What is a visa?

A visa can be defined as an official document issued by the authorities of different countries and territories. Its purpose is to grant permission to foreign individuals to enter their territory and reside there for a designated period. The term “visa” is derived from the Latin phrase “charta visa,” which means “papers have been seen”. Typically, a visa is either a sticker or a stamp affixed to the passport. However, it can also be an electronic document that can be downloaded online.

A visa generally contains personal information about the visa holder, including their name and passport number. It also includes specific details such as the visa number, expiration date, and the permitted duration of stay. Additionally, it may also include specific conditions, such as the number of entries permitted during its validity period.

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Types of visas

Generally speaking, there are various types of visas issued by different countries, each serving specific purposes and subject to specific regulations. To better comprehend the distinct nature of each visa type, they can be classified based on several criteria, including the purpose of travel, eligible applicant categories, duration of validity and stay, number of permitted entries, and the application procedures.

Types of visas based on the purpose of travel

This visa is intended for individuals traveling for entertainment, recreation, holidays, or sightseeing. It can also be used to attend entertainment events like festivals and sports events. The tourist visa is one of the most popular short-stay visas.
Business visas are issued to individuals traveling for purposes related to negotiations, contract signing, business deals, or attending conferences and exhibitions associated with business, investment, trade, and similar activities.
This visa is granted to individuals seeking medical treatment, therapeutic procedures, or surgeries in another country. It may also be issued to accompanying attendants who are traveling with the patient.
Also known as a student visa, this visa is intended for students pursuing education at various levels, including primary, secondary, tertiary, and postgraduate studies. The purpose of this visa is to enable enrollment in educational institutions abroad, or for conducting research, training, and other academic activities, including fellowship programs.
Work visas are issued to workers and professionals in various fields, enabling them to undertake temporary or permanent employment in a foreign country. Generally, this visa is granted on the condition that the applicant has received a job offer from a legitimate entity in the host country.
This visa, also referred to as an airport transit visa, is issued to travelers who have a layover in one country while en route to another destination. In some cases, holders of transit visas are permitted to leave the airport for short trips or sightseeing before continuing their journey.
Also known as a golden visa or residency by investment, it is a special type of visa granted by certain countries to foreign investors. This visa offers residency with exceptional privileges, aiming to encourage investment in the host country's economy.
Sometimes called a family visa, this visa is issued for the purpose of visiting family members and friends residing in a foreign country. Typically, an invitation letter from the person being visited is required as part of the application process.

Some countries issue additional types of visas for various purposes based on their specific visa schemes and regulations. These may include humanitarian visas, diplomatic visas, Exit/Re-Entry visa, working holiday visas, digital nomad visas, immigrant visas, pilgrimage visa (such as Umrah and Hajj visas), among others. Furthermore, certain visa types issued by countries may serve multiple purposes simultaneously. For example, some tourist visas can also be utilized for business purposes, visiting family, attending short courses, or even receiving medical treatment. Therefore, travelers should carefully select the most suitable visa type for their trip based on their intended purpose(s).

Types of visas based on validity period

These visas are granted to individuals who wish to visit foreign countries for temporary periods. The duration of these visas varies depending on the issuing country, typically ranging from 30 to 90 days. In some cases, certain countries may allow stays of up to 180 days.
Designed for individuals with travel purposes that necessitate longer durations of stay, these visas accommodate stays of a year or more. Many long-stay visas can be extended or renewed for additional periods. Examples include visas issued for students, family reunification, and work-related purposes.
Some countries offer these visas to foreign individuals who meet specific conditions, such as having resided in the country for a certain period, having family ties, or making substantial investments in the country's economy. Permanent Resident Visas grant individuals the right to stay indefinitely.

It is important to note that the terms used to describe long-stay and permanent residence visas may vary across different countries. Some countries refer to them as “residence permits” while reserving the term “visa” for entry permits and short-term visit visas

Types of visas based on number of entries

This visa allows for a one-time entry to the issuing country and becomes invalid upon departure.
With a double-entry visa, travelers can enter and exit the issuing country twice within the designated validity period.
This type of visa permits unlimited entries to the issuing country throughout its validity period.

Types of visas based on the process of application

An ordinary visa is the traditional type obtained through embassies, consulates, or visa application centers. Although some application stages may be completed online, applicants are typically required to present their passports for visa issuance.
An e-visa is applied for online, eliminating the need to visit embassies, consulates, or attend personal interviews. Once the application is approved and processed, applicants receive an electronic copy of the visa, enabling them to travel to their intended destination.
A visa on arrival is granted to travelers upon their arrival at a country's border crossing. In this case, travelers are not required to apply in advance. Visa on arrival may take the form of a sticker, an electronic visa, or a passport stamp.

