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What Is a Tourist Visa?

Renee Booker
Renee Booker

Individual countries, or nations, throughout the world determine their own rules and regulations regarding permission for foreign-born nationals to enter the country. When a person wishes to visit a foreign country, he or she must abide by the rules and procedures enacted by the country for visitors wishing to enter. In some cases, a visitor only needs a passport to enter a foreign country, while, in others, he or she will also need to obtain a tourist visa before being allowed entry. This visa allows a foreign national to enter a country and legally remain in the country for a designated period of time.

The principle factor that is used to determine whether or not the visa is required to enter a country is the country of origin of the visitor. Many countries throughout the world have agreements with other countries to allow visa-free passage between citizens of the respective countries. In Europe, for example, countries that are part of the Schengen agreement are not required to obtain a visa to travel throughout the other member countries. The United States also has agreements with many countries that allow United States citizens to visit those countries with just a U.S. passport.

Visas may be stamped or glued into a passport, or issued as a separate document.
Visas may be stamped or glued into a passport, or issued as a separate document.

When a tourist visa is required, the application must be completed well in advance at the country's nearest embassy in most cases. Although application requirements and procedures will vary, the application usually requires basic information about the applicant and must be accompanied by a certified birth certificate, a completed medical examination form, and a current police background check. An applicant is also frequently required to prove that he or she has the means to support himself or herself while in the country. A fee is required and an applicant may expect to wait anywhere from several weeks to several months for the application to be processed.

A photo for a tourist visa.
A photo for a tourist visa.

If approved, the tourist visa will be sent to the applicant and must be presented at the point of entry into the country and at any official point thereafter, if requested. The duration of this visa will also vary by country. Typical lengths for a tourist visa are from 30 to 90 days, after which the holder of the visa must either apply for extended permission to remain in the country or exit the country. Remaining in a country past the time frame allotted on a tourist visa is a crime in most cases and may be cause for forceful deportation or even incarceration.

Discussion Comments


Boy, the penalty for going beyond the maximum stay in a country that requires visas is pretty stiff - orders to leave the country immediately or possibly you might be put in jail. I don't think I would want to visit a country that might put you in jail just for staying over.

I would think that those countries that require visas don't care too much that they are discouraging tourism since it's such a pain to get one.


It's a good thing that the United States has agreements with most foreign countries to allow people to move freely from one country to another by just showing their passport.

If they didn't, it would be a nightmare of paperwork and a very long waiting time. I didn't realize that you needed a birth certificate, a background check and a medical exam form in order to get a visa.


I do not feel greatly versed in this tourist visa stuff because I have never traveled outside of the United States (except for Canada for a day to play in a soccer game, so if we needed any special paperwork for a Canadian tourist visa then the soccer association took care of it).

But I know this much - I cannot wait to travel outside the United States, but I also know this - I hate paperwork! So just as @anamur mentioned - I will likely be one of those people who chooses a destination based on the rules and paperwork that goes with the travel to that country.

One place that my friends have gone to that I was just enamored with their pictures and stories was South Africa (they actually went there for the World Cup and had a blast).

I think one of the main things that I liked in looking at their pictures was the wildlife they were able to see and get close to and hear stories about!


When I traveled to the European Union, at least while I was traveling, I didn't have to fill out anything; I was working abroad, so I did have to fill out a lot of forms and go to a lot of trouble for my visa, but when I got to the country they gave me something like 60 days to be in the country without paperwork. I don't know if that's usual, though, or the same now, since even in the last year there have been some policy changes around the world, and there always are changes happening.


When looking for a work visa in some countries like Korea and Taiwan the employers will sometimes ask you to come in first on a tourist visa, so that they can get your paperwork sorted. Just be aware that any work while on a tourist visa is completely illegal and can get you in a ton of trouble and deported.

Most foreigners are never caught working on tourist visas, but it does happen. I remember working in Korea and one of our teachers got busted by immigration for not having the right visa. Apparently the employer told the teacher that the paperwork was underway and it turned out to be totally false. The school didn't even get in trouble for having an illegal working, but the teacher sure did.


There are a lot of countries where you need to file for your travel visa well in advance, as it can be very expensive to try and extend the free entry stamp, if the country allows it at all.

In many places you must actually leave the country you are visiting to submit a visa application so it is a good idea to know how long you want to stay for before you land. I made the mistake of only getting the 30 day entry stamp when I went to Thailand, and I had to fly to a neighboring country so I could reenter with a full tourist visa. Making visa run trips can get pretty expensive after awhile, so it is best to plan ahead.


The application form for a tourist visa requires a lot of information! I'm planning on going to Russia for a school trip and I got the applications forms from the Russian embassy already.

Man, they ask for a lot of information! I have to list several contact names and their addresses and phone numbers, any recent visits to other countries, purpose of visits, why I want to travel there, where I'll be staying and on and on! It turns out I also need to have travel insurance?!

I understand why they need all this but I think travel insurance costs quite a lot and then there's the fee for the visa itself. It really is more costly to get a visa than I expected.


@burcinc-- That's so true! I actually pick my vacation destination largely based on visa requirements. Since my plans are usually last minute, I never have time to apply and wait for a visa. So I end up traveling to places that do not require a visa for US citizens or who issue a visa when I enter the country for a small fee.

I traveled to the Bahamas last year because a visa is not required and to Cyprus the year before that. It was really easy to vacation in both, I just bought my tickets and went!

The other thing to keep in mind though is the amount of time you are allowed to stay. Both the Bahamas and Cyprus don't require a visa from us, but we can stay in the Bahamas for only one month and in Cyprus for three months. So just because a tourist visa is not required, it doesn't mean that we can stay there as long as we like.


Tourist visa requirements for different countries are so different and change so often!

Sometimes, the requirements change from year to year depending on the current situation and relations between countries. The requirement are even different sometimes in different US states. I travel to Belgium and other countries in the region a lot for work and my company used to apply for my visa by mail. Now I have to go to the Belgium consulate in New York personally because of a new requirement to give biometric fingerprints.

There were also a couple of countries that did not require a visa for US citizens that now do. The reason seems to be political. When countries are friendly with one another and cooperate with each other economically, militarily or politically, they tend to withdraw the visa requirement as a gesture. And when relations go bad, a visa is again required and the bureaucratic process becomes more difficult.

It's a shame because it's regular folks that have to deal with all of this in order to travel.

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    • Visas may be stamped or glued into a passport, or issued as a separate document.
      By: Popova Olga
      Visas may be stamped or glued into a passport, or issued as a separate document.
    • A photo for a tourist visa.
      By: mangostock
      A photo for a tourist visa.
    • Leisure visitors to China must have a tourist visa.
      By: Ilia Torlin
      Leisure visitors to China must have a tourist visa.
    • Individual countries determine their own rules and regulations for letting foreign-born nationals enter the country through the visa process.
      By: Alex3
      Individual countries determine their own rules and regulations for letting foreign-born nationals enter the country through the visa process.