When do I need a visa?

Cory Mayfield
Updated on
June 10, 2020

Nobody likes visas. They are time-consuming, difficult to get consistent information on, the paperwork sucks and to make things worse, the official websites sometimes look like a scam. But sometimes, depending on your destination and the relationship between your country and the one you are travelling too, a visa is completely unavoidable when travelling.

Despite improving international relations some countries will always require a certain type of visa to visit. How long you plan on travelling can often be a factor in whether or not you need a visa depending on where you travel to. Even changing flights at an airport sometimes requires a certain visa, often known as a transit visa, just to walk through the airport!

From permanent moves to mini-breaks, in this article, we are going to look at some of the more common scenarios which require travelling with a visa.

Visiting certain countries

Some countries are notoriously more difficult to visit than others. Whether that is more high-risk travel areas such as Syria and Libya, stricter governments like North Korea and Turkmenistan or just incredibly remote and hard to visit destinations like Nauru.

Citizens of certain countries will find themselves either banned or consistently flagged at point of entry, when visiting a select few destinations. For instance, Russian or Turkish citizens wishing to travel to Armenia will find it all but impossible to enter, whilst Israelis or anyone with a passport stamp from that country, who are potentially looking to travel to or via Saudi Arabia and certain other countries, will be unable to do so due to travel bans put in place against Israel.

This may all sound fairly standard and nothing new for experienced travellers reading this, but it is incredibly important to check the relationship between your own country and any that you choose to visit before setting out on your trip. International relations and travel agreements can be extremely sensitive and susceptible to change in certain parts of the world, and it is vital to check such things not just in advance, but in the run-up to and occasionally even during your trip. It’s better to be safe than sorry here, if in doubt call the Australian embassy.

When planning a longer trip

If you’re planning on going travelling for anything more than a few weeks, there is a good chance you are going to need to apply for a visa unless you already researched and meticulously planned your trip to travel without having to apply for a visa by staying in multiple countries for a short period.

Once again, this is dependent on what part of the world you’re planning to visit. For some nationalities who wish to visit Europe, very flexible travel options do not necessarily require a visa to travel the continent, for up to a whole year! But this requires substantial planning and flexibility that you might not have, or you just can’t be bothered to do, which is why a visa is extremely beneficial.

Although you must still commit to at least some element of planning and form filling to obtain one, a well-chosen visa is key to more flexible and stress-free travel for longer periods. Thanks to the continued advancements in the internet and modern technology, e-Visas, eTAs and ESTAs are a perfect example of how easy and conveniently accessible visas are right now.

When planning on working in another country

It might seem obvious, but there are more than enough predatory or exploitive individuals dotted around the globe that will look to exploit travellers or economic migrants for cheap labour, despite the risks it poses to them as employers.

To legally work in most countries around the world, you will need a special work visa or visa that allows you to work as part of its conditions (e.g. some partner visas). The added benefit of having a visa which allows you to work in a country is the protection it gives you from those predatory or exploitive individuals. Some countries also have programs that allow you to call government departments to help you understand your work rights and the laws on working.

Yes, we all probably know someone who ended up doing a few casual shifts at a bar on their travels or has one friend who ended up living and working at a hostel they were supposed to stay at for five nights but, despite what your potential new employer might tell you, it just isn’t worth risking. Being caught working illegally is a sure-fire way to get your visa cancelled and see yourself quickly sent on a plane back home, or even worse, jailed (in some countries).

If you’re planning on doing anything from a ski-season to becoming a ship engineer, you need to make sure you have a working visa sorted because it isn’t something your would-be-employer will usually sort out for you. Some great companies will help you with every detail in sorting a move out to their office if they’ve recruited you for a role, but a bar in the French Alps or a hostel in Bangkok is not going to do that for you!

Again, make sure you check in advance the agreement between the country you are from and the one you plan to travel to when it comes to working visas and find out as much as possible before you apply.

If you are planning to emigrate

If you’re planning on moving abroad permanently you will find yourself with a whole host of hoops to jump through before you see yourself becoming a permanent resident or even a citizen of that country, and it all starts with a visa.

Even if your partner, future spouse or even current spouse happens to be a native of the country you’re planning to emigrate to you are still going to have to abide by some transitional conditions for at least a year before you can apply for permanent residency.

The Green Card system in the U.S. is a great example of this as contrary to popular belief; You can’t just marry someone of a different nationality either abroad or at home and see them receive the same standing as you.

In many cases, bringing your partner into the U.S. just to marry them can be far more detrimental to their Green Card application than if you got married abroad. Due to the scrutiny of the U.S. immigration process, and the fact they don’t take kindly to not being notified of an intention to marry after allowing entry to a foreign national.

Again, there are potentially harsh consequences for anyone caught living illegally in another country. The “luckier” individuals will see themselves fined and deported, but also not allowed to visit the country again in the immediate future or potentially ever. This could also stop them from being able to enter other countries to which they are seen to be too high risk to be allowed even for a holiday.

The more unfortunate visa dodgers, however, will see themselves facing a prison sentence which will also impact their travel and migration plans for decades to come if they try moving somewhere else the legitimate way this time.

Once again the message is the same. Check the requirements of the country you plan to emigrate to before you leave and always make sure you have the correct visa, and if you’re planning on bringing someone else into your own country to live with you, make sure you follow the process correctly.

If you feel unsure about anything in the process, it is advised that you seek professional help with trying to emigrate as it can be so much harder than applying for a tourist visa and the consequences can be so much greater if you get things wrong.

Other things to consider

There are a few less obvious occasions where you will find yourself needing a visa. We mentioned marriage earlier, but whilst we covered the process of bringing your spouse into your country, this doesn’t always guarantee you the same rights of passage back into their own. Check the rules surrounding spouses and visa-free travel to the country your husband or wife is from before you arrive there, or you could find yourself unable to enter.

The same applies to any children of parents with different nationalities. Up until the age of 21 (18 in some countries), most children can travel to the country of their parent’s birth without a visa or the need for a second passport from that country. But after turning 21 they will be required to have their own passport or else they will have to apply for a visa.

Most parents will probably take care of this well in advance, but it is worth remembering as some countries are less lenient then others with the time they allow for applying for second passports and dual nationality, especially if the child was not born there.

An airport transit visa is required if you’re looking to change flight connections or, have a stay over in the airport before your next flight. Be very careful about booking hotels in this scenario. If the hotel you book is outside of the airport transit zone you will need a visa that grants you full visitation rights to leave the airport to stay in it or face a potentially expensive booking mistake.

If you have any further questions about visas such as what type of visa you need to apply for, or any other travel queries, check out out our other resources for more great articles and insights!