For some of us, planning is a big part of the fun of travelling abroad – but thinking about visas is usually a far less enjoyable part of the process. While applying for a visa can be quick and painless, it’s easy to get confused. Different countries require different visas and can also be different depending on the reason for your visit, such as tourism, work, or studies.

But, the good news is, as long as you’re armed with the right knowledge, the visa process shouldn’t be more than a minor inconvenience.

So, to answer any burning visa questions you might have, and make sure travel remains one of life’s greatest joys, here’s what you need to know…

What are visas and why do we need them?

What are visas and why do we need them

Before we delve into the more complex ins and outs of visas, let’s take a second to go over why we need them in the first place.

A visa is a travel document that permits you to enter a foreign country for a set period. They’re usually needed for security reasons – to keep track of people entering the country, prevent illegal immigration, and stop security risks from entering.

Usually, you need to apply for a visa before travelling, although sometimes you can get one on arrival. Visas are usually stuck onto your passport and specify how many days you’re allowed to stay in a country.

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Which countries do you need visas for?

One of the perks of having a British passport is that it’s very powerful. The UK is currently ranked as the third most powerful passport on the Guide Passport Index, as British passport holders don’t need advance visas to enter a total of 193 destinations.

Countries that require no visa at all

For 145 of these destinations, no visa at all is required; these destinations include (but are not limited to!) EU countries, the Bahamas, Barbados, Hong Kong, Japan, Jamaica, Mexico, Morocco, Peru, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, and Vietnam. To see a full list of all the countries you can enter without a visa, head over to My British Passport.

However, just because you don’t need a full visa, doesn’t mean there are no hoops to jump through, and while many other destinations don’t require you to apply for a regular visa before travelling, they do have their own set of regulations you need to comply with.

Countries that issue visas on arrival

For a further 37 destinations including Cambodia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Jordan, Laos, Maldives, Seychelles, and Zimbabwe, British passport holders can obtain a visa on arrival.

Usually, visas are obtained at the airport, and you may need to complete the required paperwork, provide necessary documentation, and pay any relevant visa fees. Then, once the visa is granted, you’re allowed to enter the country.

Countries that require eTAs

There are 11 further destinations that require Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) before British passport holders can enter. These countries include Australia, Canada, Kenya, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, Sri Lanka, and the USA.

An eTA is a digital document that can be obtained online prior to travel, and the application process is usually quick and easy, with approval often granted within minutes.

Countries that require eVISAs

There are 15 destinations that require Brits to apply for an electronic visa (eVisa) before travelling. These visas can be applied for online, and are sent to you by email.

To apply for an eVisa, you usually need to fill out an online form, upload a passport-sized photo, and pay a visa fee. Destinations that require eVisa include Bhutan, Cameroon, India, Myanmar, Nigeria, South Sudan, and Uganda.

Countries that require a traditional visa

And finally, there are 21 destinations where British passport holders need to apply for a regular visa before travelling. These countries include Algeria, China, Cuba, Ghana, Iran, Russia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

Visa processing times, fees, and documents vary, and you usually need to apply at a country’s embassy, providing your passport, itinerary, and other relevant information.

How long can I stay in different countries?

How long can I stay in different countries

Just because you don’t need a visa to enter a country, it doesn’t mean you can stay there indefinitely. When you travel to a foreign country, you can only stay for a specific time, and this can vary wildly, from 14 days to 365 days. To see how long you can stay in different destinations, head over to My British Passport.

While Brexit means the UK is no longer part of the EU, UK citizens can still take advantage of the 90/180 rule. This means British passport holders have visa-free entry to EU countries for 90 days during any 180-day period. Plus, you can split those 90 days between any EU country; for example, you can spend 14 days in Spain, 14 days in France, 14 days in Italy, and then spend a further 48 days bouncing around the Greek islands. All visa-free!

If you’re still unsure about the visa requirements for a country you plan to visit, the best thing to do is to head over to the foreign travel advice section of the British government website, select the name of the country you’re going to from the list, and click on ‘entry requirements’.

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Different categories of visa

So, now we know more about the countries that require visas and the ones that don’t, let’s take a look at the different categories of visas.

  • Tourist visas. These are the most common types of visas. They’re short-term permits that are usually valid for three months and are meant for recreational visits, such as tourism, visiting friends and family, or relaxation. You can apply for a tourist visa as many times as you like, although you can’t work or study on one.

