How do I know what visa to apply for?

Cory Mayfield
Updated on
June 10, 2020

Applying for visas was once a relatively straightforward process but has since evolved considerably over the last decade thanks to modern technology. Thanks to the addition of more flexible visa options and stronger international relations between countries, there are now more options available for tourists and workers applying for visas than ever before.

However, in addition, immigration rules and visas have become increasingly complex due to both the ever-changing requirements to apply for a visa, and the types of visas that are now offered.

But how do I know what visa to apply for in the first place? How do I check what options are available depending on where I travel? Does where I’m from affect what type of visa I need to apply for?

When applying for a visa, you should take the following steps to make sure you end up applying for the visa that suits you best.

Check the relationship of the country you are going to with your own

Different countries have different travel and visa arrangements with each other. For instance, if you’re an Australian citizen looking to travel to the UK on a trip for less than six months, you don’t need a visa to visit. But, if you’re planning on working or emigrating, you must apply for a visa before being allowed to do so.

Fortunately, Australia has reciprocal working holiday visa partnerships with many other countries like the UK, giving Australians plenty of flexible work-travel options. But if you were an Australian citizen looking for a similar visa to a country like China you will be disappointed, as Australia only maintains a reciprocal working holiday visa with Hong Kong but not China.

Now that is something that would come up well in advance if you do the research. But it isn’t just career moves that can be affected by not looking into your travel arrangements more closely. Some countries international relations are not as friendly as others and depending on where you go or where you are from, your treatment and freedom will vary.

Australian nationals will typically be allowed to enter somewhere like the Schengen Area in Europe without a visa for up to three months, whilst the same is not offered to citizens from a country like South Africa. Make sure to check the visa and entry requirements based on your country of citizenship before you plan your travels.

If you are lucky enough to have two passports then check the requirements for travelling on both of them. One of them may permit visa-free entry to the country you plan to visit whilst the other might not.

Plan your trip: look at flights and decide how long you will travel for

Planning is everything when it comes to international travel. Unless you are highly motivated and capable of planning every single event in your travel itinerary out in advance, it makes a whole lot more sense to just decide roughly how long you want to go away for and then purchase a visa that fits your intended journey length.

To that end, booking flights as early as possible can be incredibly helpful. If you’re more flexible with both time, and money, then you don’t need to worry about booking a return leg straight away and can, therefore, apply for a longer visa.

But if time and money are both flip sides to the same coin for you, then booking a return flight in advance is a great way to determine how long your trip away will be, and the length of the visa you need to apply for.

Once again, it very much depends on the relationship between your country of citizenship and the countries where you wish to travel. Looking into this beforehand is essential. In addition to booking flights, make sure you look at airport transit visas if you’re having to stopover or making a connection for an international flight.

If you don't, you could end up paying some hefty charges and potentially, even be denied boarding. If you have you any further doubts or queries about this particular subject you can always send us a message on Facebook Messenger

If you are planning to work, check the rules on working visas and investigate if you can get sponsored by a company before you arrive

Planning a career abroad? Look at sponsorship options from potential employers before you make the move away from home. Moving abroad for work can be an attractive proposition, but it pays to check well in advance whether or not you can get the move you want with as little hassle as possible, and if your future employer can help you speed up the process of moving.

In some countries, getting a working visa is far easier than others. We’ve already glossed over the reciprocal working holiday visa arrangements that some countries have but, make sure you check the rules before applying for them. If you’re hoping to extend your stay afterwards, then you may need to apply for a different visa before your employment ends, and also may require your employer's assistance in doing so.

Always leave a buffer before your current visa is due to expire to give the immigration department some time to process your visa so you won’t have to leave the country for an extended period while you wait for your visa to be granted.

Working or living abroad without a visa when you do not have granted residency or citizenship is never advisable. It is a legal requirement to have proof of permission to work and live in most countries. The penalties of not having this can range from anything from deportation, hefty fines or even imprisonment.

A word on making bookings and using eVisas

Whilst we will inevitably end up in a world with e-Visas being more commonplace we advise that: if you are applying for one, always keep a printed copy of it with you on your travels. Not everyone is making use of the format just yet but, there are a few destinations (such as the islands of St.Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha) that are making exclusive use of eVisas, so keep an eye out for them!

On a slightly less upbeat note, keep an eye out for internet scammers that advertise “visas’” from their respective governments. Many websites make use of the official insignia and branding from legitimate foreign offices and immigration services but are just there to steal would-be customer’s money. Some are easy to spot by offering discounted permits and virtually no application process, but there are complex and sophisticated websites out there that are easily confused with the real thing.

Remember, the best thing to do is only apply for a visa with a legitimate and recognised travel authority or, through a verified government website of the country you’re looking to travel to.

Some final thoughts

Travelling, particularly for long periods of time, can be confusing and incredibly challenging. Applying for a visa is meant to provide a form of relief from the complexities of international travel but, it won't solve all your problems for you.

Having at least some small semblance of a travel plan before you even book a flight is crucial to enjoying a fantastic trip. Whether you need a visa or not, is determined by what kind of planner, and how savvy a traveller you are. But even the savviest of travellers will still need to apply for a visa at some point and that is worth remembering before you embark.

Also, many scenarios can happen whilst travel that may dictate a change of plans for you. Without any notice, travellers can be left in many headache-inducing scenarios that can throw their travel plans into chaos. The death of a relative, a dream job offer or, an unexpected accident or injury during your travels, are a few examples of the potentially difficult scenarios that travellers can be forced to deal with.

Some visas are more flexible than others, and having to change your travel plans at a moment’s notice might not be a problem in that case. But, if you’re unsure about whether or not you still want to continue travelling, then this can be a hard decision to make. It is impossible to plan for all eventualities before you set off travelling but still worth thinking about before you decide to book anything.

If you have any further questions or queries about visas and travel, checkout out our resources for more great articles and insights!