Documents required to obtain a visa

The specific documents and requirements necessary for obtaining a visa can vary depending on factors such as the type of visa, the location of the visa application, the applicant’s nationality, and the destination country. However, most visa applicants are generally asked to provide the following documents and materials as part of their visa application


A passport with a minimum validity period as specified by the visa issuing country.

Visa application form

This can be a paper form or an electronic form that is filled out online.

Personal photo

Most visas require recent personal photos of the applicant, adhering to passport photo specifications.

Visa fees

Applicants are typically required to pay a visa fee, unless they qualify for an exemption.

Additional supporting documents

These vary based on the visa type and purpose of travel. Examples may include airline tickets, hotel reservations, proof of financial means, and relevant documents related to the purpose of travel.
Visa fees

Visa fees

When applying for a visa, it is important to consider the visa fee as a fundamental requirement. Each country specifies the fees applicants must pay for different types of visas. These fees may vary based on the nationality of the applicants, following the principle of reciprocity. Consular authorities may also offer reduced fees or exemptions for certain categories of applicants, such as children or students, as is the case for Schengen visa applications.

Consular authorities determine the acceptable currency and means of payment for visa fees, which may depend on where and how the application is submitted. The acceptable means of payment may include credit card, debit card, cash, or bank transfer, among others. Additionally, visa service providers may charge additional fees for services such as assisting with the proper submission of applications, verifying the veracity and completeness of supporting documents, and ensuring the accuracy and consistency of the information furnished in the application.

How to apply for a visa: step-by-step guide to visa applications

The visa application process can vary widely depending on various factors, such as the destination country, type of visa, purpose of travel, and other relevant considerations. Some visas can be acquired entirely online, while others require the submission of physical documents through embassies, consulates, or visa application centers. In certain cases, a combination of online initiation and in-person submission or interviews may be required. Generally, the following steps are involved in most visa applications:

  1. Filling out the visa application form
    • This involves providing personal information and answering questions related to the trip and the purpose of travel. The form can be either in paper or electronic format.
  2. Submitting required documents.
    • Applicants may need to submit physical copies of personal photographs and necessary documents, or upload electronic copies of the documents during the online application process.
  3. Payment of visa fees
    • At a specific stage of the application process, applicants are required to pay the visa fee using the
      designated payment method, which may include bank cards, cash, or bank checks.
  4. Attending a personal interview
    • In many cases, visa applicants are required to attend a personal interview with a consular officer. The interview serves to assess the applicant’s eligibility for the requested visa and may involve answering questions
      related to the application.
  5. Receiving the visa
    • Upon approval of the application, applicants can expect to receive the visa either via email in case of
      electronic visas or affixed to their passports in case of visa stickers. After receiving the visa, it is essential for applicants to verify the accuracy of the information before using it to travel to their intended destination.

Processing times for visa applications

After completing the necessary requirements and submitting the visa application, applicants must wait for a decision on their application. The processing time for visa applications can vary significantly, ranging from a few minutes to several days, and in some cases, even several months. Several factors influence the processing time, including the type of visa, travel destination, location of application submission, security checks, nature of the application, completeness of required documents and information, as well as the workload of the consular departments responsible for processing applications. Additionally, holidays and peak travel seasons may cause delays in decision-making.

Some countries may offer expedited processing options for specific types of visas, either for an additional fee or in urgent situations where travel cannot be delayed. Examples include study visas with specific start dates or cases involving family emergencies or humanitarian circumstances.

Visa validity and duration of stay

Visa validity refers to the period during which the visa can be used. Visas are usually valid for an extended period, covering the maximum allowed length of stay. For instance, the multiple-entry Schengen visa is issued with a validity of up to a year or more. The visa holder can travel to the Schengen area multiple times within this validity period, as long as the total duration of their stays does not exceed the maximum permissible period (typically 90 days within a 180-day period).

In some cases, visa validity can refer to the period within which the visa holder must use the visa to enter their destination country. For example, most UAE visas are typically valid for two months from the date of issue, meaning that the holder must enter the UAE during that period, or the visa will become invalid.

Duration of stay, on the other hand, indicates the period the visa holder is permitted to stay in the destination country using the visa. It is important to differentiate between the validity of the visa (the period it can be used for entry) and the duration of stay (the permissible length of time in the destination country). Some visas do not specify a specific duration of stay and leave it to the discretion of immigration officials at the port of entry. An example of this is the US tourist visa (B2 visa).

