Business visas are short-term visitor visas meant for people traveling for business on behalf of their employers. Most countries do not require US citizens to have a visa to visit for a brief business trip, but quite a few nations do require visas for US business travelers. Some of those countries that require business visas include:
- Saudi Arabia
When Do You Need a Business Visa?
If you are going on a job-related visit to a country that requires visas for US citizens, you’ll need to get a business visa. Some normal activities that would require a business visa include:
- Visiting overseas offices of your own company
- Business meetings and negotiations with a foreign company
- Site visits
- Presenting at a trade show or conference
- Dealing with business-related legal matters, including going to court
What is the Difference Between a Business Visa and a Work Visa?
There is a lot of confusion about what types of travel require a business visa and what requires a work visa. Many travelers think that because they’ll be working during their trip, they need a work visa! However, you only need a work visa if you are actually taking a job in the other country, not if you are doing work for your normal job in the United States. One easy way to think about it is to ask yourself, “who is paying me for the work I’ll do during this trip?” If you’ll keep getting your normal salary from your employer in the US, you need a business visa. If you’ll start drawing a salary from a new employer in the foreign country, you would need a work visa.
But what if you are visiting overseas offices of your own company? If you’re employed by a multinational corporation, you might think you need a work visa if you’re going to visit one of the foreign offices and spend some time there doing tasks like training, evaluations, or strategizing. Once again, the key is your salary. If your checks are still coming from the US operations, a business visa is appropriate. If you’ve been transferred to the foreign office and your salary will now originate there, you’d need a work visa.
Another item to consider is how long you’ll be staying in the destination country. Business visas are for brief trips of no more than 30 to 90 days. Even if you get a multiple entry business visa, which allows you to visit the country several times each year, you will be limited in how long you can stay in the country. Usually multiple entry business visas allow travelers to stay no more than a total of 90 days in each 180 day period. If you’ll be staying for more than three months at a stretch, you probably need a different kind of visa!
Tourism on a Business Visa
Travelers often wonder if they are allowed to combine business with pleasure and do tourist activities in a country they’ve entered on a business visa. If you’ve flown halfway around the world to consult with your IT team in India, why wouldn’t you want to take a few extra days to go see the Taj Mahal or relax at an ayurvedic spa? Or perhaps you’ve been granted a 10 year multiple entry business visa to China, and after you’ve returned from your business trip, you want to take your family back on a sightseeing trip. The good news is that yes, you are allowed to do these tourist activities with your business visa.
However, the reverse is not true. Most countries strictly enforce the rule that if you have entered on a tourist visa, you are not supposed to engage in any business activities. If caught, you could face penalties including fines and possible deportation.
Sometimes business travelers who are visiting exciting destinations like Brazil or Turkey want to take their spouse, children, or friends with them, and they wonder whether their companions should get a business visa, too. If your travel companions are coming along just for pleasure, they should get tourist visas. Embassies and consulates are used to seeing both business and tourist visa applications submitted together for people who want to turn a business trip into a family vacation.
What Do You Need to Get a Business Visa?
Business visa applications usually require more supporting documentation than tourist visas. Each country has their own set of requirements for business visas, some more complex than others. You’ll need to confirm the requirements for your destination by checking with the appropriate consulate or a visa expediting service. However, you can count on having to submit at least the following minimum requirements:
- Your Passport. Your passport must be signed and should have two blank pages marked “visas,” and be valid for at least six months past the end of your trip.
- Passport-style photographs. These must be new photographs, taken within the past six months. They need to be on photo paper and have a plain white background.
- Visa application. Make sure your visa application is completely and accurately filled out, and has your original signature in blue or black ink.
- Your flight itinerary. This needs to show your departure from the US, your entry to and departure from your destination country, and your return to the US. Your name must be clearly visible on the itinerary.
- A visa request letter from your employer. Your company in the US will need to write a letter introducing you and explaining the purpose of your trip. The letter must be on letterhead and addressed to the visa section of the consulate where you will apply for your visa. The letter should include your name, passport details, job title, the dates of your trip, full contact information for someone you will visit, and must have the original ink signature of a representative of your company. You cannot sign your own letter unless you are self-employed and have no other employees in your company.