The Beginner’s Handbook to Travel Visas.
While the process for getting a travel visa is often a simple set of logical steps, in practice, actually following the steps can be terribly impractical. Very much “easier said than done”. Travel visas are a stressful component of the travel experience. The issue with travel visas is that there is no one issue, but a diverse group of hiccups that plague travellers at every turn. In light of this, here’s a comprehensive guide. Seems doable? Let’s go!
Understanding the Current State of the Travel Visa Process.
What is a travel visa?
Travel visas, put simply, are the requirements necessary to enter a country for a short-term stay. Essentially, it’s a type of clearance to enter, and it can come in a few forms: getting a stamp in your passport, paying a fee when you arrive, getting a physical sticker in your passport before travelling, or having your clearance electronically linked to your passport. There are different kinds of travel visas, but the main forms are a “traditional” embassy visa (this is the hard one everyone first thinks of), visa-on-arrival, and an eVisa (electronic visa).
Who needs a travel visa?
Here’s the million dollar question. The clearance needed to enter varies between countries. More complicated is the fact that different passports have different requirements for entering the same country. For example, some travellers may not require a visa at all to enter Argentina, while others will have to pay fees on arrival (*cough, Canadians*), and others may be required to get their clearance before entering the country. Sometimes, airlines won’t let a traveller on a plane if they do not have the right clearance.
How do I apply for a travel visa?
Well, it depends on the country you’re travelling from and the passport you’re using to travel. The official way to find out is to go to the website for the embassy or consulate of the country you are visiting. This website will list what a traveller with your passport will need to enter the country for a short stay. These websites are typically up-to-date and the only “official” source for immigration/border information.
Traditionally, many travel visas require the traveller to submit a passport sized photo, fill out paperwork by hand, and mail away their passport to the embassy to be processed for a fee. In some cases, travellers have to show up in person with these documents, wait in line, and submit their application. It’s not the most fun way to spend a day — that’s for sure.
What is an eVisa?
Realizing that the lengthy process involved in processing travel visas doesn’t attract tourists, some governments have moved to what is known as an eVisa. An eVisa or “e-Visa” or ETA (electronic travel authority) is just that — an electronic visa. The traveller submits all the same basic information online and the application is processed online. The traveller’s clearance to the country is either connected electronically to the traveller’s passport, or the traveller is sent an email to print out and physically show at the border when they arrive.
Australia was the first country to adopt the Electronic Travel Authority in 1996 and has seen success in promoting tourism and decreasing related costs otherwise allocated to processing travel visas. Sri Lanka, Turkey, India, and most recently Vietnam all have some form of eVisa. But did you know that Georgia, Bahrain, Azerbaijan all offer eVisas as well?! Even cooler is the fact that Brazil is moving to an eVisa for Americans, Canadians, Australians, and Japanese passport holders. This is huge news considering the current process for getting a travel visa for Brazil includes a visit to the embassy closest to you.
How much do travel visas cost?
Again, this depends on the country you’re travelling to, how you are applying, and how fast you need your travel visa. Applying for an eTA (Electronic Travel Authority) to Canada costs $7 CAD and is done entirely online. Applying for a Brazilian travel visa as an American, however, requires you to send away your passport via mail and fork over $160 USD. Expedited processing — having your visa processed faster — can increase these fees 2x or 3x the standard fee, depending on what you’re paying for and where the processing happens.
While you would think official government processing fees are standardized — think again. In recent years, travellers have had issues that include embassies quoting different processing prices in the same country and paying higher fees than expected at the border when travellers have opted to get their travel visa through the “Visa on Arrival” route.
How do I find out what travel visa I need?
Finding the right information — on the right website — is where we begin to run into travel chaos. If you type “do I need a visa to Country X?” into Google, the official embassy website can be buried among visa services or fake websites that mimic the real websites. Years ago, the Government of Cambodia even released a statement warning travellers to only use officially listed websites, as other sites had been set up to lure tourists to visa payment portals on near copies of the government site.
