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Visas Today: Your Guide to Traveling to Foreign Countries

Like many people, travel is daunting to me.

Photo by Pixabay

I’ve always wanted to visit faraway lands, see exotic sights, and eat foreign food. However, when I think about everything involved in traveling to another country—getting flights, figuring out hotels and food, and calculating the cost—the last thing on my list is figuring out a visa. However, many countries require a visa in order to vacation, visit, or volunteer. If you’re stressed about visas, have no fear: I’m going to help you navigate the muddy waters of visa acquisition.

Visas and Passports: What’s the Difference?

Hopefully, you already have a passport. If you don’t, you’re going to need to get one before you hop on the plane to wherever your heart desires. If you do have a passport, great! You’re still not quite ready to hop on that plane. Depending on where you want to go, you might need a visa in addition to a passport.

So, what’s the difference? The main difference is this: passports are an internationally recognized form of identification that is valid throughout the world. Visas, on the other hand, are a form of authorization granted to travelers by the countries they are visiting that allows them to enter, stay, or leave the country. Visas do incorporate passports to help confirm your identity, but, depending on where you want to go, having a passport does not necessarily mean that you can visit.

While visas are most often issued at a nation’s respective embassy (most of which are found in Washington, D.C.), even then, getting a visa isn’t exactly a short process. You’ve probably heard of people waiting for a long time to hear back about their visas. Unfortunately, waiting anywhere between a few days to a few months is a very common occurrence, so try and apply for a visa as soon as you know when you’re planning on traveling.

Visas versus E-Visas

Now you might be thinking, great, now I have to go all the way to D.C. to get a visa. And if you don’t live close to D.C., this might seem pretty daunting. Don’t worry, there is another way to get a visa. Thanks to the rise of the internet and COVID-19, you can apply for an electronic visa, also known as an e-visa. E-visas generally get approved much more quickly than visas do, in part because they are done completely online. The United States is projecting that e-visas will only become more and more popular, so start looking into getting an e-visa now.

Visas (acquisition, requirements, fees, etc.) also change dramatically from country to country. There are a few countries that do not offer options for e-visas, and other countries have options for getting a visa or e-visa as soon as you land in the country. The best plan is to check the internet well before you travel and see what the visa options are for the country you’re planning on visiting. Tourism is a big deal to a lot of countries, so they will often have resources online to help you visit them.

Who Requires a Visa and Who Doesn’t?

It might be helpful to know that there are a lot of countries that don’t specifically require a visa for you to travel to them. In fact, as of January 2024, for people with a US passport, 148 of the 195 countries in the world do not require a visa for you to travel to them. Most do still charge a fee for visiting, but they do not require a visa for a quick trip. The European Union, as of this printing, does not require US citizens to get a visa to visit; however, this will change in 2025. You may also need a visa if you plan on staying longer than thirty days in most countries, although typically traveling for only a week shouldn’t be an issue.

Another thing to keep in mind before you travel is that there are some places where travel is restricted, either by that country or by the United States. Currently, there are restrictions on US passport holders wishing to travel to North Korea, Iran, Syria, Yemen, and Libya. This graphic has a few examples of the countries US citizens are not allowed to travel to or where travel is limited.

Travel since COVID

As was mentioned earlier, many countries rely heavily on foreign tourism. Since 2020, many countries have changed or loosened their visa requirements to make it easier for tourists to visit. However, countries are constantly changing their visa requirements. For example, in 2019 Brazil made changes so that foreign visitors would not have to apply for a visa if they were staying up to ninety days. However, in January of this year, Brazil went back on its original change and now requires visas for stays longer than thirty days. All of this to show why staying up to date on the changes a country is making to its visa requirements is extremely important because things can change at any time.

Because things change regularly, it’s good to know what the United States and other countries advise. Thankfully, the US Department of State has an entire web page about international travel that you can consult as you prepare for your trip abroad. You can look up “US Department of State International Travel” to find its page and learn more, or you can search the country you are planning to visit along with the keywords “International Travel” or “Visa requirements.”

Travel is a wonderfully worthwhile experience, and everyone should take time to travel the world. Personally, I’m still a little scared to travel abroad and figure out whether or not I need to apply for a visa. But I know that there are resources out there to help make sense of it all. The world we live in today is a tricky place, and the political landscape we live in involves a lot of bureaucracy. However, being aware of the steps required to travel and making the effort to accomplish them will make your overall travel experience that much smoother and more enjoyable.