Visa Explanation: What are Visas?

A woman stressing over a computer, probably applying for a visa.

If you’ve never traveled before and don’t have a passport, travel to a country that requires a visa can be a long and confusing process. Even if you’ve had a passport, especially an American one, most countries do not require a visa so finally needing to obtain one can rattle one’s brain. First off, what even is a visa and why do you need one for some countries but not others? A visa is essentially a country’s government allowing you into the country. You need a visa to travel to countries which may have an unstable relationship with your country of origin. For example, ongoing tension between nations which once heavily leaned towards Communism (think China, Russia, Vietnam) all require US citizens to obtain visas to enter. Likewise, all citizens originating from the three aforementioned nations must obtain a visa to enter the USA.

Luckily, most countries do not require a visa to visit if you hold a US passport, and even some countries that do will allow you to apply for a visa on arrival. Regardless, when you do need a visa the shock of finding out can ruin a trip, especially if you don’t find out until the day you depart. Most airlines will allow you to book a trip to a country that requires a visa without having you confirm whether or not you hold a valid visa. This leads to situations where people book trips that they cannot attend due to not being aware of the necessity to obtain a visa!

What Countries Require Visas and Where Can You Apply?

As mentioned above, the list of countries that require visas change depending on your country of origin. We’ll be focusing on countries that require visas for US citizens though, in particular we’ll be looking at visas you’ll have to apply before arriving in the country. To begin, here’s a list of every country that requires a visa for entry for those entering with a US passport:

  • Afghanistan
  • Algeria
  • Angola
  • Australia
  • Azerbaijan
  • Benin
  • Bhutan
  • Burundi
  • Cameroon
  • Chad
  • China
  • Congo
  • Cuba
  • Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Eritrea
  • Gabon
  • Ghana
  • India
  • Iran
  • Iraq
  • North Korea
  • Liberia
  • Libya
  • Mali
  • Myanmar
  • Nauru
  • Niger
  • Nigeria
  • Oman
  • Pakistan
  • Russia
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Sierra Leone
  • Somalia
  • South Sudan
  • Sri Lanka
  • Sudan
  • Syria
  • Turkey
  • Turkmenistan
  • Uganda
  • Uzbekistan
  • Venezuela 
  • Vietnam
  • Yemen

A notable exemption from the list is Brazil, which recently waived visa requirements for US citizens. Applying for a visa varies from country to country. Some countries, such as India and Australia offer the option to apply online, which can take a few days. Other countries such as Nigeria require you to apply directly at their embassy and get your bio-metrics taken at a nearby facility. In the case of Nigeria, you don’t even have the option of applying through a third-party. Consequently, this means you’ll need to be physically present.

This rule does not hold true for all visa. China and Russia, two of the most visited countries on the list, allow you to apply with third-party services. These private couriers can greatly reduce the headache of the entire application process. While this does incur an additional cost on top of the base visa application fee, it does save you time and money.

How Can Third-Party Services Save You Time and Money

A Jurisdiction Map for the Chinese Consulates in the US.

So, how can applying through a third-party courier service will save you money on your visa? It’s a good question, one would think that doing everything yourself would be the most optimal way of applying as it gives you full control of the process. This isn’t always the case though. Unless the country allows you to apply for your visa online, you’ll most likely have to make a trip to the nearest consulate or embassy which might not even be in your state!

Let’s use China as our example. There are several Chinese Consulates dotting the United States, but you may only apply to the consulate that serves your jurisdiction, your jurisdiction is determined by the state which issued your driver’s license (or state ID). You can find a jurisdiction map for US citizens above. Let’s say you live in Utah, while the consulates in Texas, San Francisco, or LA may be closer to you geographically, you’ll still be required to apply out of the Embassy in DC because of where you dwell. As a result, third party couriers can come in hand.

A private courier is registered with the consulate and may take the application to the consulate on your behalf. Couriers are also permitted to pick up your application once it has been completed. Because of this, they are able to ship it to you using their preferred method of shipping. So while you may be paying a bit extra for shipping and courier fees, you save yourself a trip to the Consulate to drop off your application, as well as the return trip to pick it up. 

Do I Need a Passport to Apply for a Visa?

In most cases you will need a valid passport to apply for a visa. The reason why is because your passport information will be registered with the country you are entering with in order to obtain your visa. Not only this but, assuming you won’t be applying for your visa online, you’ll have to submit your physical passport. This does mean that if your passport is expired or if you are out of valid passport pages, you’ll need to either apply for a new passport or a passport renewal. 

If you don’t have a passport at all and are traveling to a country that requires a visa this does mean you’ll need to acquire a new passport as well as applying for a visa. Depending on how you go about obtaining the passport and which country you intend to visit, this process could take upwards of a month.

How Do I Get Started?

If you don’t want to wait a month for your passport, you can always apply with us, here at The Passport Office. We offer professional private courier services that allow us to get you your passport in as quickly as one day depending on your situation. You can apply online, or visit one of our many offices across the nation to get your application started today.