For example, India has an official website to apply for the Indian eVisa. Funny enough, in 2017 there are websites set up that look shockingly similar to the layout and colour of the real website. These sites will get you the legitimate eVisa needed, but often for a higher price than is posted by the Indian Government. In the end, some travellers are able to find the correct websites and apply for their travel visas with little to no issue.
The overarching issue, however, is that no major stakeholder in the travel space wants to solve the problem, nor do they have the capacity to do so. For tour companies, booking agents, airlines, and travel industry leaders — dealing with travel visas is a confusing, bureaucratic mess that, put eloquently, is not straightforward. No one wants to be to blame for when it goes wrong and someone misses a trip. Understandably so.
Could I use third-party visa services?
Having the up-to-date information and taking on the liability of submitting visa applications is precisely where the current solutions to the visa problem are targeted: Third-party visa services. Companies that are a “one-stop shop” for the information, the processing, the payment portal, and the travel visa are currently the backbone of the travel visa industry. While a few, like VisaHQ, are credible and offer a good service, many rely on misinformation to lure travellers in.
Remember the multiple Indian eVisa websites?
Often we see titles like “Official Service for Visas to Country X” on websites, only to read a small disclaimer on the bottom of the page stating, “we are not affiliated with the official government site”. If it is a third-party visa company website stating they are somehow “official”, it is always incorrect. The only “official” visa service is the actual government website of the destination country.
Furthermore, many of the third party companies grew and capitalized on the expansion of the internet in the early 2000s. As such, their services are legitimate, but their information can be outdated, their interfaces aren’t user-friendly, and their prices can be substantially higher than a traveller processing their visa through the government website on their own. For example, as of 2016, the Government of Canada warned foreign travellers about websites that were charging up to 17x the cost for the newly introduced eTA to Canada.
How useful is travel visa knowledge by word-of-mouth?
Another way travellers gain their travel visa information is to research on their own or ask other travellers for advice. We’ve all done it. Someone mentions they are travelling to a country you’ve previously visited and immediately you’re an expert on what they should do. It’s human nature to offer assistance to friends about travel based on your experiences.
The same goes for travel visas.
The issue with this method is that the information you get is often not correct in that particular instance. Researching for visa information on forums like TripAdvisor or in Facebook groups are a helpful starting point, but quickly become irrelevant when the visa advice to a destination country was for a traveller that doesn’t hold your passport.
While some countries have a similar visa process for many citizenships, the case isn’t always true. Australia processes a tourist eTA for many citizenships entering the country, but only 40 citizenships can currently apply for an eVisa when entering Vietnam. It’s important to find the correct and up-to-date information for the passport you’re travelling with.
So, just how do I get a travel visa?
This brings us back to the original inquiry. Whether you’re a seasoned globetrotter or a first-time flyer, it’s important to understand the travel visa space. Travel visas have been a very awkward part of the travel experience for years, but all that is changing as we speak. The process is becoming easier, clearer, and travellers are becoming more informed when it comes to visa scams and illegitimate practices.
We suggest TWO main ways to get your travel visa.
Travel eVisa Official Website Index (Alphabetical By Country)
If you’re looking to tackle travel visas on your own, we’ve made it easy. These countries are listed to provide travellers the official government portals to apply for their travel visas. We’ve chosen to focus on the countries offering some form of eVisa, or “electronic version” of the entry clearance. As you can see, more and more countries are moving to this system.
These are broken down into real eVisas (ones you have to print out, get scanned at the border, and you use for tourism, etc) as well as ETAs (these are clearances where they are linked to your passport and you often don’t have to print anything because the government knows you’re coming kinda deal). Since we know about them, we also included the “Reciprocity Fee” for Argentina, and the Schengen Visa – since it’s such a popular visa for many citizenships.
Before you click, just know that some of these sites are not the prettiest, most user-friendly websites around. Half the issue is that even if you find this site on your own, you may think they aren’t real. Trust us, we worked in the travel visa space – these are the legitimate government sites.
