A visa (from the Latin charta visa, meaning "paper which has been seen") is a conditional authorization granted by a country to a foreigner, allowing them to enter and temporarily remain within, or to leave that country. Visas typically include limits on the duration of the foreigner's stay, territory within the country they may enter, the dates they may enter, the number of permitted visits or an individual's right to work in the country in question. Visas are associated with the request for permission to enter a country and thus are, in some countries, distinct from actual formal permission for an alien to enter and remain in the country. In each instance, a visa is subject to entry permission by an immigration official at the time of actual entry and can be revoked at any time.
A visa is most commonly a sticker endorsed in the applicant's passport or other travel document. The visa, when required, was historically granted by an immigration official on a visitor's arrival at the frontiers of a country, but increasingly today a traveller wishing to enter another country must apply in advance for a visa, sometimes in person at a consular office, by mail or over the internet. The actual visa may still be a sticker or a stamp in the passport or may take the form of a separate document or an electronic record of the authorisation, which the applicant can print before leaving home and produce on entry to the host country. Some countries do not require visas for short visits.
Some countries require that their citizens, as well as foreign travelers, obtain an "exit visa" to be allowed to leave the country. Uniquely, the Norwegian special territory of Svalbard is an entirely visa-free zone under the terms of the Svalbard Treaty.
Some countries – such as those in the Schengen Area – have agreements with other countries allowing each other's citizens to travel between them without visas. The World Tourism Organization announced that the number of tourists who require a visa before traveling was at its lowest level ever in 2015.
A visa generally gives non-citizens clearance to enter a country and to remain there within specified constraints, such as a time frame for entry, a limit on the time spent in the country, and a prohibition against employment. Some countries do not require a visa in some situations, such as a result of reciprocal treaty arrangements. The possession of a visa is not in itself a guarantee of entry into the country that issued it, and a visa can be revoked at any time.
A visa application in advance of arrival gives the country a chance to consider the applicant's circumstance, such as financial security, reason for applying, and details of previous visits to the country. A visitor may also be required to undergo and pass security and/or health checks upon arrival at the border.
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In Western Europe in the late 19th century and early 20th century, passports and visas were not generally necessary for moving from one country to another. The relatively high speed and large movements of people traveling by train would have caused bottlenecks if regular passport controls had been used. Passports and visas became usually necessary travel documents only since World War I.
Long before that, in ancient times, passports and visas were usually the same type of travel documents. In the modern world, visas have become separate secondary travel documents, with passports acting as the primary travel documents.
Some visas can be granted on arrival or by prior application at the country's embassy or consulate, or through a private visa service specialist who is specialized in the issuance of international travel documents. These agencies are authorized by the foreign authority, embassy, or consulate to represent international travelers who are unable or unwilling to travel to the embassy and apply in person. Private visa and passport services collect an additional fee for verifying customer applications, supporting documents, and submitting them to the appropriate authority. If there is no embassy or consulate in one's home country, then one would have to travel to a third country (or apply by post) and try to get a visa issued there. Alternatively, in such cases visas may be pre-arranged for pickup on arrival at the border. The need or absence of need of a visa generally depends on the citizenship of the applicant, the intended duration of the stay, and the activities that the applicant may wish to undertake in the country he visits; these may delineate different formal categories of visas, with different issue conditions.
The issuing authority, usually a branch of the country's foreign ministry or department (e.g. U.S. State Department), and typically consular affairs officers, may request appropriate documentation from the applicant. This may include proof that the applicant is able to support himself in the host country (lodging, food), proof that the person hosting the applicant in his or her home really exists and has sufficient room for hosting the applicant, proof that the applicant has obtained health and evacuation insurance, etc. Some countries ask for proof of health status, especially for long-term visas; some countries deny such visas to persons with certain illnesses, such as AIDS. The exact conditions depend on the country and category of visa. Notable examples of countries requiring HIV tests of long-term residents are Russia and Uzbekistan. However, in Uzbekistan, the HIV test requirement is sometimes not strictly enforced. Other countries require a medical test which includes an HIV test even for short term tourism visa. For instance Cuban citizens and international exchange students require such a test approved by a medical authority to enter Chilean territory.