Likewise, we offer many visa services over at Visa Service Department, and we offer specialty services with China Visa Department. As veterans in the travel documentation industry, we offer you secure passport-to-visa services with some of the lowest rates in the business. Our offices offer both passport and visa services, so give us a call, visit us online, or stop by in person to inquire about what you’ll need to travel or to get the process started today.

Hong Kong Riots and What You Can Do to Travel Safely

Facade of claustrophobic Hong Kong apartments

If you’ve been keeping an eye on the news you may be aware of a recent slew of riots that have been sweeping through the city of Hong Kong. The riots began as an extradition bill was introduced to the Hong Kong legislature which would allow the government of mainland China to extradite convicts from Hong Kong to the mainland. The reason why this issue is so hot is because of the implications it poses for Hong Kong’s future sovereignty.

For those not in the know of how Hong Kong functions and operates, the city used to belong to the United Kingdom. Even to this day many in Hong Kong still speak English, and entry does not require a visa which makes it a great gateway to visit Asia for the first time without going through all the rigmarole usually involved in a trip to mainland China. In 1997 the government of the UK handed over the ownership of the island to the PRC (People’s Republic of China) with the exception that Hong Kong would be allowed to self govern itself for the next 50 years. This means that in 2047 the border between mainland China and Hong Kong will be dissolved and the city will be expected to fully integrate into mainland Chinese culture and politics.

What Could This Imply For Residents of Hong Kong

2047 may seem like a far off date, however some of those who dwell in Hong Kong, we’ll call them Hong Kongers, have been noticing the gradual shift away from their generally Democratic system of governance for sometime now. The extradition bill to many Hong Kongers seems like another step towards their city’s independence being full striped away as intended. The bill would naturally allow the PRC to try criminals in their own court rather than allowing Hong Kong’s judicial system to bear the burden. This is a major issue as the PRC’s judicial system is often viewed as corrupt, unjust, and often cruel to those who find themselves accused. Just as recently as 2013, mainland China’s conviction rate was 99.9 percent, which means that if you stood accused of a crime you’d more than likely have to face the sentence.

What’s more is that certain things are legal in Hong Kong are illegal just a few miles away in Shenzhen. Things such as distribution of books or media which may disrupt the harmony or trust in the Communist Party, novels such as Animal Farm are banned. This means that those who operate book stores in Hong Kong are under close scrutiny from mainland officials, especially with recent attempts to smuggle books to mainland China.

What Does This Mean for You?

With all this historic context in mind you can see why the riots have involved hundreds of thousands, and even millions, of Hong Kongers have been marching in protest. However, what does this mean for those traveling to Hong Kong or mainland China? Well, be wary and stay out of the way of any protests if you are already in Hong Kong. While the protesters won’t do any harm to you, the real threat is being mistaken as a protestor when a fight breaks out between rioters and police or even worse masked gangs who have been targeting rioters.

If you plan on traveling to Hong Kong be wary that protests have taken to the airport in some cases lead to flight cancellations. It may be wiser simply to enter Hong Kong via the bridge between Shenzhen and Hong Kong. While this may require that you obtain a Chinese Visa, it does let you skip out on the possibility of losing a flight. Be warned however, military convoys do seem to be traveling via the road from Shenzhen to Hong Kong frequently nowadays, and military demonstrations are common place as shows of force by the PRC. During days when demonstrations are occurring, expect some major streets to be closed which may slow down commute times.

Ultimately the safest thing to do would be to avoid going to Hong Kong all together. If you plan on going despite the ongoing situation then exhibit great caution with where and when you go out. Keep in mind that governments the world over have been issuing notices to their citizens to avoid protest demonstration locations. These locations are the most likely place where you can expect to find danger during a stay in Hong Kong. If you can manage avoided marches, protests, demonstrations, or any other political event happening, you should be able to enjoy your trip unscathed. We cannot recommend participating in the riots based on the treatment protesters have been receiving by Hong Kong police.

Alternatives to Hong Kong

Macao Skyline by day

While the protests may be slowing down travel, don’t let that stop you from visiting the rest of Asia. If you want a city in a similar flavor to Hong Kong without having to worry about a random march blocking your passage to that coffee shop you just heard about, remember that Macao isn’t far off and also does not require a visa for entry. Even mainland China is relatively unaffected by the riots, aside from the military convoys you may see here and there heading south. 

If you do plan on heading to China you’ll be expected to acquire a China Visa which can take at minimum 4 days to acquire, this can be a pretty complicated process if you’ve never applied for a visa before, but let us worry about that. When you work with China Visa Department, we guarantee fast and professional handling of your China visa application. Not only will we make sure that your application is delivered securely to the Consulate of your jurisdiction, we’ll keep an ear to things to make sure the information you get is as up-to-date as can be.

Regardless of whether you visit Hong Kong or mainland China, you’ll be needing a passport in order to leave the country and eventually reenter. If you don’t already have a passport and plan to travel soon, now is the time to apply. With The Passport Office you can have a new passport in your hands in as little as two business days. We’ll walk you through all necessary steps required as well as providing you with our expert consulting which

China Visa Application Errors Cause Delays

Someone filling out a china visa application by hand.

