Visa Process – Timelines

In a prior post, I mentioned how most countries do not require a visa just to visit. But some do. Some examples include Bolivia, India, Russia (& most of the former Soviet Republics), Cambodia, Vietnam. This post will set your expectations about getting a tourist visa for those countries.
Filling out Paperwork, Paperwork, Paperwork
Needing a visa doesn’t mean someone does it for you. You’ll need to fill out a visa application.

Yes, every country has its own visa application form. The form could be available online or you must visit the nearest embassy. Nothing is standard across all forms. And you’d better fill it out as it’s expected.

What Does The Visa Application Ask?
Just “name, rank & serial number” would be nice, but don’t count on it.

Generalizing here, but as a minimum, you will provide:
Name, nationality, birthday, passport number, address (both yours and where you’ll stay) and contact information like phone number/fax/e-mail (both yours and where you’ll stay), why and for how long you expect to stay

You may also be asked your marital status, your occupation and employment history. Some countries even ask you to write a short, personal essay explaining why you want to see their country!

After finishing the form, it is also common to provide:
Bank statement or proof of financial support, a copy of HIV vaccinations, confirmation or invitation from a local hotel or friend (both cases sometimes called your “sponsor” and copies of your hotel confirmation & return flight.
Tack on 1 or 2 passport photos and you’re all set!

Why so personal? They want to ensure you not only intend to visit, but you intend to leave, too.

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Paying for Permission to Visit
Well, of course we have to pay. And of course, payments are always “non-refundable and subject to change without notice.” {shrug}
Now, you may be thinking about the poor desk clerk who has to handle all this. You’re paying for his time, right? No, actually in modern countries, visa processing is outsourced. Those 3rd party services are the most expensive portion of your fees.

On top of that, expect to pay for consular fees and postage to send it back to you, typically performed by some private courier like FedEx or DHL.
How much you ask? Could be anything from $15 (Australia) to $130+ (Bolivia, Chile, Brazil). Typical is $30-$50. Is it fair? Well, unlike the price, that answer is negotiable.

Recall that visas and their respective fees are typically reciprocity for the same requirement placed on their citizens. Visas are commonly required because it’s tit-for-tat for them. That helps explain why a country has different visa fees for different visitors.

Take the USA for example. Their site clearly has the attitude “Well, they do to us, so we do it to them” (“however, when a foreign government imposes such fees on U.S. citizens for certain types of visas, the United States will impose a “reciprocal” fee to nationals of that country…“)

What Does It Matter Why I Am Going?
If you’re entering a foreign country and you need permission to enter that foreign country, then it’s reasonable to expect them to be curious why you are entering that foreign country. Yes?

If you are visiting their zoo and miniature toy museum, then you’re a tourist. Prepare for the easiest visa process.
If you are going to sell or for negotiations, then you are on a business trip. Expect questions such as “Are you bringing any goods? Will they stay?”
If anything else, e.g. work, study, adoption, immigration, then you can expect much more paperwork.

Mark your answers wisely.

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How Long Does it Take?!?
Time to approve a tourist visas differs. (no surprise, right?)
First, the fastest… to visit Australia, we Americans do need a visa. And Americans need just 30 seconds.
Wow, the necessary tourist visa takes 30 seconds to approve! That is, if you use their Electronic Travel Authority (ETA). For Americans who typically demand fast gratification, that’s a welcome visa process!

Unfortunately, the vast majority of countries take far longer.

I made pictures of my tourist visas to India and Russia. India took about 2 weeks and Russia took 1 week.
Keep in mind, here in Prague, I live only a 5 minute walk away from the Russian embassy, so I knew of the morning lines. I was prepared for waiting a couple hours per visit. I was prepared for the the paperwork that reminded me of the Soviet Union. But after all was filed properly, I got it after 1 week.

A sharp contrast from my buddy, Bill, who after 3 weeks, still didn’t get his visa & passport mailed to him. I felt bad, but I left for Moscow without him.

My tribute video to Bill.

How to shorten the time?
Call into the embassy and check the visa’s approval status. These people are human. They surf the web, too. They forget things. Call after 3 or 4 days to check its status. Call again if its been 2 weeks.
If you don’t live near the embassy, factor in the time for the courier to deliver your passport back.
And, as my friend Bill above can testify to, do not depend on their “expedited service!”

Anything else?
Speaking of time, be sure your passport is good for long enough after the visa should expire.
I’ll use Chile as the example again. Your passport must be good for minimum 90 days after expected departure, else no visa granted.
Most countries have a US embassy which offers “expedited passport services” if you get in a jam while visiting. But think about that … do you really want to surrender your passport and fate to government processing while you’re traveling?
Also – be sure to have two blank pages left in your passport. A very standard request, but often overlooked if a tourist travels enough.
I can’t stress enough to do your own homework for a specific country. Prime example is Russia. They have special demands on sponsorship and things like migration cards that make even a well-seasoned traveler cringe.

I want to repeat two big points I said in the beginning:

  • This post talks about the short-term visa. Another post to come for extended stay or long-term visa (like to work or stay over 90 days).
  • It’s very important to do your own homework.

As Americans, you can feel (somewhat) secure that your own Department of State has the latest info. Check this site to get the latest on your specific destination.

Sure hope this was helpful to somebody. Let me know

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An American who likes to move around. I now live on the eastern Canadian seaboard. My job? A stay-at-home dad for two cute but demanding bosses. My wife? Also cute; not so demanding. My wife and I both love travel. We met in South Korea, travelled across Australia, India, Europe and beyond. We lived in Czech Republic for four years. Many stories to tell and experience to share. If you let me, I will help you travel as we do. Enjoy.

One thought on “Visa Process – Timelines”

  1. What are unacceptable reasons for visiting a country? What if mainly I don’t like my government and culture? I need to list all my reasons such as wanting to share my faith?

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