be blacklisted from returning. Expect a Fine and some delay – so you had better get to the airport early if this happens to you.

Visa Refusal

Visas may be refused for many reasons. If you have a criminal record you will definitely find it harder to visit some countries. This is also true if you have overstayed a visa and been blacklisted in another territory.

Some things that will help to ensure you are accepted

  • Fill in the forms honestly and completely
  • Have insurance
  • At least 6 months passport validity at the intended time of travel
  • Have a ticket to leave the country as well as to enter
  • An address of a hotel or other lodgings where you will stay
  • Sufficient funds and/or a sponsorship letter to cover your needs whilst in the country

It will also help if you do not have a criminal record, communicable disease, and would not be considered a threat to national security.

Visa Free Entry

Japan and Singapore currently claim 199 territories visa free. They are considered to Jointly be the World’s strongest passports. The Afghan Passport conversely is the least powerful passport in the world. Afghan passport holders are granted only 26 countries visa free.

Where Can I get more information?

We are happy to recommend iVISA who also provided this tool which will tell you whether you need a visa to visit a specific county based on your Citizenship.

If you know that you need a visa try this link for help applying for your visa


If you enjoyed this article and are looking at options for traveling longer term, you may also enjoy our article about making travel your profession