If you’re heading out on an international vacation soon, there’s a chance you might need to apply for a visa to another country before you go. While some countries’ passports are very strong and have free-travel agreements with most places in the world, there isn’t a single passport out there that can offer visa-free travel to every country in the world. On top of that, if you’re traveling for any purpose other than tourism, the odds that you’ll need a visa are even higher.
What Is a Foreign Visa?
A visa is a document from the government of the country that you want to visit that states you have permission to enter and partake in certain activities. Basically, it’s your admission ticket into the country. Many countries have visa-free agreements with one another, and in these cases, your passport acts as your visa, and you don’t need to apply for a visa. For many countries with powerful passports – like the United States, European Union members, United Kingdom, China, Canada, and Russia – you can go to a long list of countries as a tourist without a visa. However, if you’re going for different reasons, like to study or work, most countries will require you to apply for a visa.
How Do I Know if I Need to Apply for a Visa to Another Country?
If you’re wondering if you need to apply for a tourist visa, the best way to know is to go on your government’s foreign ministry’s website. In the United States, for example, this is the Department of State, and the website is state.gov. Once you get to that website, you can navigate to the section regarding foreign travel information and advisories. There, you’ll see what the tourism visa requirements are for the country you’re headed to.
What Kind of Foreign Visa Do I Need?
If you’re traveling to the country for a purpose other than tourism, you’ll probably need to apply for a visa regardless of what that country is. The main exception to this is if you hold an EU country passport, as you are able to work and travel freely anywhere in the EU.
If this doesn’t apply to you, you should search for the website of the nearest embassy or consulate of that country to where you are located. For example, if you want to go to Russia and are located in New York, you’d search for the website of the Russian Consulate of New York.
On that website, you can find information regarding what type of visa you need and what documentation they require to apply. If you have further questions, all of the consulates have an email address and a phone number that you can call to get clarification.
Four Ways to Apply for a Visa to Another Country
Once you have determined if you need a visa and what kind, you may have several options of ways to apply. I have personally done all four of these methods, and they all have their own advantages. If you’re applying for a visa to another country, you may be able to choose between all four options, or you may only have one. Regardless, this guide will point you in the right direction. For each method, I will explain how it works and then tell you a story of how it worked for me.
1. Applying for a Visa to Another Country Directly at the Consulate
This method is the most direct option, and that is its biggest advantage. Applying directly with a consulate cuts out agency fees (see below) and can simplify the application process.
Firstly, on the website, you’ll find all the details you need regarding the required documentation and payment. You should gather all of those documents on your own. Once you have the forms filled out and all the required documentation gathered, you need to make an appointment with the consulate.
If everything goes smoothly, they’ll take your documentation and passport from you and tell you to come back in a certain timeframe (which can range from hours to weeks) to collect your passport with the visa sticker pasted inside.
The second main perk of applying directly with a consulate is that you can get a visa that lasts for years. I currently have three visas that are still active from trips I went on several years ago because they issued 3, 5, or 10-year visas.
In the two final methods, you’ll see that the visas typically only allow you to enter once, and then they become invalid.
While the perks are great, there are several drawbacks to this method, and they can really cause you a headache. Firstly, if there isn’t a consulate near you, you either need to find another way to apply or travel all the way to the nearest consulate. In the United States, the best example of this issue is in the Midwest.
If you live in North Dakota, the closest consulate is probably in Chicago, which is a very long way to go – especially considering that you need to drop off the application AND return to pick up your passport, potentially at a later date. While some consulates allow you to mail your visa application and passport, many require you to apply in person.
If you don’t live near a consulate or you don’t have a lot of time to jump through bureaucratic hoops, this method might not be ideal for you.
Another drawback is that bureaucracy can really slow things down and cause the processing to take forever. Visa applications require a lot of documentation, and they also require the documents to be filled out error-free.
When I was applying for my tourist visa to Bangladesh, the consulate mailed my application back to me for minor details three times. Luckily, I was applying months in advance, because if I had waited to apply, I might have missed my trip.
The other issue, which luckily has never affected me but in theory could, is that you can be rejected for the visa and the consulate can decide to never give you back your payment, which is usually $160 USD.
If you choose to apply for your visa directly at the consulate, here is my best piece of advice: talk to the consulate first. When I was applying for my Temporary Resident Visa to Mexico, I exchanged several emails with the consulate first.
I needed to fly to the consulate to obtain the visa, and one of the consular officers was kind enough to review my application beforehand and essentially pre-authorize me so that I wouldn’t fly all the way there for nothing. Not every consulate will do this, but I definitely recommend you give it a try.
2. Applying for a Visa to Another Country at a Visa Agency
If budget isn’t a concern for you, this is by far the best method. Visa Agencies are private companies that exist exclusively to help you apply for a visa to another country. You make an appointment with the agency, bring them all of the documentation that the consulate requires, and then meet with an employee at the agency’s office.