The issuing authority may also require applicants to attest that they have had no criminal convictions, or that they do not partake in certain activities (like prostitution or drug trafficking). Some countries will deny visas if the travelers passports show evidence of citizenship or travel to a country which is considered hostile by that country. For example, some Arabic oriented countries will not issue visas to nationals of Israel and those whose passports bear evidence of visiting Israel.
Many countries frequently demand strong evidence of intent to return to the home country, if the visa is for a temporary stay, due to potential unwanted illegal immigration.
Each country typically has a multitude of categories of visas with various names. The most common types and names of visas include:
For passing through the country of issue to a destination outside that country. Validity of transit visas are usually limited by short terms such as several hours to 10 days depending on the size of the country and/or the circumstances of a particular transit itinerary.
For short visits to the visited country. Many countries differentiate between different reasons for these visits, such as:
Visas valid for longer but still finite stays:
Granted for those intending to immigrate to the issuing country (obtain the status of a permanent resident with a prospect of possible naturalization in the future):
Are granted to officials doing jobs for their governments or otherwise representing their countries in the host country, such as the personnel of diplomatic missions.
Normally visa applications are made at and collected from a consulate, embassy or other diplomatic mission.
(Also known as Visa On Arrival, VOA), granted at a port of entry. This is distinct from not requiring a visa at all, as the visitor must still obtain the visa before they can even try to pass through immigration.
An electronic visa (e-Visa or eVisa) is stored in a computer and is linked to the passport number; no label, sticker or stamp is placed in the passport before travel. The application is done over the internet.
These lists are not exhaustive. Some countries may have more detailed classifications of some of these categories reflecting the nuances of their respective geographies, social conditions, economies, international treaties, etc. Others, on the contrary, may combine some types into broader categories.
A visa is an advance permission to visit a country, introduced for security reasons. Some countries demand an advance authorization obtained over the internet, which are not defined as visas. See also Electronic Travel Authorization.
Visas can also be single-entry which means the visa is canceled as soon as the holder leaves the country; double-entry, or multiple-entry which permits double or multiple entries into the country with the same visa. Countries may also issue re-entry permits that allow temporarily leaving the country without invalidating the visa. Even a business visa will normally not allow the holder to work in the host country without an additional work permit.
Once issued, a visa will typically have to be used within a certain period of time.
With some countries, the validity of a visa is not the same as the authorized period of stay. The visa validity then indicates the time period when entry is permitted into the country. For example, if a visa has been issued to begin January 1 and to expire March 30, and the typical authorized period of stay in a country is 90 days, then the 90-day authorized stay starts on the day the passenger enters the country (entrance has to be between January 1 and March 30). Thus, the latest day the traveler could conceivably stay in the issuing country is July 1 (if the traveler entered on March 30). This interpretation of visas is common in the Americas.
With other countries, a person may not stay beyond the period of validity of their visa, which is usually set within the period of validity of their passport. The visa may also limit the total number of days the visitor may spend in the applicable territory within the period of validity. This interpretation of visa periods is common in Europe.
Once in the country, the validity period of a visa or authorized stay can often be extended for a fee at the discretion of immigration authorities. Overstaying a period of authorized stay given by the immigration officers is considered illegal immigration even if the visa validity period isn't over (i.e., for multiple entry visas) and a form of being "out of status" and the offender may be fined, prosecuted, deported, or even blacklisted from entering the country again.
Entering a country without a valid visa or visa exemption may result in detention and removal (deportation or exclusion) from the country. Undertaking activities that are not authorized by the status of entry (for example, working while possessing a non-worker tourist status) can result in the individual being deemed deportable—commonly referred to as an illegal alien. Such violation is not a violation of a visa, despite the common misuse of the phrase, but a violation of status hence the term "out of status."
Even having a visa does not guarantee entry to the host country. The border crossing authorities make the final determination to allow entry, and may even cancel a visa at the border if the alien cannot demonstrate to their satisfaction that they will abide by the status their visa grants them.
Some countries which do not require visas for short stays may require a long stay visa for those who intend to apply for a residence permit. For example, EU does not require a visa for many countries for stays under 90 days, but its members require a long stay visa for longer stays.
Many countries have a mechanism to allow the holder of a visa to apply to extend a visa. In Denmark, a visa holder can apply to the Danish Immigration Service for a Residence Permit after they have arrived in the country. In the United Kingdom, applications can be made to UK Visas and Immigration.
