OK- so if you are like me, before I started traveling the world and meeting amazing people in so many different countries, I didn’t really understand anything about visas, or immigration, or the many different “legalities” of traveling. So I thought a post about some of the things I have discovered might be interesting.
1-Let’s start with the basics. When you go to a different country and get your passport stamped, that is your Visa. If you are from North America, UK, or an European Union (EU) country, most of the time we just book our tickets to wherever we feel like going, walk up to immigration or passport control, they stamp our passports and off we go!
Each country has different rules for how long someone from another country can stay there. (Those rules often vary depending on your nationality. Again, US, UK, EU are usually pretty easy.) For example, Costa Rica gives me a 90-day Tourist Visa on arrival. Thailand gives me a 30-day Tourist Visa on arrival. So, if you have a 90- day visa you are allowed to stay in the country for 90 days in a row.
Some countries have lenient- leave and re-enter in order to extend your stay rules, others are more difficult. Most of my experience right now is Costa Rica and Thailand.
When I lived in Costa Rica we did regular “Visa Runs.” You cross the border into Nicaragua, stay the day, have lunch, do some shopping, and then come back into Costa Rica and Voila- you have another 90-days to live in paradise. (You could also go anywhere else and come back and your 90-days starts again immediately.)
Thailand, with the 30-day Visa is a little more complicated. You can apply for a 60-day Tourist Visa before you get here at a Thai embassy in another country and that will give you a little longer or you can apply for an extension once you are here (and they make that process pretty simple all things considered) or you just go to one of the many cool and close Southeast Asian countries every 30-days for a long weekend, do some exploring and them come back. (That is my preferred method! I was in Cambodia last weekend!) Believe me there is a lot more to the whole “Visa Run” in Thailand but that is an overly simplistic view of it.
In Europe it’s actually a little more complicated- while being simpler. (Ha- Like that?) Once you are in the EU you don’t have to go through customs and immigration when traveling between EU countries. Simple! (Fewer stamps to prove your “travel creds” but that’s what Instagram is for!) Basically for me, as a US citizen, I can be in the EU for 90-days, every 180 days. I know a lot of people interpret this a little differently- but my understanding is that when I enter the EU on Jan 1. I can come and go as I please for the next 180 days, as long as I don’t stay in the EU itself for more than 90. My next 90- days eligibility starts on July 1. See, a little complicated! Especially if you REALLY LOVE Europe and want to spend a lot of time there.
2- For so much of the world it is a lot more difficult than just booking a ticket and heading off on vacation! If one of my Costa Rican friends wanted to come visit me in the US, they have to apply for a visa. Once they’ve applied, they are required to go to the American Embassy in San Jose for an in person interview (a 4-5 hour bus ride -one way- from the town I lived in!) They have to bring all kinds of paperwork that basically proves that they have strong ties to Costa Rica and won’t be “overstaying” their allotted time in the US. Basically they are assumed “guilty” of planning to stay in the US “forever” before they even get started.
3- Some countries provide you a Visa on Arrival- but you need to pay for it and sometimes even bring a passport size photo to attach to the Visa. (I have a tiny little bag with about 15 passport sized photos of me that I now carry with me- for just such an occasion!) In Cambodia we got Tourist Visa on Arrival, I think it was 30-days- and it was $30. But since we didn’t bring our photos (this is why I bring them now!) it was $33. Also they don’t just give you a stamp, they put a sticker that covers the whole page in your passport.
4- Many (most even) countries require you to have at least 6-months of validity on your passport when you enter their country. Even if you are only staying a few days or weeks. So check that expiration date before you travel!
5- Some countries also require you to have at least 2 blank pages when you enter their country. You will need an entrance and an exit stamp and they want to make sure there is room to do that. My passport has 2.5 years left on it- but I needed to renew it while I am here in Chiang Mai, Thailand (post coming soon!) because I will not have enough pages to continue on the next few adventures I have planned.
Before I started traveling, I didn’t even know this was a “thing.” I’ve definitely learned a lot along the way! Bottom line- Be sure to check the rules for the country you are traveling to for their requirements for entry. You can check these websites for more information:
Also- If you are from the US, it is probably a good idea to register your travels with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. (The website is often difficult to access but hang in there!) Once you are registered you will receive emails concerning security and safety in the countries you are traveling and also if there were to be some kind of disaster, the government will know you are there! Many other countries have similar programs if you google them.
I bet you have some fun “Visa Run” stories or your own experiences with Visas in foreign countries… Would love to hear about them!