A Travellerspoint blog

Do I Need a Visa?

A guide to some of the best sources of information to answer the question of entry and exit requirements for countries around the world.

A few years ago, I was sitting in the Russian consulate in Toronto, waiting for my name to be called to head up and arrange a visa for a trip to Moscow. I was sitting patiently with my forms in my hand, occasionally flipping through them to make sure I hadn’t forgotten my invite letter, passport-sized photos or completed visa application form.

Castle Guard, Riga, Latvia.  Photo by kavanadb

Castle Guard, Riga, Latvia. Photo by kavanadb

Sitting across from me was man who had a lot more paper work that I did. He had a stack of paper at least 2 inches thick.

“Planning on going to Russia for a while?” I asked, jokingly.

The man laughed. “No, I work for a company that arranges visas. This is about 20 applications,” he said, holding up the stack of paper.

We sat quietly for another moment, and then the man looked at me and raised an eyebrow. “Are you getting an application for yourself?” he asked. “I mean, you and just you?”

I nodded. “Yes, just a tourist application for me,” I replied.

He laughed. “I didn’t realise people got these visas for themselves.”

When jetting off to exotic destinations, it can be overwhelming to figure out what, if any, hoops you have to jump through to visit the country. It can be tempting to just hand it all over to someone else to deal with, and I have done it a few times when jetting off to a location for work (and when my company was paying).

However, if travelling for pleasure and on a budget, money spent on having someone else handle your visa applications is less money for travel once you arrive. With a little research and some leg work, it is usually easy to arrange tourist visas on your own. To start you out, I’ve collected a few resources that can assist.

Where To Start

First up, why not start by checking out what your own government has to say about the entry and exit requirements for the country you want to go to? Below is a list of country advice from the Foreign Affairs departments of a few different countries. Most of these will have specific entries on every country. These travel-advice entries give general advice about a destination, and specific advice on the entry and exit requirements for the country, including any cases where you would need a visa.

Luminojos: road signs, Curanipe, Chile.  Photo by triptime

Luminojos: road signs, Curanipe, Chile. Photo by triptime

These resources are a good place to start, but most will include a warning similar to this from the Foreign Affairs Canada website on Russia:

It is the traveller's responsibility to check with the Embassy of the Russian Federation and its consulates for up-to-date information.

Check With Those Who Give Out Visas

Governments do occasionally change their minds about entry and exit requirements, so it is best to check with the source. If you are lucky, you might find a link from your country’s travel-advice page to the appropriate consular website. If there's no link available, a Google search should hopefully bring it up.

It is best to check with the Embassy, High Commission or Consulate of your destination in your home country before travelling. If you are a Brit wanting to travel to Paraguay, for example, the Paraguayan embassy staff working London will be best positioned to understand the entry and exit requirements for Brits headed to Paraguay. Sometimes you will find that another country is “responsible” for your country. For example, Australians wanting to speak with the Malawian embassy need to contact their embassy in Japan.

Governments do occasionally change their minds about entry and exit requirements, so it is best to check with the source.

Not all embassies and consulates have websites, of course. If you can’t find an online presence, check the phone book for listings. Larger and more popular countries will usually have embassies in their capital city, and perhaps additional consulates in larger population centres.

If you are still unable to find an embassy or consulate, check with the government of your destination. See if you can find a department of Foreign Affairs, or something similarly named. They should have a site listing embassies and consulates, or at least contact information so you can email or phone to ask.

When You Arrive, Be Nice

Even if you don’t need to get a visa ahead of time, you should nonetheless check the entry and exit requirements of the places you want to visit. Sometimes you will need to provide information upon arrival, like a confirmed place to stay or a return ticket--although even when you are “required” to have this information, custom and immigrant officers may not even ask. Even if a visa is not required beforehand, you may need to fill out a landing or tourist card and pay an entry fee.

To make things easy, I always keep any documents I need for entry in labelled folders--one per country--in my carry-on luggage. This allows me to easily pull out documents and present them to officials when required.

Also, some countries require that have at least six months validity on your passport from the date you are planning to exit the country. You'll want to check the expiry date on your passport before you leave.

If you are planning a trip further in the future, be sure to check entry requirements again about a month before you leave. These may have changed, and you don’t want to arrive at the airport--or, worse, at the border of a new country--only to find you can’t get in.

Passport to adventure.  Photo by tomstrick1

Passport to adventure. Photo by tomstrick1

Finally, even if you make all necessary checks beforehand and think you have everything in place, customs and immigration can be a mystery. As the Foreign Affairs Canada website says, “It is the sole prerogative of each country or region to determine who is allowed to enter,” and custom and immigrations officials can deny you entry--even if you have a visa and all your paperwork appears in order--with no means for appeal. Getting put back on a jet and sent home is a waste of time and a huge waste of money.

Therefore, when speaking with custom and immigration officials, remember to be polite and answer their questions honestly. Don’t provide them with information they don’t require, and don’t joke around. A professional attitude with concise answers will help them do their job easily, and will increase your chances of gaining their stamp of approval.

Next time you are thinking of heading off some place, take some time to check visa requirements in advance and make sure you have all the appropriate documents--then check the requirements again before you leave to see if there have been any changes. Upon arrival at your destination, be professional and courteous when dealing with immigration officials on both entry and exit from the country.

With a little investigation and a small amount of elbow grease, you can maximise your chances of having all the right paperwork and approvals to make border crossing as easy as possible.

If you have any tips or tricks to share on getting visas, please post them in the comments. If you have other tips and tricks for your fellow travellers, then join us in educating travellers worldwide. To get started, send our editors an email at unravelled [at] travellerspoint [dot] com. Let them know a bit about yourself, and maybe include some writing samples and ideas for entries. They will review your submission and, if you fit the bill, they will welcome you to the team.

Posted by GregW 09:26 Tagged preparation

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Comments

Great advice, Greg! Very handy!

by tway

Nice article! They do change their minds often- I was once stuck between SA and Zimbabwe for ages because they weren't sure if I can, with a Finnish passport, get a visa at the border. They never found the correct info, but decided I could go through as I was "such a nice girl". Being nice, polite and smiling always helps!

by Ofelia

I've had my share of dealing with changing Visa requirements. Several years ago, my wife and I traveled to Slovakia to visit her family. Initially, British Airways would not let us fly because my wife, who was not a U.S. Citizen at the time, did not have a "transit visa" for traveling via Heathrow. It was a joke. We had to travel to the nearest British consulate, in NYC, pay around $50 for the visa, and try to make it back to our home city's airport in time for the next flight. Luckily we were able to do this within 24 hours, so we only lost a day from our vacation with no other penalty from the airline.

The U.K. has since changed that silly policy, but it's important for travelers to not only look at visas necessary for their destination, but visas necessary for getting there.

by Dino

as a latvian do i need a visa to travel to the UK?

by ieva

Hi Ieva. Check out the websites of the UK embassy in Latvia (http://ukinlatvia.fco.gov.uk/en/) and the UK Visa Service website (http://www.ukvisas.gov.uk/en/) to find out the answers. These websites will help you determine what the visa requirements are. The UK Visas site has an interact quiz, which will quickly tell you the answer.

by GregW

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