Also, please note: these websites are intended to provide visa advice to the best of our ability. Often times, you’ll be able to see if your passport is able to apply for that particular eVisa and at the very least you’ll be on the official websites and not some trip forum. If your passport is not listed by the government site and you aren’t eligible for an eVisa or ETA, it’s likely you will have to:
- Apply at an embassy before you leave.
- You will be able to get a visa on arrival.
- You do not need a visa for entry.
**Just PLEASE check the requirements thoroughly on the official websites for the best information. **
Argentina – Paying the Reciprocity Fee for Entry into Argentina
If you’re Canadian or American, you’re required to pay a fee to enter Argentina. You can find the website here. Australians had to but as of July 1, 2017 the fee has been waived. You must pay the fee online and print out a receipt with a bar code that must be brought to the border upon arrival into Argentina.
Side note: We are travelling to Argentina in January of 2018 so writing this article helped Eric figure out what the hell he needs to do to pay this fee. We’ll keep you posted about the experience and write a whole post about it!
You can check if you need an eVisa for Armenia by clicking on the government website, choosing your citizenship, and solving a captcha The website looks brand new and runs really smoothly – from what we can tell! Click here to check if you’re eligible for an eVisa to Armenia.
While mostly all visitors to Australia use some form of electronic entry, only a handful of passport holders are eligible to apply for an ETA to Australia. The ETA is simply authorization that is linked to the traveller’s passport identification number. These citizenships include:
- Brunei Darussalam
- Hong Kong (SAR PRC)
- South Korea
- United States
To visit the website, click here for the Official Government Site for the Australian ETA.
If you need to apply for an eVisa to Azerbaijan, you can click on the Official Government website.
To check the eligibility requirements for the citizenships that need an eVisa, click here for the Official Government Website to apply for the Bahrain eVisa.
Brazil – Applying for the NEW Brazilian eVisa
Up until 2017, visitors to Brazil had to go to embassy, but that is changing as they implement an eVisa. Australians are the first to be able to apply (November 21st). The link to the website to apply for the Brazilian eVisa through VFS, a huge and trustworthy global visa service. It seems Brazil doesn’t have their government portal fully up and running on their own YET, but I’m sure they will.
Next up to try the eVisa is Canadian passport holders on January 8th, 2018. American passport holders can get a Brazilian eVisa on January 15th, 2018, and finally Japanese passport holders can get their eVisa to Brazil on January 22nd, 2018. We will keep you posted!
Getting an eVisa for Cambodia can be easy if you’re able to apply for an eVisa. Click here for the Official Government Site for Cambodian eVisa.
Visa-exempt foreign nationals need to apply for an eTA when they are arriving into Canada or transiting into Canada by air. The eTA is linked to the traveller’s passport and is valid for five years, or until the passport expires, whichever comes first. To check if you need to apply, or to apply, you can find the Official Website for the Government of Canada here.
Heading to Côte D’Ivoire? You might need an eVisa. You can apply for one through the Official Website for Côte D’Ivoire.
We included this visa because while Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda all have a separate eVisa scheme, if you’re travelling between them you can save time by applying for this visa to cover all three. Click here to apply for the East Africa eVisa.
**Please note that we read somewhere that to apply for the eVisa you’ll need to apply through the government website of the country you are starting with. For example, if you’re travelling to Rwanda and Uganda, and you’re starting your trip in Uganda – you’ll have to apply for the East Africa eVisa as an option through Uganda’s visa website (which we list below).**
News Flash for tourists! In June 2017, Ethiopia launched an eVosa system that serves Canadians, Americans, and a variety of other Western/European Countries. It’s only single-entry and valid if you fly into Addis Ababa Bole International Airport – but it’s a great step in the right direction to improving ease of border relations with many nations. Click here for the Official Government Site for the Ethiopian eVisa
Unfortunately, at the time of writing (Fall 2017) the official website is down. If you need to find it, you can click it here.
