How to Obtain a Visa to a Foreign Country


Each country has its own set of visas that are available to foreigners. Some countries might issue visas at borders while other require visa applications to be submitted, usually to an embassy or consulate, weeks before you intend to travel. Visa waiver programs also allow certain foreigners to travel without a visa, such as Canadian tourists who are allowed to enter the U.S. temporarily.

Things You'll Need

  • Valid passport
  • Complete visa application
  • Appropriate filing fee

Obtain a valid passport from your country of citizenship. If you are a U.S. citizen, you typically can obtain a passport at a local post office or Department of State passport agency. If you are traveling by plane, obtain a U.S. passport book and not a card (similar to a driver’s license). If you currently have a passport, make sure that you have blank pages for your visa(s) or add extra pages.

Find the foreign country’s government website about visas for foreigners. Most foreign countries operate embassies or consulates in the U.S. that provide specific information about visas. For example, the Chinese government established, the French website is, and Australian is Avoid solely relying on a non-government website that is created for commercial purposes.

Research visas and make an appropriate selection. Most countries offer single entry and multiple entry visas. If you plan to travel for a few weeks, you likely will need a tourist or visitor visa. If you plan to study at an institution, select a student visa, and if your trip is business related, consider a business visa.

Prepare a complete application, which often includes a basic form, passport-size photos and a filing fee. Read the application instructions carefully and address any concerns or questions. Some applicants require letters of invitation, such as from a foreign school or business, in order to issue a student or business visa.

Submit the application appropriately and timely. Each country has different visa application processing times. You might be able to expedite processing by paying a higher fee. If you are American and want a visa to go to China, then your application must be personally delivered (by you or someone you know) to the embassy in Washington, D.C., as no mailed applications are accepted.

Tips & Warnings

  • Make copies of your passport and visa. Place the copies strategically--in your wallet or suitcase, so that you have a reference in case your passport is stolen or lost.
  • Review State Department travel warnings, such as for information about countries that you should avoid entering.

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