How flexible are visas?

Cory Mayfield
Updated on
June 10, 2020

Visas are sometimes unfairly thought of as unbending and entirely inflexible obligations to adhere to when visiting a foreign country. Whilst this is undoubtedly true in many ways there are more than a few, flexible, visas for travellers to make use of.

There are two main parts to determine how flexible visas can be:

Additionally, there are options that travellers can take advantage of once they have their visa approved and sent out to them, but some are not as obvious at first glance.

Let’s take a look at the ways some visas are more flexible than others.

Different visas - different options

A fairly obvious point to start with, but there is a clear difference between travelling on a short-term travel visa for three months and travelling on one that’s a year long! But the devil is in the details, and this is where even experienced travellers can get confused about what type of visa they apply for.

The Schengen area, for example, has what they call a Single Entry Uniform Visa that permits the holders of this visa the ability to visit any of the countries within the Schengen area, for a period of up to 90 days within 180 days.

Now you only need to apply for this visa when you’re visiting countries within the Schengen area for no longer than 90 days - Something that certain nationalities do not have to worry about. However, if you want to come back again afterwards, you must apply for a Multiple Entry Visa.

This is where the visa application can get more interesting. You can apply for a Multiple Entry Visa into the Schengen area that lasts for up to five years, as long as you don’t stay more than 90 days at a time and stay out of countries within the Schengen area for the same amount of time you spend there before going back.

For example, if you travel to Denmark and then to Norway for a total of 60 days, you must visit at least one non-Schengen country like Albania for at least 60 days before travelling back to a Schengen country. This gives you the freedom and flexibility to visit all the countries in the block during this time. But, if for whatever reason you are granted a Limited Territorial Validity Visa, or you have a visa for another European country that isn’t part of the Schengen Area, you will still need to apply for at least the Single Entry Visa before you are allowed to travel back into the Schengen area.

Limited or localised visas such as this are not uncommon in other parts of the world, especially countries with disputed borders, like Israel and North Korea. For example, you can’t enter North Korea as a tourist from South Korea – the only way to do so is to get at least a double Single Entry Visa from China!

It depends on your country’s relationship with the country you’re travelling to

As we touched on earlier, travellers from some nationalities have more preferential treatment for visiting territories like the Schengen Area than others. This can dictate whether or not you even need a visa to travel in the first place, and really, the only way to figure that out is by doing some research well in advance.

For instance, an Australian citizen doesn’t need a short stay visa to visit Thailand for a month due to travel arrangements between those countries. Similarly for an American citizen, if your Schengen Visa runs out whilst you are in France, you have entitled thanks to a bilateral agreement between the U.S. and France, to remain in the country up to an additional 90 days!

However, there are a few cases where travel is less easy, depending on where you are from. Russian citizens have to apply for a visa before visiting any of the Schengen countries despite bordering some of them! Whilst we mentioned Americans getting a free extension to their stay courtesy of France, French citizens who visit any countries that the U.S. has blacklisted may still find themselves barred from entering the U.S. as a result!

When it comes to work and visas, certain countries have a reciprocal working holiday visa program with each other that offer greater benefits and flexibility to those who apply. But these stays are often limited, so if you’re looking to spend longer than six months working in a particular country in the Schengen area, for example, you will need to apply for a visa from that country alone before you’re cleared to work and live there.

How long you plan to be away for will affect your options

An obvious point but a valid one. If you’re only looking to travel for six months then your options will be more limited depending on where you travel. It is best to work out how much time you’re going to spend wherever you end up travelling to, be that one or several countries, once you know what your visa options are.

Again, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, it is worth checking the arrangements between your country and the one you are planning on travelling too. If you’re limited to a few short months for the duration of your trip, you might not even need a visa depending on where you are from, and where you travel to.

It is worth considering whether or not you can commit to travelling away for the whole of the period you have planned to. If anything happens to you, or to interfere with your travel plans, resuming visas may prove very difficult if not impossible. The tight framework and the agreement you sign when you applied for your visa is the reason for this.

Visas aren’t that easy to amend or extend

You will often find that any mistake made in your visa application that appears on the final document, will not be cheap to fix, and it will usually come out of your pocket. Carefully check every single detail that you enter and make sure it is accurate.

Got a passport that is due to run out the same time your visa is? Change it! Don’t fill out the form and apply for a new passport. Adding your new passport details to the visa application before you send it or trying to change your passport details on your visa is far less costly than it expiring when you’re abroad.

If you aren’t sure how long you want to go away for and book a longer visa, you can’t cancel it before it is due to expire and expect any money back. Visas are essentially non-refundable, and the only time you’re usually able to get a refund for a visa is before the application for it has been accepted – if at all! The only other time of leniency you’ll find is at times of global catastrophe and travel bans.

You can, however, (depending on the country you are visiting and the type of visa you have) apply for an extension to your visa which will enable you to travel for longer. But some extensions are normally only granted in times of emergency, and for humanitarian or personal reasons, particularly in Europe and the U.S. Trying to explain you want to stay a bit longer to continue your adventures for the sake of seeing a few more cities will not go down well with the immigration office.

However, in many South-East Asian countries, you can apply for and get a visa extension by paying a fee. The cost of this varies from country to country, but it is a fairly flexible process and does provide travellers with more options for extending their trip.

For further information about whether or not you should cancel a visa, and more information about what type of visa you should apply for, head over to our resources for more helpful and informative travel articles!