In certain circumstances, it is not possible for the holder of the visa to do this, either because the country does not have a mechanism to prolong visas or, most likely, because the holder of the visa is using a short stay visa to live in a country.
Some foreign visitors sometimes engage in what is known as a visa run: leaving a country for a short period just before the allowed length of stay runs out, usually to a neighboring country, then return to the country to get a new entry stamp in order to extend their stay ("reset the clock"). Despite the name, a visa run is usually done with a passport that can be used for an entry without a visa.
Visa runs are frowned upon by immigration authorities, as such acts may signify that the foreigner wishes to reside permanently and might also work in that country, purposes that visitors are prohibited from engaging in and usually require an immigrant visa or a work visa. Immigration officers may deny re-entry to visitors suspected of engaging in prohibited activities, especially when they have done repeated visa runs and have no evidence of spending reasonable time in their home countries or countries where they have the right to reside and work.
To combat visa run, some countries have limits as to how long visitors can spend in the country without a visa, as well as how much time they may have to stay out before "resetting the clock". For example, Schengen countries impose a maximum limit for visitors of 90 days in a 180-day window. Some countries do not "reset the clock" when a visitor comes back after visiting a neighboring country. For example, the United States does not give visitors a new period of stay when they come back from visiting Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean; instead they are readmitted to the United States for the remaining days granted on their initial entry. Some other countries, e.g. Thailand, allow visitors who arrive by land from neighbouring countries a shorter length of stay than those who arrive by air.
In general, an applicant may be refused a visa if he or she does not meet the requirements for admission or entry under that country's immigration laws. More specifically, a visa may be denied or refused when the applicant:
Even if a traveller does not need a visa, the aforementioned criteria can also be used by border police to refuse the traveller entry into the country in question.
The main reasons states impose visa restrictions on foreign nationals are to curb illegal immigration, security concerns, and reciprocity for visa restrictions imposed on their own nationals. Typically, nations impose visa restrictions on citizens of poorer countries, along with politically unstable and undemocratic ones, as it is likelier that people from these countries will seek to illegally immigrate. Visa restrictions may also be imposed when nationals of another country are perceived as likelier to be terrorists or criminals, or by autocratic regimes that perceive foreign influence to be a threat to their rule. According to Professor Eric Neumayer of the London School of Economics:
"The poorer, the less democratic and the more exposed to armed political conflict the target country is, the more likely that visa restrictions are in place against its passport holders. The same is true for countries whose nationals have been major perpetrators of terrorist acts in the past".
Some countries apply the principle of reciprocity in their visa policy. A country's visa policy is called reciprocal if it imposes visa requirement against citizens of all the countries which impose visa requirements against its own citizens. The opposite is rarely true: a country rarely lifts visa requirements against citizens of all the countries which also lift visa requirements against its own citizens, unless a prior bilateral agreement has been made.
A fee may be charged for issuing a visa; these are often also reciprocal, so if country A charges country B's citizens US$50 for a visa, country B will often also charge the same amount for country A's visitors. The fee charged may also be at the discretion of each embassy. A similar reciprocity often applies to the duration of the visa (the period in which one is permitted to request entry of the country) and the amount of entries one can attempt with the visa. Other restrictions, such as requiring fingerprints and photographs, may also be reciprocated. Expedited processing of the visa application for some countries will generally incur additional charges.
Government authorities usually impose administrative entry restrictions on foreign citizens in three ways - countries whose nationals may enter without a visa, countries whose nationals may obtain a visa on arrival and countries whose nationals require a visa in advance. Nationals who require a visa in advance are usually advised to obtain them at a diplomatic mission of their destination country. Several countries allow nationals of countries that require a visa to obtain them online.
The following table lists visa policies of all countries by the number of foreign nationalities that may enter that country for tourism without a visa or by obtaining a visa on arrival with normal passport. It also notes countries that issue electronic visas to certain nationalities. Symbol "+" indicates a country that limits the visa-free regime negatively by only listing nationals who require a visa, thus the number represents the number of UN member states reduced by the number of nationals who require a visa and "+" stands for all possible non-UN member state nationals that might also not require a visa. "N/A" indicates countries that have contradictory information on its official websites and/or information supplied by the Government to IATA. Some countries that allow visa on arrival do so only at a limited number of entry points. Some countries such as the European Union member states have a qualitatively different visa regime between each other as it also includes freedom of movement.