Visa waiver and visa-free travel

Not all travelers are required to obtain a visa when traveling, as many countries have provisions that allow certain nationalities to enter without a visa for specific purposes or under specific conditions. This visa exemption can be based on mutual agreements between countries or may be unilaterally granted by a country to travelers from certain nationalities. This feature provides travelers with greater travel freedom, making trip planning easier and freeing them from travel restrictions. It also saves them time and effort that would otherwise be spent on obtaining a visa.

The availability of visa-free travel destinations varies depending on the traveler’s passport. It’s important to note that some passports offer more opportunities for visa-free travel than others. This means that holders of stronger passports have greater access to a larger number of destinations without the need for a prior visa. Consequently, the most powerful passport in the world is the one that grants its holders the highest level of global mobility and allows them to travel to a greater number of destinations without requiring a visa.

 Visa waiver and visa-free travel

Extending visas and overstaying

Visa regulations differ among countries, and while some visas can be extended, renewed, or changed to allow for a longer stay, there are other types of visas that require the holder to leave the country immediately upon expiration, without the possibility of extension, renewal, or switching to another visa category. Here’s an explanation of these terms and the main differences between them:

Visa extension

Visa extension involves prolonging the duration of stay on the current visa while already in the destination country. For instance, in certain countries, tourist visas can be extended for additional periods before they expire. The extension process typically requires notifying the consular authorities, submitting an application, and paying extension fees.

Renewal of visa

Visa renewal refers to applying for a new visa of the same type as the previous one after the initial visa has expired. An example of this is when students renew their study visas to continue their studies. The requirements and procedures for visa renewal may vary depending on the country and visa type.

Change of visa

Changing a visa involves applying to switch to a different type of visa while already in the country on an existing visa. For instance, if someone is in the United States on a tourist (B2) visa but wishes to stay longer to pursue studies, they can apply to change their visa status to a student visa. The visa change process typically requires submitting an application, supporting documents, and paying a transfer fee.

When a visitor remains in a country beyond the expiration of their visa or the allowed period of stay without renewing, extending, or switching their visa to another type, they will be considered to have overstayed their visa. Overstaying a visa is a violation of immigration laws and can result in severe consequences, such as being denied re-entry, deportation, fines, and legal penalties. Moreover, overstaying a visa can have negative implications for future visa applications not only in the issuing country but also in other countries worldwide, as it raises concerns about the individual’s intentions and credibility. It is crucial for travelers to be aware of their visa’s expiration date and to comply with the rules and regulations of the country they are visiting to avoid overstaying their visa.

Tips for a successful visa application

When applying for a visa, it is crucial to take note of the following tips and recommendations in order to increase the chances of a successful visa application and obtain approval:

  • Submit all required documents in a timely manner and provide any additional supporting documents as requested by the embassy, consulate, or visa application center.
  • Ensure that all information provided in the application is accurate and complete.
  • Answer all questions on the visa application form truthfully and transparently.
  • Submit the application well in advance of the planned travel date to allow ample time for processing.
  • Consider availing the services of visa service providers or immigration consultants if necessary.
  • Clearly outline your itinerary, including flight reservations, accommodations, and planned activities.
  • Provide evidence demonstrating strong ties to your country of residence, such as property ownership, stable employment, or family connections, to establish your intention to return after the visit.
  • Adhere to all instructions provided by the embassy or consulate, including any specific requirements related to the type of visa being sought.
  • Maintain a polite and professional demeanor when interacting with embassy or consulate staff during personal interviews.

Visa application refusal: understanding your options for appeal

Visa applications may be rejected for various reasons, such as incomplete documentation, financial instability, failure to meet eligibility criteria, concerns regarding the applicant’s intent to depart after the visa expires, a criminal record, past violations of immigration rules, or overstaying previous visas. Consular authorities generally aim to ensure that applicants have sufficient funds to cover their expenses during the trip and are genuinely committed to returning to their home country.

In cases of visa application refusal, applicants may have the option to appeal the decision, depending on the immigration regulations of the destination country. The appeals process typically involves several steps, such as understanding the grounds for refusal, providing additional supporting documents, drafting a formal appeal letter that addresses the reasons for refusal, and submitting the appeal to the appropriate authority. It is crucial to ensure that the appeal letter is well-crafted, concise, and specifically addresses the stated reasons for the visa refusal. If the appeal is unsuccessful, some countries may offer other options, such as filing a new appeal or seeking judicial review before the competent courts, as part of their appeal process. Applicants who are considering appealing a visa application refusal may benefit from seeking legal advice or assistance from visa advisors or immigration attorneys, especially if they face complex or challenging cases.

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