When visas are important

To a backpacker, a visa is the country’s governments way of collecting a tax off of foreigners who want to visit and a way of getting more money from them if they stay over their time limit. Officially, it is a means of governmental control to ensure they screen whoever enters into their country, limit what they can do, and limit the length of stay. Overall, it’s just some extra work that you are going to have to do to enter into the country.

A visa is often a full page sticker that a country’s consulate will place on a blank page within your passport. Its purpose is to give the border guards clear information on: when you are allowed to cross into their country, how long you are able to stay in the country, and place restrictions on your activities (being able to work, go to school, etc).

Finding out if you require a visa is part of your research when you decide to cross over into another country. If you have to get a Visa or specifying which types of visas you are eligible for is completely up to that country’s local government. Go on the Internet and check with your country’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) for that particular country’s entrance requirements. Don’t rely on your guidebook’s stated entry requirements. Depending on how a specific country feels towards another will dictate what is required. They may change suddenly and without warning. There are several different types of visas you can apply for. The following is a list of visas that are commonly used by backpackers.

Transit: This means that you are passing through the country and not planning on staying any particular period of time. This visa is usually valid for one or two nights. Most times they enforce that you must enter via one border crossing and leave via a different one. If the country has strict entry requirements, such as you have to have an invite in or a pre-booked accommodation and haven’t done that, use this visa. It will get you a small taste of the country and let you into the next country on your route.

Tourist single entry: This is the most common visa that allows you to enter once through one border crossing, stay for a specific allotment of time, and leave via the same or different border crossing. You can leave through any border crossing to another country that you like, even the one you came in from. If you want to go back into the country, you will need to purchase another visa.

Tourist multiple entries: You are allowed to leave the country and then return without needing to reapply for a visa. These tend to be more expensive than single entry visas. If you know that your travels will take you back to this country, a tourist multiple entry visa is the more cost effective.

Student: You are allowed to attend school in that country, but not to work.

Work: You are allowed to seek employment in the country. These are usually hard to get, take a long time to be processed and cost a fair bit. Many times you have to be sponsored by a company that can prove that you have the skill sets to do the job and no one else in their country can. You have to apply for this visa while in your own country.

Residency: You are allowed to live in the country, go to school, and work. Being backpackers, we never get these visas.

Once you have determined that you need a visa, there are several steps you have to take before you can finally get that visa in your passport. On average it takes me one to three days before I receive a visa from a consulate.

Start by researching the entry requirements for the country. Check out the destination country’s website since it is important to know the rules on how to get into to the country. In general, to apply for a visa you are required to produce two passport photos, your passport, a completed form, and money. For stricter countries, you may need to be ‘invited in’ by someone who is already a resident of that country, produce specific travel insurance or have your travel itinerary prebooked in advance.

Once you have gathered the required items and information, you have to find your destination country consulate in your current country. The consulates are usually located in one of your current country’s major cities. Your guidebook and the Internet are great resources to find the location and operating hours of a specific consulate. Make a note of the operating hours, some are open strange hours and can be a little frustrating if you finally find the place and it’s closed. When you finally arrive at the consulate, you will have to fill out a couple forms stating your personal information and intention for entering into the country. They will ask you to surrender or “give” your passport to them. Make sure you get a receipt. You will need to present the receipt to them to get your passport back. The process usually takes a couple of days. If you are in rush and need a passport faster, many of them offer rush services where they can have the visa done for you while you wait. This usually costs a premium. If you want to be lazy and spend some extra money, you can

let a hotel or travel agency do it for you. It does take a bit longer and you have to trust them with your passport. What they do is have you fill out all the necessary forms in the comfort of your hostel/hotel and then have someone go to the consulate and apply for your visas. Once the passports are ready to be collected, the agent will go to the consulate, pick up the passports and drive back and hopefully find you. You will have to pay the standard visa processing fee plus extra for the service. I would strongly recommend against this. Always do it yourself. Never be caught in a foreign country without your passport!