International travel often requires a visa — a document granted by a host country that authorizes a visitor to pass through, or remain within its borders, for a specified purpose and duration of time.
Visas are by nature conditional, limiting applicants by citizenship, duration or time of stay, purpose of visit, or permitted activities (for instance, the right to work). Visas can be issued in multiple formats: a sticker applied to a traveler’s passport, a paper travel document, or an electronic record.
Many countries have reciprocal agreements that allow citizens from participating nations to travel without a visa. The United States and Canada, for example, do not require visas from the other country’s citizens. Similarly, the 26 Schengen states in Europe have eliminated immigration and customs control along their shared borders.
It’s also common for countries not to require a visa for short visits. The best resource for visa information can be found at your destination’s embassy or consulate website.
If you do need a visa for an upcoming trip, you'll almost certainly have to pay. Fees can range from $50 to $200. Though some visas are available immediately, other application processes can take weeks, or even months. For this reason, it’s always best to check visa requirements well ahead of your departure date.
The U.N.’s World Tourism Organization announced that 2015 marked the lowest ever level of tourists who require a visa before traveling: 39 percent of the world can travel as tourists without visas. In 2008, that number was only 23 percent. But you might be surprised by some of the countries that still require visas.
All foreign travelers to India need a valid visa to enter and remain in the country. Tourists from 160 countries who plan to stay for less than 30 days may apply for an e-visa online. All other travelers must apply for a visa at their local Indian embassy or consulate.
All foreign travelers to Australia require some kind of advance approval, whether or not a formal visa is required. An Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) admits visitors to Australia for tourism or business purposes for up to 90 days.
Most travelers to Vietnam require a tourist visa. There are exceptions: citizens from several European countries may stay for up to 15 days without a visa, and visitors from several neighboring southeast Asian nations may stay for up to 30.
Visitors from more than 50 countries do not need a visa for stays of up to either 15 or 90 days, depending on their nation of origin. Visas for longer stays can be obtained ahead of time from Royal Thai Embassy locations throughout the world, though you can also apply for an extension to your stay in Bangkok after you’ve arrived in Thailand.
Most visitors to Canada require either a visa or an Electronic Travel Authorization. Exceptions include U.S. citizens and visitors to Canada who already have valid visas.