Don’t book your flight somewhere abroad unless you know if you need a visa …. or if your passport follows all of the rules!
I had a group of friends plan a trip to Vietnam and didn’t realize that they needed a visa. They booked their flight, their hostel and all the things to do for a week, only to get the airport and were told they couldn’t get on the plane …. all because they didn’t have the right paperwork to get their visa in Vietnam. Talk about a huge (and expensive!) disappointment!
The nice thing about volunteering abroad with International Language Programs is that we take care of getting your visa for you for the country that you are volunteering in. So you don't need to worry about that! But ... since each ILP volunteer has vacation days to explore, some groups are able to travel to neighboring countries. When planning out all your vacations, make sure you're up to speed on the requirements for the places you're traveling to.
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Luckily, if you know where to look, it’s easy to figure out what you need before vacationing or visiting another country — that’s where we’re here to help!
- Do I Need A Visa?
- When & Where To Get Your Visa
- What Else Is Required?
- Are There Any Fees?
- Even If You Don’t Need A Visa : Read This!
Do I Need A Visa?
Side note: Like we mentioned above, this does not apply for the country you're volunteering in with ILP. For example, if you're signed up to teach English in Thailand with ILP, we're taking care of getting the visa you need for Thailand. You'll just need to take care of it if you choose to travel to any other countries.
I would check before you even book a flight somewhere. It’s not always the case, but some visas are expensive ($150+) and though worth it, you want to make sure you have enough in your budget to pay for your trip and your visa.
Visit This Website
Head to the International Travel section of the Travel State department’s website and find the “before you go section”. You’ll see a search bar where you can type in the name of the country you want to visit. Once you search that, you’ll see a whole page of information about that country.
Right now, we want to check out the “Quick Facts” section — it basically tells you what you need to know about a visa and your passport before visiting. Here’s an example for Vietnam: you can clearly see that you do need a tourist visa, and your passport must be valid for 6 months. Plus, you need one page available for the visa sticker.
If you don’t fit these requirements before you leave, you won’t be able to board your plane. Not good.
When & Where To Get Your Visa
Alright, now that you know that you need a visa … how do you get one?
Visa On Arrival
Some countries require a visa, but you get it on arrival so you don’t really need to do anything before you leave. If you see “Visa on Arrival” on your form, that’s the case. You won’t need to apply for one in advance.
One caveat is that some countries have a visa on arrival ... but you're supposed to come prepared. You may need to apply online beforehand even if it says you're technically getting it (approved) on arrival. If you're not sure if you need to do anything or not, just scroll further down the page. They typically point you in the right direction with links and give further information in the "Entry, Exit, and Visa Requirements" section below on the "Quick Facts" page.
Tourist Visa Required
If you see anything like “Tourist Visa Required” you will need to apply in advance. Sometimes, you do need to apply weeks in advance — you might need to send in your actual passport, or you might just need to fill out some paperwork a week or so before your trip and pay a fee online. It completely depends on the country, which means you’ll need to do some research to help you figure out what’s required.
Thanks to the internet, you can get your visa questions answered depending on the country you’re going to visit. Often they will post a link to a site where you can obtain your visa in the "Entry, Exit, and Visa Requirements" tab on that same page, like pictured below.
I would recommend going to the official, governmental website of the country you want to visit to check on their most current and updated visa policy. You can also Google things like “Step by step instructions for getting a visa for ________ for US citizens”.
This Helpful Website
The website VisaHQ is also helpful: you can search your nationality’s requirements for dozens of countries. You’ll also get a bit more detail, like if you need 2 passports required and a general cost for the visa processing, about how long it will take, and what else you need for visiting. As a head’s up, VisaHQ tends to process visas for more than other websites, so you might want to do your own research to help save money.
What Else Is Required?
Some countries do have other requirements, like certain vaccinations. If that’s the case, the “quick facts” section of your country should tell you that. For example, you must have the yellow fever vaccination to enter into the country of Uganda. You will not be allowed into the country without proof of this vaccination, but it's listed clearly on that travel.state.gov page for you.
If you need vaccinations to visit a country, that is another thing to consider: some vaccinations require several doses, spread out over a few weeks or months. You can’t really book a flight somewhere next week if you need certain, time-sensitive requirements like this.
Are There Any Fees?
Another thing that depends on the country. Some visa processes require a stamping fee, paid in person (with US cash or local currency) to process your visa. When you apply online for a visa, you should be walked through all of the requirements for that visa, including what needs to be paid now (if anything) and what needs to be paid when you arrive (if anything).
Even If You Don’t Need A Visa : Read This!
Does Your Passport Fit The Requirements?
Your passport is as important as your visa. Things like having enough blank pages or when your passport expires can prevent you from visiting a country.
Most countries have some passport rules that need to be followed whether you need a visa or not. Take France for example — US citizens don’t need a visa to visit, but your passport must be valid for at least three months after you plan to leave France. I heard a story about a couple honeymooning in France but when they got to the airport, he was denied boarding because his passport was going to expire in month. Not good.
Airlines check all of these things: Where you are going, if you need a visa or not, what’s required with that visa, and how long your passport is valid (and how many empty pages you have in your passport). You’ll prevent a lot of trouble (and save a lot of money) if you know what’s required before you visit a country!
Let ILP handle your visa
And your flight, and your meals, and your housing for a whole semester. Yep, your ILP program fee includes all of that and more so you don’t have to worry about figuring out your visa for the country you're volunteering in like Russia, China, and a few others.