If you’re traveling internationally, you need to have your paperwork in order. Sometimes, that means applying for a tourist visa -- especially if you’re planning on staying in your destination country for more than a few days (we should note here that business visas have their own requirements, which we don’t address in this article).
Of course, some countries don’t require tourist visas, in which case you’ll simply need to arrive at your destination, clear customs, get your passport stamped, and return to the United States within a reasonable amount of time.
Ultimately, if you plan to travel as a tourist, you should know that many of the world’s most popular destinations require some sort of visa and how the visa approval process works. Here’s a quick guide to help you plan your next adventure.
Heading down under? You’ll need to get a visa, but the good news is that the process is fairly straightforward.
United States citizens will need to get a traditional visa or -- this is the much easier option -- an electronic visa known as an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA). You will need to apply for your ETA at least 24 hours before your departure, and you must already have a passport issued by a ETA-eligible country.
ETAs are valid for one year and allow multiple stays of up to 90 days. You can apply for an ETA online, and it costs $20 AUD (about $15 USD as of spring 2019).
Travelers can visit Hong Kong without a visa if they are staying for less than 90 days, but to set foot on China’s mainland, you’ll need an entry visa. You should apply for this directly through the Chinese Embassy at least one month in advance of your trip.
When you apply, you’ll need a valid passport, and you can expect to pay about $140. The entry visa will allow multiple entries for up to 10 years, so if your passport is about to expire, you may want to renew it before starting your visa application.
At the time we’re writing this, tourists can apply for a two- ($44) or 10-year ($160) entry visa for Brazil. To apply, you’ll need your valid passport, and you’ll need to apply for a visa online at least one month in advance of your trip through the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
However, that’s about to change: The Brazilian government has announced that they are eliminating travel visa requirements for the United States, Japan, Canada, and Australia by June 2019 in an effort to improve tourism.
“Our intention is really to eliminate visa applications for Americans,” Brazilian tourism minister Marcelo Alvaro Antonio told Reuters.
India’s visa application process is fairly complex, and the requirements change frequently. If you’re planning on traveling to this country, be sure to regularly check the State Department’s page as well as the Indian e-Visa page for updates.
As of now, you must apply online for an e-Visa no fewer than four days before your departure. An Indian tourist visa is valid for one year after your application is approved for a maximum stay of 60 days, and it costs about $100. You will also need to show a paper copy of the e-Visa upon entry (which sort of defeats the point of an electronic document, but that’s neither here nor there).
Russia has a relatively complicated visa application process. You must have an official tourist invitation/request from either a hotel or a tour guide before you start your application. That’s not too difficult to acquire, but given the complexity of the visa and the high risk of rejection, it’s a good idea to use a visa service.
Once approved, your Russian visa is eligible for up to three months, and you can’t enter Russia prior to the listed entry date. You’ll also have to declare your specific purpose of travel while applying for your visa unless you’re a passenger on a cruise ship headed to St. Petersburg or Vladivostok, in which case you can stay in Russia for up to 72 hours without a visa.
You can apply online for a “visa upon arrival” or for an e-visa before arriving in Vietnam. To get a “visa-on-arrival,” you’ll need to work with an authorized travel agency; we found one that offers either a one- or three-month single entry ($18 or $28) visa, or one- or three-month multiple entry ($21 or $43) visa.
Otherwise, you can apply online for a visa through Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Unfortunately, the application is in Vietnamese, but it’s fairly straightforward, and you can use your web browser’s translation tools to work your way through it. Note that your passport must have at least six months of validity past the dates of your stay.
After you apply online, you will receive an approval letter via email. You will need to print and show the letter along with two passport-size photos when you arrive in Vietnam. It’s important to note that your visa only allows you to fly into certain airports: Hanoi, Da Nang, Nha Trang, Hai Phong, and Ho Chi Minh. Once you arrive, you will present your documentation and pay the stamping fee ($25 for single entry, $50 for multiple entry).
You do not need a travel visa when visiting Thailand for fewer than 30 days. If you’re planning a longer stay, you will have to apply for a tourist visa through the Royal Thai Embassy or U.S. Consulate or online through the Thai Immigration Bureau. You will need a valid passport that won’t expire for at least six months along with a completed visa form, a recent photo, a round-trip ticket paid in full, and proof of financial means.
Your stamped passport allows for a 30-day stay. To extend your visit, you’ll need to pay a 1,900 baht (about $60) fee, which extends your stay to 60 days; if necessary, you can pay the same rate for additional 30-day extensions.
