What is a visa?
A travel visa is a travel document required by many countries in addition to a passport. The visa shows a person is authorized to enter the territory for which the visa was issued, subject to the permission of an immigration official at the time of actual entry. It is basically your permission to travel to and enter that country.
Do I need a visa for travel?
The short answer is: it depends. For many countries, a valid travel visa is required in order to enter the country. Find out for yourself at the U.S. State Department. Select the country you plan to visit and read the entry/exit requirements. There is also a lot of helpful information on the site, including notes for Americans on safety and security. Visa and entry requirements may vary by country of origin/citizenship.
Won’t my travel agent or airline tell me if I need a visa?
Do not make the mistake of thinking a travel agent or airline will inform you if you need a visa. Find out for yourself here at the U.S. State Department.
What does a travel/study visa look like?
It varies depending on the country. Most will be a stamp in your passport, while others might be a separate piece of paper that needs to be carried in addition to your passport. Others will be a large sticker inserted directly inside your passport book. Common countries requiring a visa include China, Brazil, Russia, India, Australia, Egypt, Vietnam and South Korea, but there are many others. Read the information here at the State Department website.
How much does a visa cost?
Expect to pay anywhere from $80 to $200, plus processing fees, depending on your destination country and your desired length of stay. Some countries have a much higher fee, such as Australia’s Student (Study) Visa fee of over $500.
What kinds of visas are available?
There are many different kinds of visas available for different kinds of travelers. For students attending off-campus study programs, a student visa is usually required. Many countries offer a tourist visa for foreigners entering the country for tourist purposes under a specific amount of time.
Do I need to obtain my travel visa before leaving home?
Some countries, like Malaysia or Thailand for example, will issue visas to travelers upon arriving in country. Other countries, like India or China require that you apply for and receive your approved travel visa before you embark on your trip. Side note: If your destination requires you have a visa issued before arriving in country, make sure you get the visa. Many travelers each year are turned back from destinations because they arrive without appropriate travel documents. Read the information here at the State Department website.
How long will the process take?
This depends on the country. Some visas will be issued the same day; others can take weeks (or even months) to process, especially if you’re applying by mail. Some can be applied for by mail while others require an in-person appointment.