That employee will review your application for you and make sure that it is all set to go before they accept it. They look at these applications all day long and have designated employees for certain countries, so using an agency pretty much guarantees that you’ll get the visa on your first try and in a very timely manner.
Applying through an agency almost guarantees you’ll get the visa on your first try, as they manage visa applications all day, every day, and know the consulate employees.
Once the agency employee verifies your application, you’ll submit your payment to them and they’ll apply on your behalf. Since the agencies work directly with the consulates on a daily basis, the consulates cycle through the agency applications very quickly in batches, meaning that you get your visa quickly and easily.
This method is by far the best method, especially if you’re new to applying for foreign visas, as they’ll walk you through the process and make sure that you filled everything out properly.
The only drawback to this method at all is money. Applying for most visas already costs $160 – going through an agency can add anywhere from $50-150 to that price. So, if you don’t mind paying a premium on top of the application fee, you should absolutely go through and agency. If you’re looking to save some money but still need a long-term or specialized visa, go with method number 1.
Visa agencies are very convenient, but they are very expensive and not everyone can afford to use them.
We used an agency in New York City to help us apply for our Russian tourist visas, as they are infamously difficult for Americans to get straight from the consulate. We dropped off our passports at VFS in Manhattan and picked them up two weeks later with Russian visas inside.
While we normally go straight to the consulate for visas, we knew that the Russian visa was a tougher one to get, and we wanted to take the safe route and pay a bit more for a nearly guaranteed visa.
If you need any kind of visa other than a tourist visa, these are your only two options. If you’re applying for a tourist visa, keep reading!
3. Applying for an Electronic Visa to Another Country Online
The final two methods are both the easiest, and that is a huge perk. The problem is that not many countries have either of these visa types. Applying for a visa to another country online, otherwise known as an E-visa, is extremely easy and straightforward.
You’ll go to the country’s designated visa website, input your passport information, your flight information, and the dates that you’ll be in the country, and then you receive a digital copy of your visa within minutes. It is an incredibly easy and straightforward process. In addition to being easy, it’s also usually cheaper.
While visas from a consulate cost around $160, E-Visas can be as cheap as $20 (or just as expensive as the consular visa, depending on the country). We went needed an E-Visa to enter Oman, and we applied for it from our hotel room in Russia two days before our flight to Oman. The process was incredibly fast, and it cost us next to nothing.
E-Visas are easy and cheap, and they take very little time to get. We applied for our Oman E-Visa and received it 30 minutes later.
In most cases, the E-Visa is only good for one entry into the country and has a very specific timeframe. So, if you ever plan on going back to that country, you’ll probably have to get a new visa the next time.
In some cases, this is no big deal, because applying for the E-Visa is very easy and cheap. However, some countries charge the same price for the E-Visa as they do for a consular visa. This could mean that you still pay $160 but the visa only lasts for your trip and then expires. If this is the case, I’d recommend applying for a tourist visa, as it gives you flexibility in the future.
4. Applying for a Visa to Another Country Upon Arrival
Visa on Arrival is the easiest way to get a visa, but just like the E-Visa, it is a rare offering. If you’re visiting a country that offers a Visa on Arrival program to your nationality, you’re in luck.
You don’t need to deal with any picky paperwork or consular officials, don’t need to wait for weeks for your application to be approved, and don’t even need to submit information to a portal ahead of time. You literally just hop onto your flight and handle the process at the destination airport.
Usually, these programs are only in place because there is some sort of geopolitical strain in the alliance between the destination country and your home country, and this is the way for the destination country to get back at your home country.
As visa-free travel agreements are often bilateral, a country might choose to make you pay to enter its borders as an action against your country for not letting its people enter easily (like the notoriously difficult-to-enter United States).
The real drawback to this is that Visa on Arrival fees are usually the same as tourist visa fees (~$160) but they are single-entry visas. So, just like the E-Visa, once you leave, the visa becomes invalid.
If you’re only planning on going to the country once, you might as well just do the Visa on Arrival. However, if you think there is even a slight chance that you’ll go back within the next few years, I’d absolutely recommend going through the consulate or agency to get the multiple-year, multiple-entry visa.
This was our case for Bangladesh – we chose to go through the consulate and get a 5-year tourist visa because the prices were similar and we have a lot of friends there, so we’d love to go back someday soon.
Our General Tips for Applying for a Visa to Another Country
Hopefully this guide answered some of your pressing questions regarding applying for a visa to another country. If there is anything else you want to know, feel free to leave a comment, and we’d love to answer.
Thanks for pointing out how the best method of getting a visa is through an agency. My younger brother is hoping to get a partner visa to Australia this spring so he can live with his fiance. I’ll help him search for respectable visa agents that he can start working with over the next few weeks.
I’m happy this was helpful! Best of luck, and be sure to reach out if you need any help!