Do you need a visa for a country or not?
When do you need a visa to travel somewhere?
How to know whether or not you are visa-free for a country?
On Internet, I often come across questions like this.
Do I need a Schengen visa? Do US citizens need visa for the UK? Do Indians need a visa for Sri Lanka? Do I need a visa to travel to Europe? What are the countries that don’t need visa for USA?
The truth is that if you don’t hold a fancy, powerful passport, you would be scratching your head while rummaging through tourist visa requirements. There is a lot of information on the internet, but scrubbing through all that could be a lot to take and often, you need to make decisions fast. But even those who have powerful passports like citizens of EU countries, the United States, Canada, Australia even are not sure always.
After being an expat for 4 years, and travelling and living and working in three different countries, if there is something that I have learned is this: There is no one, absolutely no one who can tell you the whole story. There are times when even consular officers and diplomats are clueless about the rules.
But that doesn’t mean you are lost. If it’s out there, there is a way to find it. And as per my vows to break down visa facts to simpler, easy-to-read snippets, here it is.
1.The Visa Project
Throughout the years of my travelling, I have applied for a lot of visas. So have my friends and people known to me. And we have written our
experiences for everyone to read. The whole reason First Person section exists, is to give everyone a real, human perspective of what happens during a visa process rather than throwing some links or parroting some googled info.
You can get a general idea about the tourist visa requirements such as the eligibility, documentations, processing time and visa fees etc. And more than everything else, you can get a personalized perspective of things that might go wrong and things that make a difference.
2. Visa Requirements on IATA Travel Centre
A one-stop shop with no wrong answers (hopefully) when it comes to tourist visa requirements? Well, that’s IATA.
International Air Transport Association or IATA is the trade association of the world’s airlines. Some 290 airlines are part of this association. IATA Travel center provides travelers with accurate and up-to-date international travel restrictions and requirements based on your citizenship and other details. No matter which country you are from, they got the answer.
Here is the result of my search for visa requirements for Indian citizens traveling to Russian Federation.
3. Website of the Consulate or Embassy of a Country
An embassy or a consulate is a diplomatic mission of a country in another country. Depending on the country you are in, another country might or might not have a consulate/ embassy in your country. For example, the embassy of Peru in India is accredited to Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and the Maldives.
Find out if there is a consulate of a foreign country in your country’s capital or any other city. Go over the consulate website and see if they have listed down the tourist visa requirements for your country and the procedure to apply for a visa. Sometimes, it might be a little hard to find, but they usually have it. But if it so happens that they don’t, jump to the ‘contact us’ section, and find their email or the phone number. Write to them or give them a call, and ask them about the visa info you are looking for.
4. Consulates of the Same Country in Different Cities
Ok, this might sound weird, but in practice, often the consulates of the same foreign country might not be in sync. The reason ranging from the lack of a centralized database to administrative roadblocks.
Let me give you an example. When I was trying to verify whether I could apply for a tourist visa for Peru when I was travelling in Bolivia, I reached out to the consulates of Peru in Santa Cruz and in La Paz. While the Peruvian consulate in Santa Cruz straightaway told me that I could only apply for the visa from India since I was an Indian citizen, the consulate in La Paz told me I could apply for the visa there. I applied for it and got it. Here is the article if you wanna have a look.
5. Find out Visa Requirements on Wikipedia
While Wikipedia might not be the best or most reliable source of truth when it comes knowing when do you need a visa to travel, it often contains up-to-date information about the same. And you can get the general idea of which all countries you could go to without needing a visa or which all countries dish out a visa on arrival or an e-visa to you for that matter.
6. Project Visa
Project visa is very useful when it comes to information related to visa, embassies and consulates. You can find the addresses and contact details of the embassies and consulates of a country as well as those of other countries in that country.
7. Find If You Need a Visa on TIMATIC
TIMATIC (Travel Information Manual Automatic) is an
international database containing cross border passenger documentation requirements.
All airlines and travel agents use the database of TIMATIC to verify tourist visa requirements. If they do not (which unfortunately does happen), there will be the devil to pay. The immigration authorities are the ones to call the shots and they don’t take things lightly.
TIMATIC database is managed by International Air Transport Association (IATA). Airlines and travel agents integrate this database with theirs. Here is the TIMATIC interface of United Airlines. You can check the visa requirements here as well.
8. Website of Emirates Airlines
Emirates often ranks among the best five airlines in the world. There are plenty of reasons behind that. But did you know that you could check about what countries do you need a visa for and visa requirements on their website as well?
While Emirates is a part of IATA, and the visa information that you could find here is based on information provided by IATA, on the Emirates website, you can search for it faster. And to top it off, it tells you whether you need a transit visa as well. That’s why Emirates has a special mention on this article.
9. Official Tourism Websites of a Country
Now a days, pretty much every country serious about tourism has an official tourism website. The catch is to find the official ones. Those websites would usually have a section or article about the visa requirements, and often links to redirect you to the right place where you could apply for the visa.
For example, here is the visa section of Indonesia’s tourism website.
10. Facebook Groups for Visas or Expats
While the information about tourist visas might be readily available here and there, you often hit a road block when it comes to the other kinds. Wanna get a volunteer visa to volunteer in an NGO in Peru? A work visa to teach English in Japan? How about a retirement visa to live the rest of your life in Thailand? That information is often not so handy.
That’s when Facebook groups come handy. Find out the expat groups in Facebook and ask the right questions. For example, if you want to find out about certain kinds of visas that Colombia gives out to expats, the Colombian expats group will be a good place to start.
Since the tourist visa requirements change frequently, you have to be in the know-how and you have to do your research really well. No one wants to be turned back by an airlines agent or get deported. It’s not just the monetary losses you suffer, but think about the pickle you would find yourself in.
Oh, and do not forget to carry printouts for reference. Remember that airline staff and immigration officials mess things up every now and then, since they are human beings after all. They very well might not be aware that you don’t need a visa to visit a certain country. Carrying evidence from TIMATIC/ IATA will make them take you seriously in a conflicting situation and cross check the information.
Any other reliable source that you know of? Let me know and I will add it to the list.