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Going abroad can be quite daunting – especially if you don’t travel often. There’s loads to remember. Passports. Packing. Plane tickets. I’ve run out of things that begin with P. Poothbrushes. One thing you might need to remember is a visa. If you aren’t sure what visas are or how they work, then boy have I got an article for you. I’m going to explain the basics of visas – assuming you know nothing – and help you get your head around what the visa requirements for UK citizens are.
You’ll definitely have heard of visas. Everyone has. Even our 19 year old digital marketer Olly has, and he’d never heard of The Goonies or Wayne’s World, the uncultured swine. But I was recently thinking, and although I’d heard of visas, I didn’t really know what they were. I had a vague notion of them being like a passport, but that was pretty much as far as my understanding went. I’d never needed a visa so I never bothered looking into them – they weren’t my problem. Then I went and got a job at a company that deals with document legalisation, and learning about visas went hand in hand with that.
So I learnt about visas and I realised they’re actually really easy to get your head around. And then I thought to myself: how many people were like me? How many people know basically nothing about visas? People might be put off going somewhere because they need a visa and they’re too intimidated by the idea. One thought led to another, I had a very strong coffee, and I decided to write a simple guide to visas for people that are as clueless as I once was.
What are visas?
Like whoever wrote the Bible, I’m going to start in the beginning. A visa is an official document that lets you legally enter a foreign country. You won’t need one every time you travel – it all depends on where you’re coming from and where you’re going to (different countries have different agreements, just to keep us on our toes), so you’ll need to check before you book.
There’s a few different categories of visas that you might need to know about.
What types of visa are there?
You know what visas are, you know about the different visa classifications. Now you need to know what type you need. There’s loads of different visas, each serving a different purpose. The following are the main types:
If you’re just off on holiday, you’ll probably only need to know about Transit or Tourist visas. The others are pretty niche, but they might be useful to you. I should add – this list isn’t exhaustive. This is only a beginner’s guide and a beginner doesn’t need to know every type of visa ever. Generally, for the average traveller, the above visas are the only one’s you’ll need to worry about.
Visa key terms
Hopefully you’ve got your head around visas and the different types. I’m going to throw some more key terms at you now, so get ready – these are the specifics of your visa. They’re different for every visa and depend on your application:
Differences between visas and passports
This might be obvious to you, it might not, but I’ll explain anyway cos I can and I might as well.
A country issues passports to its own citizens to allow them to travel abroad.
A country issues visas to foreigners to allow them to visit.
You’ll pretty much always need a passport to travel to different countries but you don’t always need a visa. If you do need a visa, they’re normally stamped or glued into your passport (unless you’ve got an e-Visa). It’s all pretty simple, isn’t it?
Where can I get a visa?
You’ll need to apply for one. The process can be a bit tricky, but don’t let that stop you from travelling to places that need one. You can’t just buy a visa – you have to apply for one. You’ll need to supply some documents (such as your passport) but what you need to supply differs from country to country.
Say for example you fancy a trip to Mongolia. Don’t know why. Maybe you’ve got a hankering for some Mongolian food. You’d need to apply for a Mongolian tourist visa, and you’d need to supply:
- a (fully filled in) visa application form
- your passport
- a passport photo
- your accommodation booking
- travel tickets
Some countries need more, some need less. Russia, for example, need you to have a tourist voucher before you apply. Some countries require you to visit a Visa Application Centre and submit your fingerprints as part of the process. They’re not being nosy, they’re trying to prevent crime. It’s all just hoops you have to jump through – might be a bit annoying, but that’s just what you need to do.