Understanding Visa Requirements
Avoid disappointment by doing research before your trip
Whether you travel by land, air or sea, there are cases when an immigration officer at the border or port can authorize you and your family entry into the country right then and there. Other times you need pre-approved clearance arranged ahead of your trip.
A visa is an official government document (sticker or stamp) affixed to your passport that temporarily authorizes you to enter that country for a specific duration of time (maybe 30, 60, 90 days or longer – it varies).
There are different kinds of visas for various purposes of travel, including visitor, student, work, medical treatment or immigration visas. Each country has its own specific policies on eligibility and procedures for obtaining visas, but you’ll no doubt be filling out forms, lining up, paying fees and submitting photos, most likely with an interview and fingerprinting too (biometric visas are becoming the norm).
Patience and forethought are required, as with all bureaucratic processes – and mind your Ps and Qs, as immigration officers have the right to refuse your application at whim.
Look on the embassy websites of countries you and your family plan to visit well ahead of any trips to see if citizens of your nationality need pre-authorized visas to travel there. Countries like Australia, China, India and Russia require almost everyone to obtain a visa prior to visiting. However, there are a lot of reciprocal arrangements and visa waiver programs out there amongst other nations.
Depending on where you are from, where you are going and how long you are going for, you might not need visa. For example, members of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (Canada, Mexico, United States and Bermuda) can forgo the visa step providing they have a machine readable passport. Likewise, citizens of certain European countries can travel amongst a set of member countries without visas (be they EU, EEA or Schengen states – it’s kind of complicated).
Foreign embassies, missions and consulates are located in major cities and can provide all the required forms and details. Your travel agent may be able to advise you when it is necessary to apply for a visa, but with more and more people making their own travel arrangements, it is ultimately the traveler’s responsibility to find out and follow the proper regulations.
Note: you may need to provide evidence of onward travel when entering certain countries (a ticket, proof of funds, itinerary etc.), whether you have a visa or not.
Case study: The Schengen Visa
It used to be a bother to travel around Europe, having to stop at multiple checks and border controls to obtain, not to mention pay for, visas around every corner. Today, with the emergence of the EU and the EEA, a block of European countries have come together to eliminate this hassle and simplify the process.
The Schengen Visa allows you to access to a network of countries in the region as if it were a domestic trip. You can visit Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden with the Schengen visa.
Just apply at the embassy or consulate where you live for the first or main country you plan to visit, and then you are free to roam.