(excl. electronic visas)
|Visa-free||Visa on arrival||Electronic visas||Notes|
|Antigua and Barbuda||100||100|
|Bangladesh||174+||25||All-20||Limited VOA locations.|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||79||79|
|Central African Republic||13||13|
|Republic of the Congo||13||0||13|
|Democratic Republic of the Congo||6||3||3|
|Ethiopia||42||2||40||Limited VOA locations.|
|India||3||3||1||150||Limited e-Tourist Visa locations.|
|Ireland||89||58||+31 EU/EEA/CH citizens.|
|Jordan||130||10||120||Limited VOA locations.|
|Lebanon||86||7||79||Entry is prohibited for holders of any passport regardless of nationality bearing a stamp or visa issued by Israel|
|Mozambique||194+||8||186+||Limited VOA locations.|
|Nepal||184+||1||183+||Limited VOA locations.|
|Papua New Guinea||70||0||70|
|Qatar||44||6||38||Limited VOA locations.|
|Saint Kitts and Nevis||102||102|
|Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||186+||0||All-8|
|São Tomé and Príncipe||45||45||0||149+|
|Schengen area||92||60||32 EU/EEA/CH citizens.|
|Svalbard||194+||194+||Part of Norway, not part of the Schengen Area, special open-border status under Svalbard Treaty. Completely visa-free to live and work indefinitely for every country of citizenship.|
|Timor-Leste||194+||30||All||Limited VOA locations.|
|Trinidad and Tobago||103||101||2|
|Tunisia||96||96||+11 for organized groups.|
|Turkey||78||78||0||43||e-Visas can also be obtained on arrival for a higher cost.|
|United Arab Emirates||55||37||18|
|United Kingdom||87||56||4||+31 EU/EEA/CH citizens.|
Possession of a valid visa is a condition for entry into many countries, and exemption schemes exist. In some cases visa-free entry may be granted to holders of diplomatic passports even as visas are required by normal passport holders (see: Passport).
Some countries have reciprocal agreements such that a visa is not needed under certain conditions, e.g., when the visit is for tourism and for a relatively short period. Such reciprocal agreements may stem from common membership in international organizations or a shared heritage:
Other countries may unilaterally grant visa-free entry to nationals of certain countries to facilitate tourism, promote business, or even to cut expenses on maintaining consular posts abroad.
Some of the considerations for a country to grant visa-free entry to another country include (but are not limited to):
To have a smaller worldwide diplomatic staff, some countries rely on other country's (or countries') judgments when issuing visas. For example, Mexico allows citizens of all countries to enter without Mexican visas if they possess a valid American visa that has already been used. Costa Rica accepts valid visas of Schengen/EU countries, Canada, Japan, South Korea and the United States (if valid for at least 3 months on date of arrival). The ultimate example of such reliance is Andorra which imposes no visa requirements of its own because it has no international airport and is inaccessible by land without passing through the territory of either France or Spain and is thus "protected" by the Schengen visa system.
Visa-free travel between countries also occurs in all cases where passports (or passport-replacing documents such as laissez-passer) are not needed for such travel. (For examples of passport-free travel, see International travel without passports.)
As of 2016, the Visa Restrictions Index ranks the German passport as the one with the most visa exemptions by other nations, allowing holders of this passport to visit 177 countries without obtaining a visa in advance of arrival.
Normally visas are valid for entry only into the country which issued the visa. Countries that are members of regional organizations or party to regional agreements may however issue visas valid for entry into some or all of the member states of the organization or agreement:
These schemes no longer operate.
During the Fascist period in Italy, an exit visa was required from 1922 to 1943. Nazi Germany required exit visas from 1933 to 1945. The Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies required exit visas both for emigration and for those who wanted to leave the USSR for a shorter period.
Some countries, including the Czech Republic, require that an alien who needs a visa on entry be in possession of a valid visa upon exit. To satisfy this formal requirement, exit visas sometimes need to be issued. Russia requires an exit visa if a visitor stays past the expiration date of their visa. They must then extend their visa or apply for an exit visa and are not allowed to leave the country until they show a valid visa or have a permissible excuse for overstaying their visa (e.g., a note from a doctor or a hospital explaining an illness, missed flight, lost or stolen visa). In some cases, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs can issue a Return-Home certificate that is valid for ten days from the embassy of the visitor's native country, thus eliminating the need for an exit visa.