This is a very tricky eVisa if you’re using the website, so we are preparing a comprehensive guide to understanding the Indian eVisa very very soon! Click here for the Official Government Site for the Indian eVisa.
A beautiful country in East Africa that boasts some of the best wildlife in the world. Click here for the Official Government Site for getting your eVisa to Kenya.
Many citizenships are eligible to apply for an eVisa to Kuwait. You can find the government site here to apply for a Kuwaiti eVisa.
You can click here for the official government website for the Kyrgyzstan eVisa.
The eVisa for Malaysia is only needed for a handful of citizenships – Indian, Chinese, Myanmar, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka. The official site for Malaysia can be accessed here.
The government site to apply for an eVisa to Moldova is here.
Click here for the Official Government Site for the Myanmar eVisa.
Getting a tourist visa to Russia is among one of the notoriusly more difficult visas to obtain. They require a varuety fo documentation like your hotel providing a letter of invitation, among many, many more.
That said, even the Russian Government is trying out an eVisa system. You can check out the portal here. It’s available ONLY at the free port of Vladivostok and for only a handful of citizenships, but it’s certainly a HUGE step in the right direction to making the visa process to Russia that much smoother in the future. Go Russia!
Click here to apply for the Rwanda eVisa. Remember, if you’re travelling to Kenya or Uganda, you might want to consider just getting the East Africa eVisa – which we discuss above!
Click here for the Official Government Site for the Turkish eVisa. If you’re American, you might be aware that in Fall of 2017, diplomatic relations between the two countries deteriorated and Americans are no longer able to apply for the eVisa to Turkey.
São Tomé and Príncipe
Most Western nations have visa-free, but some require an eVisa. Warning – this website is not great. If you need it, click here to get your eVisa to São Tomé and Príncipe.
In the future, we will be linking to a blog post exclusively about the Schengen Visa, and more broader, understanding the Schengen Zone as a Canadian, American, Australian, etc. Click here to learn more about and apply for the Schengen Visa.
This is a heavily used eTA since basically every citizenship needs a Sri Lankan eTA to visit for business, tourism, or a cruise (Transit eTA). We’ve written a step-by-step guide (with screenshots) to help you apply for the Sri Lanka ETA – you can check it out here. We link to the official Government of Sri Lanka Site in our post but if you’re looking for it now here is the link.
St.Kitts and Nevis
If you need an eVisa for St.Kitts, it can be done online here.
Click here to apply for a eVisa to Uganda. Again, if you’re heading to more countries in East Africa – you could get an East African eVisa.
United Arab Emirates
This one is a little more specific. Most Western countries are eligible for visa on arrival, but there’s a weird system in place where visitors that are relatives of UAE Nationals need an eVisa before they arrive. You can read more about it here.
United States of America
Similar to the Canadian eTA, the United States ESTA is an electronic clearance for visa waiver eligible countries. Click here for the Official Government Site for the United States ESTA.
Click here for the Official Government Site for the Vietnam eVisa. Currently, this pilot program is only for 40 citizenships, but we’re sure it will expand in the coming months.
Click here to enter the Zimbabwe eVisa portal. Only citizenships categorized as “Class C” need to apply for an eVisa before arrival. Canadians, Americans, most European countries etc can get a visa on entry.
Luckily for us — it’s not all gloom and doom when it comes to travel visas. As we move towards a time when travellers and the travel industry are turning more and more to travel related tech and apps, it’s only fair to assume that the world of travel visas will continue to follow a similar trajectory. Besides, it can often be difficult to sift through all the visa information out there.
The best advice we can give is to do your research and be critical of where you enter your personal and credit card information. If you’re unsure, consult a reputable service, or don’t hesitate to send an email, or pick up a phone and call your local embassy or consulate for information about heading to another country. You can also leave us a comment below if you have any questions. Travel visas don’t have to be scary — and with the right information in your hands you can tackle your next adventure confidently.
As always, Happy Waddlin’!
– L & E