Travelling is one of the greatest pleasures in life, and visas can be a real grey cloud on those plans when they are complicated or shrouded in mystery. This post is going to clear away some of the confusion and hopefully get you closer to where you need to be.
What is a visa?
Most countries need to grant travellers permission to visit. When permission is granted you receive a stamp in your passport from the embassy or consulate of that particular country.
Many countries issue visas beforehand, some are issued upon arrival, and others don’t require one from South African travellers. Some countries issue e-Visas which are digital visas linked to your passport number. You will get an approval letter that you use while travelling.
How long are visas valid for?
Some visas are valid for 24 hours and some are valid for 10 years. Work visas can be valid for the duration of your work contract or up to five years and most travel visas are valid for six months.
What are the different types of visas?
There are over 100 different types of visas around the world. Some are very niche, such as the media/journalist visas and medical treatment visas, and others are commonly issued for au pairs, teachers, and academics.
But these are the six most common visas for South Africans:
Transit Visas are probably the most misunderstood visas. They are the visas that allow you to pass through a country on your route to another. If you are staying in the airport for a few hours or need to go through immigration control to collect your bags, you will most likely need one.
Some of the most common transit cities are London and Dubai.
South Africans need a transit visa for London and Dubai. Qatar has granted South Africans travellers a 30-day visa waiver, so you won’t need a transit visa for Doha. You will only need a transit visa for many European countries if you are passing through two or more countries in Europe.
Tourist Visa / Visitor Visitor / Travel Visa
These are all the same thing.
If you are travelling for a holiday this is most likely the visa you will apply for. You are not allowed to work, do business, pursue studies while you are in the country on this visa.
A number of countries issue tourist visas that are valid for a number of years but only allow you to stay in the country for up to 30/60/90 days consecutively. A Schengen Visa is a Tourist Visa.
These vary from country to country, but in many countries, work visas are categorised into Skilled Work Visas and Employer-Sponsored Visas.
There are two types of Work Visas for the United States: H-1B and L-1. The H-1B is for temporary work in specialized careers. This is reserved for people with a Master’s degree in their field. The L-1 is for employers transferring employees to a branch in the United States.
Working in Australia is easy if you don’t mind where you go.
The Skilled Employer-Sponsored Regional Visa is sponsored to people with the right skills and experience by an employer in Australia. And the Skilled Work Regional Visa is given to skilled people who are willing to relocate to one of the smaller cities in Australia.
You will need a Business Visa if you are attending a conference, an expo, going to a meeting, or conducting any form of business with a company in another country.
Business visas vary from country to country and profession to profession.
A business visa is usually organised by the company, but if you need to organise your own, you will need to find out which business visas are available for the country you need to visit.
A Student Visa is granted to people pursuing academic studies through a school, college, university, or academic programme in another country. These are only valid for the duration of your studies.
There are different types of student visas. Which one you will need and the visa requirements for it will depend on which country you are going to and what academic studies you are pursuing.
A Spousal Visa allows you to visit your significant other if you live in different countries and usually allow you to apply for residency after a few years.
Visas for spouses can be complicated and difficult to get because of the stringent application process. You might be required to prove you have been together for a certain amount of time, have assets together, and plan to remain together.
Visa on Arrival
A Visa on Arrival (VOA) allows you to apply and pay for a visa when you arrive in the country.
You will need to provide a completed application form, proof of return tickets and funds for your trip, reservations for accommodation, and either one or two passport photo(s).
For Visa-Free visits, you are allowed to enter the country without needing a visa or to pay anything. You are allowed to stay for however long the country has agreed on (i.e. the duration of your stay).
Note: Not all countries have the same visa requirements, so you need to check what they are for the country you are travelling to. This information can be found on the country website or you can get in contact with a visa service provider.