As anyone who has ever gone on holiday abroad will know, getting a visa can be as crucial as booking plane tickets. Some countries grant visas fairly easily, but others are much more difficult, and the associated costs can sometimes end up increasing the overall price of your trip substantially. The cost of a visa depends completely on where you live, where you’re travelling, how long you’ll spend there, and the reason for your trip.
With political organisations like the European Union pushing for visa-free travel, some have questioned whether visas will soon be outdated. However, the reality is that visas remain essential in many ways, for holidaymakers and governments alike.
Why you need a visa to travel
While you need your passport for identification purposes whenever you travel abroad, visas are designed to keep track of who is entering and exiting a country, and the purpose of their stay. For any application, you will need to disclose your reason for visiting, and in some cases, your arrival and departure dates.
Governments can refuse visas to applicants if they don’t meet the basic requirements, or even if details are missing from the application. The USA, for example, often refuses entry to visitors with criminal records, or those who have previously been arrested. In these cases, the cost of a visa application is not refunded.
Not providing enough information in your documents also puts you at risk of being denied a visa. Information such as itineraries, hotel bookings, and confirmation emails may be required, and if you forget to include this, your application can be rejected. As you need to pay for every visa application you make, it’s important to carefully read through the requirements, and provide copies of all documents you need. Your previous travels are also taken into consideration, so if you have previously stayed longer than your visa allowed, it could affect your new application.
Apply in plenty of time, so that if there are any issues with your first application, you have time to put together a new one before your holiday. Depending on which visa you’re applying for, the process can take up to a month, so planning ahead is crucial.
While the process of getting a visa can be frustrating, it’s ultimately important for the security of the country you’re visiting. Without an accurate record of who has entered a country and why, anything from theft to smuggling to international terrorism could take place without the relevant authorities being aware and able to help stop them.
How you can get visa-free travel
Travelling without a visa is a privilege that comes with your citizenship, and is solely dependent on the relationships between the governments of your home country and the country you hope to visit. This often allows you to skip past lengthy registration procedures, and means you don’t have to pay the fee for a visa application. As CS Global Partners explain, the benefits of visa-free travel include not having to fill out forms or share confidential information, and having the freedom to travel on a whim. Depending on your nationality and the passport you have, you may qualify for lifelong visas, or be able to increase the number of countries between which you can travel freely.
For example, India offers OCI (Overseas Citizenship of India) cards to Indians who are not citizens of the country. This grants the holder a lifelong visa, and is dependent on whether they have previously held an Indian passport, or whether their parents, or grandparents were born in India.
Wealthier individuals have even started investing in second citizenship through government-led schemes. By simply investing in a government contribution fund, real estate, bonds, or a business in the chosen country, they are able to gain citizenship and take advantage of the visa-free travel this offers. There are a few different countries that offer a citizenship by investment scheme, and some of the more popular passports include Dominica, St Kitts and Nevis, and Grenada.
More countries are offering less stringent visa requirements
According to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), international tourism grew by 7% in 2017, reaching 1.32 billion, which is the highest level in seven years. To account for the growing number of global travellers, some countries are starting to change their visa requirements to make it easier for tourists to enter the country. Visas for China, for example, can be difficult to apply for, and it’s generally recommended to apply via Chinese consulates. However, Beijing recently announced plans to permit visa-free travel to the southern island of Hainan, in a move to promote international tourism. This would allow travellers from 59 countries to visit the island visa-free for 30 days, to assist with the development to make the island a “centre of international tourism consumption”.
Football fans hoping to visit Russia for the 2018 FIFA World Cup can also enjoy visa-free travel for a limited period of time. The government announced that visa-free travel would last from 10 days before that start of the World Cup up until 10 days after the final, which is a generous window considering a Russian visa is notoriously difficult to obtain. However, this offer is only available for FIFA World Cup ticket holders, and fans must apply for a FAN ID card, and carry it with them at all times.
While it may seem that more countries are opening up their borders than ever before, having a visa is still a crucial requirement for security purposes, and it seems highly unlikely that any of these countries will do away with visas altogether anytime in the foreseeable future. It might be easier to get a visa now in some countries, but the level of security they offer means that they’re not going to be made redundant any time soon.