  • Student visas. Student visas are issued for educational purposes, and allow you to study in foreign institutions. The length of the visa usually depends on the duration of your study course and usually lasts between one to five years. Student visas also give you a temporary work permit, allowing you to work up to 20 hours per week.

  • Work visa. Also known as employment visas, work visas allow foreigners to travel and live in different countries. These usually last for between one to four years, but this will depend on your employment contract. Some working visas can last up to 10 years, and allow employees to live and travel as residents, until they’re able to obtain full citizenship.

  • Transit visa. A transit visa allows you to travel through a specific country while heading to another destination. It allows you to pass through the other country’s airport, or temporarily stay in the country while you’re waiting for a connecting flight. Transit visas are usually only issued for 24 to 96 hours, and must be applied for before travelling.

Other, less common types of visas include family reunification visasinvestment visas, refugee or asylum seeker visasdigital nomad visasretirement visasofficial visas, and pilgrimage visas.

Applying for a visa

Applying for a visa

The good news is that if you’re travelling for pleasure, there aren’t many destinations for which you need to apply for a full visa before travelling. Most countries are visa-free travel destinations for British passport holders (unless you’re planning on staying an unusually long time), or are visa-on-arrival destinations, where you’re automatically granted a visa at immigration.

Applying for an online visa

Even electronic travel authorizations (eTAs) don’t require much forward planning, as these are usually granted within minutes, and are easily obtained online for a small fee.

For example, the Canadian eTA costs $7, is approved in minutes, allows you to stay for six months, and is valid for up to five years. The American ESTA costs $14, is also approved within minutes, allows you to stay up to three months, and lasts for up to two years. The Australian ETA costs $20, is issued for a whole year, and is also usually approved within a few minutes.

If you’re travelling to a destination that requires an online visa application, it’s a good idea to apply at least a few days before you travel – and ideally a week, just to be safe (although it often takes just a few minutes for your visa to be granted).

To apply for an online visa, just go to the country’s official visa website, complete an online application form, attach electronic copies of relevant documents like passports, and pay the visa fee.

Applying for a traditional visa

If you’re heading to a country where you need a traditional visa, you can apply at the embassy of the country you want to visit. You’ll need to make an appointment, pay a visa processing fee, collect a set of documents, and, on occasion, have a visa interview.

In terms of how long your visa application will take to process, this will depend on the visa type, the embassy, and how many other visa applications there are to process. It might take several days or even several months to process your application, so the best thing you can do is apply as soon as you know your travel dates (unless they’re more than six months away).

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Other considerations when applying for a visa

It’s important to remember that applying for a visa doesn’t mean it’ll be granted. There are several reasons why your visa application may be denied, and we’ll look at some of the most common ones below.

  • Passport validity. It might seem obvious, but you need a passport to get a visa. However, you don’t just need a valid passport, you need a passport that has at least a six-month validity period. So, if you need a visa, the first thing to do is check your passport. If it expires within six months, you’ll need to renew it before making your visa application.

  • Passport blank pages. As well as having a passport with six months validity, most countries require that your passport has at least two to four blank pages. These are needed to stamp your passport and visa, so do check – and if you don’t have enough blank pages, be sure to renew it.

  • Health reasons. For some visas to be approved, you have to have proof of health insurance and vaccinations. For example, several African countries ask that you have an international vaccination certificate before granting a visa. On rare occasions, you might need some sort of document proving that you’re in overall good health. When you first look into applying for a full visa, these requirements should be specified.

  • Criminal record. If you have a criminal record, it’s difficult to obtain a visa. Some countries, like the US and Canada, can grant waivers if you need a visa, although this usually only happens if your crime (or sentencing) wasn’t very serious.

  • Finances. Some countries ask for proof of finances before they grant you visa approval, as they want to know if you can support yourself while in their country, or can afford to book a flight home. The visas themselves can also be hundreds of dollars (especially student visas), so it’s important to factor in costs.

Final thoughts…

While it’s a good idea to be mindful of different visa requirements – and how long it can take for visa applications to be processed – there’s no need to feel worried or overwhelmed.

Remember that if you have a British passport, you can travel to most of the countries in the world without any type of visa at all. Many other destinations only require visas on arrival, which doesn’t warrant any planning (except having a valid passport with blank pages!), and eTA applications are usually very quick and easy.

If you are travelling to a country which requires either an online visa or a full visa, the best thing you can do is head over to the government travel advice website and check out the entry requirements in your destination country.

Do you have any other questions that you would like to see answered in this article? What’s your experience with visas? We’d be interested to hear from you in the comments below.