A foreign citizen granted a temporary residence permit in Russia needs a temporary resident visa to take a trip abroad (valid for both exit and return). It is also colloquially called an exit visa. Not all foreign citizens are subject to that requirement. Citizens of Germany, for example, don't need this exit visa.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar have an exit visa requirement, particularly for foreign workers. This is part of the kafala system, also present in Lebanon, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Kuwait, and Oman. Consequently, at the end of a foreign worker's employment period, the worker must secure clearance from their employer stating that the worker has satisfactorily fulfilled the terms of their employment contract or that the worker's services are no longer needed. The exit visa can also be withheld if there are pending court charges that need to be settled or penalties that have to be meted out.
Nepal requires citizens emigrating to the United States on an H-1B visa to present an exit permit issued by the Ministry of Labour. This document is called a work permit and needs to be presented to immigration to leave the country.
The DPRK (North Korea) requires that its citizens obtain an exit visa stating the traveller's destination country and time to be spent abroad before leaving Pyongyang. Additionally, DPRK authorities also require that their citizens obtain a re-entry visa from a DPRK embassy or mission abroad before being allowed back into the DPRK.
The government of the People's Republic of China requires its citizens to obtain a Two-way Permit issued by the PRC authorities prior to their visit to the Chinese dependencies of Hong Kong or Macau. The Two-way Permit is a de facto exit visa for Hong Kong- or Macau-bound trips for PRC citizens.
|Pre-enlistment: 13 – 16.5 years of age||3+ months||Exit permit|
|2+ years||Exit permit + bond|
|Pre-enlistment: 16.5 years of age and older||3+ months||Registration, exit permit + bond|
|Full-time National Service||3+ months||Exit permit|
|Operationally-ready National Service||14+ days||Overseas notification|
|6+ months||National service unit approval + exit permit|
|Regular servicemen||3+ months||Exit permit, where Minimum Term of Engagement is not complete|
|6+ months||Exit permit|
Guatemala requires any person who is a permanent resident to apply for a multiple 5-year exit visa.
The United States of America does not require exit visas. However, the U.S. government has required all foreign and U.S. nationals departing the US by air to hold a valid passport (or certain specific passport replacing documents) since October 1, 2007. Even though travelers might not require a passport to enter a certain country, they will require a valid passport booklet (booklet only, U.S. Passport Card not accepted) to depart the U.S. in order to satisfy the U.S. immigration authorities. Exemptions to this requirement to hold a valid passport include:
In addition, green card holders and certain other aliens must obtain a certificate of compliance (also known as a "sailing permit" or "departure permit") from the Internal Revenue Service proving that they are up to date on their US income tax obligations, before they may leave the country. While the requirement has been in effect since 1921, it has not been stringently enforced, but the House Ways and Means Committee has recently considered it as a way to increase tax revenues.
Henley & Partners annually compiles a Visa Restrictions Index, which ranks countries according to openness of their visa restrictions and visa requirements. The index is based on the International Air Transport Association database.
|Rank||Ordinary Passport country||Number of territories allowing entry without a visa or issuing a visa on arrival|
|3||Finland, France, Italy, Spain, United Kingdom||175|
|4||Belgium, Denmark, The Netherlands, United States||174|
|5||Austria, Japan, Singapore||173|
|6||Canada, Ireland, Luxembourg, Norway, Portugal, South Korea, Switzerland||172|
|7||Greece, New Zealand||171|
|10||Czech Republic, Hungary, Iceland||167|
The World Tourism Organization in its Visa Openness Report concluded that the 30 countries whose citizens were least affected by visa restrictions in 2015 were (based on the data compiled by the UNWTO, based on information from national official institutions):
|Rank||Country||Mobility index (out of 215 with no visa weighted by 1, visa on arrival weighted by 0.7, eVisa by 0.5 and traditional visa weighted by 0)|
|1||Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Singapore, United Kingdom||160|
|8||France, Japan Netherlands, South Korea, Sweden, United States||159|
|14||Belgium, Canada, Ireland, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland||158|
|21||Austria, Greece, Malta||157|
|24||Czech Republic, New Zealand||156|
|26||Hungary, Iceland, Malaysia||155|
The world average score in 2015 was 89, among advanced economies the average score was 154 and among emerging economies, 73 (Russia scored 93, India 50 and China 46).
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