You have the option of obtaining an entry visa at the Bolivian border, but we recommend applying online ahead of time.
Whichever way you decide to get your documentation, you will need a passport with a minimum of six months of validity and at least one blank page, a passport quality photo, confirmation of your accommodations, proof of financial stability, a completed sworn statement form, and a return flight ticket. You might also need proof of yellow fever vaccination if you’re traveling from a high-risk country.
If you decide to process your visa at the border, you must travel with printed versions of all your documents and have $160 cash for the application fee. If you’re applying online or mailing in your application, it’s best to start this process at least one to two months before your trip. The good news is that once you have your visa, it’s good for 10 years and allows multiple entries.
Yes, U.S. passport holders can now travel to Cuba, but you’ll need to take a few extra steps. Your trip must fall under one of the 12 categories of authorized travel, and you’ll need to present an itinerary that doesn’t include free time for vacationing (if that sounds unpleasant, be sure to read our article on traveling to Cuba -- it’s much easier than it sounds). You will also need a tourist card (also referred to as a travel visa) to actually enter the country.
The route you take for acquiring your tourist card will depend on how you actually plan on arriving in Cuba. If you plan to visit via cruise ship, the cruise company will likely designate your travel category and handle most of the application process. If you plan on flying directly from the United States, you have to purchase your pink tourist card through the airline. If you’re traveling to Cuba from another country, you will need to apply online for a green tourist card.
There are three ways to gain entry to Indonesia. If you’re traveling for 30 days or less, you can enter and exit through major immigration checkpoints for free. You will receive a no-fee stamp in your passport, and your stay cannot be extended.
The second option is a visa-upon-arrival. With this option, you will have to pay $35 for a 30-day stay, but you can extend your stay one time for another 30 days for an additional $35. You can also apply for a visa in advance. This option allows travelers who plan on being in the country for longer than 30 days to have their entire trip cleared beforehand.
All travelers must have a passport that’s valid for at least six months after their arrival and has two blank pages, plus two passport quality photos, proof of financial means, a letter of invitation, and round-trip tickets.
How Long Does It Take To Get A Visa?
Every country has a different visa processing time. As noted above, some countries allow travelers to request tourist visas at the border upon entry, but for other countries, you’ll need to start the application process several months in advance.
Travel.state.gov provides excellent resources for planning your trip, and if you’re not sure whether you’ll have time to get a visa, visit the site and look up your destination country. If you didn’t start the application process early enough, you’re not necessarily out of luck; contact a travel agency to review your options. Travel agencies are often connected to resources that a typical vacationer isn’t able to access.
Do I Need a Passport To Get A Visa?
You must have a valid passport to apply for any country’s travel visa. Visas are connected to your passport, either physically (in which case you’ll receive stamps when granted entry) or electronically (e-visas are tied to your passport number).
This should go without saying, but make sure that your passport is valid for your entire vacation. If you were 16 years or older when your passport was issued, it’s valid for 10 years; if you were under 16, your passport is valid for 5 years.
Do I Need A Visa To Travel To London Or Canada?
You do not need a travel visa to visit the United Kingdom if you’ll stay for 90 days or less. If you plan on staying longer, you must apply for a travel visa. No matter what, you will need a passport that is valid through the length of your stay.
If you’re planning a Canadian vacation, you won’t need a travel visa if you’re staying in the country for 180 days or less -- unless you have a criminal record. Canada has stringent restrictions for entry, and even misdemeanors can prevent border crossing in some circumstances.
Even if you don’t think you have anything that would stop you from crossing the border, you should be aware of any misdemeanors on your record. Provided that a substantial amount of time has passed since your conviction, you’ll likely be deemed “rehabilitated" by an agent at the border and allowed entry. The good news: You don’t have to wait until then. If you apply for an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) early, you’ll receive a decision before you travel, so you won’t have to worry about getting turned away at the border.
You will need proof of residency when crossing the Canadian border. A valid passport, passport card, or NEXUS card are all valid options. If you plan on staying longer than 180 days, you can apply for an extension.
How Can I Find Out If A Country Requires A Visa?
If you’re unsure whether or not you need extra documentation for your trip, be sure to check out the State Department’s site for more information. On the site, you can search for specific countries and find quick facts about where you’re going along with safety and security information, visa requirements, immunization requirements, and other important info.
Finally, a word of advice: Don’t let visa requirements scare you away from the trip of a lifetime. In most instances, visa applications are fairly simple and straightforward. Start thinking about your visa needs as soon as you start planning your trip, and you’ll be able to travel without too much stress.