Applying for a china visa is already enough of a headache, but there are small details that can bring a whole new realm of complexity to the process if you aren’t careful. Like any country permitting foreigners to enter, the government of China doesn’t want to let any potential risks slip through the cracks so they tend to be strict. Some of these rules may seem esoteric or even ridiculous, so let’s take a look at some of them and dissect why they exist and how you can avoid them.

Blacklisted Countries

Chances are that if you’re making the trip to China you’ve probably been to other countries around the world. While this is not usually an issue, the government of China takes issue if you’ve been to certain parts of the world. Most of these countries tend to be middle-eastern nations that have recently experienced a certain level of unrest, countries such as Afghanistan and Libya. Some countries that make the blacklist are pretty strange though…

France is the number one tourist destination in the world, particularly for the Chinese who swarm to France’s capital throughout the year. Despite this fact, China has issues with the country of France due to an anti-Tibetan occupation demonstration which took place in France during the 2008 Chinese Olympic games. Since this event, all French citizens must apply for China visas in person as they must willingly submit themselves for an interview.

 If you’ve been to France and have a stamp in your passport to prove it, you’re best off submitting a letter along with your application explaining why you went to France. This goes for any other country on the blacklist, if you’ve got a stamp in your passport go ahead and explain why you went via letter. Your visa process won’t be delayed if you preemptively submit explanation, but if you fail to initially you’ll be required to ship in a letter of explanation. Getting your application suspended by the Consulate or Embassy essentially resets the timer on your visa. If you were quoted a 4 day turn around but were forced to send in materials, go ahead and add an extra day of processing time for shipping plus another 4 days to get that visa turned around. Needless to say, check your stamps and make sure you submit a letter if you’ve been to any of the below:

  • Afghanistan
  • Bangladesh
  • Congo
  • Egypt
  • France
  • Ghana
  • Haiti
  • Iran
  • Iraq
  • Israel
  • Kazakhstan
  • Kyrgyzstan
  • Lebanon
  • Libya
  • Mali
  • Nigeria
  • Pakistan
  • Russia
  • Sri Lanka
  • Tajikistan
  • Turkey
  • Ukraine
  • Uzbekistan

Certain Professions

Journalists in many cases have a tough time when applying for chinese visas.

The Chinese Government is wary of some individuals who work in certain fields. For example, if you are a religious worker you may have issues with getting a standard visa, especially if it appears that you’re going to be doing any missionary work while you are in China. If it’s the case that you are a religious missionary and ARE going to China to spread the good news you can expect to be called in for an interview, you may even be asked specifically not to fulfill any missionary duty as leverage for entering the country.

It’s not just religious officials that China visas come hard to, federal government officials who are high ranking enough may raise red flags at the Consulate/Embassy. Again, if you hold a high ranking government position and list it on your application do not be surprised when you are called in for a  brief interview. 

Finally on the list of professions to avoid if you plan on entering China is anything related to the entertainment industry. Whether you work in the news or your just a blogger on YouTube, working in media scares Chinese officials. You may not be called in for an interview however, there’s a special form specifically for those who hold media positions that can get you past the application process without a hassle. The form essentially has the individual declare that they won’t document anything while they are in China and that if they do it won’t be in a disparaging way against the country or the communist party. While this form will get you a china visa without an interview, Chinese border patrol still reserve the right to deny you entry based on your vocation, be warned.

China Visa Application Errors

The china visa application itself offers a myriad of questions to those who are filling it out. The most common mistakes on the application are typically forgetting to fill out the application in all caps OR forgetting to put ‘N/A’ in spaces that do not apply to you. Besides these beginner mistakes, there are some other seemingly insignificant errors that you can make your application process hell. For example, claiming that your unemployed on your application is generally fine, however if you claim to be unemployed but also claim to be funding your own trip to China the consulate/embassy may inquire as to how you are affording this trip with your current job status. Instead of checking unemployed it’s preferable to check ‘retired’ or if you are yet to retire, simply state that someone else (such as a parent or spouse) is funding the trip.

Other issues on a china visa application that can slow you down your visa process include misspelling names or checking the incorrect box for your gender. To keep things simple make sure that all the information on the application lines up with the information provided on your government IDs. If your name on your passport and Driver’s License don’t match up completely, remember that there is a field provided on the Chinese Visa Application for your ‘other known names’.

Time to Apply for Your China Visa

Now that you’ve learned what it takes to whip up a masterful Chinese Visa Application without making any glaring mistakes, it’s time to apply. If you don’t live near one of the Chinese Consulates around the USA it can be hard to get your application started, in some cases people will driver hours to their nearest consulate. Instead of driving and bleeding precious time, just work with us at China Visa Department. We make the process easy by helping you assemble your application as well as taking care of all courier services. Get your China Visa in as little as 4 business days when you work with us.

If you are in need of a passport as well make sure to check us out at The Passport Office as well. Our private passport expediting services have been providing travelers with fast and secure expedited passports for over 20 years. Apply now and get your passport application started with the peace of mind knowing that trained professional will be guiding you every step of the way.