A tourist visa is a short-term visitor visa issued to leisure travelers. The majority of the world’s nations allow US citizens to visit for tourism without a visa, but many countries do require US citizens to get a visa for a tourist visit. Some countries that require tourist visas for US citizens include:
When Do You Need a Tourist Visa?
Every country maintains its own rules about what you can and can’t do with a tourist visa. If you are visiting a country that requires that US citizens have a visa to enter, you’ll need to make sure you get the right kind of visa for your purpose of travel. In general, you’ll need a tourist visa if the main purpose of your trip is for one of the following activities:
- Sightseeing, visiting resorts, hiking, and other general leisure travel
- Attending sports competitions or artistic performances
- Medical treatment
- Visiting friends or family, if you are going to be staying in a hotel
Other activities may or may not be appropriate to do on a tourist visa, depending on the rules of the country you will visit. You may need either a tourist visa or a different type of visa if you will:
- Visit friends or family, and stay in their home. For most countries, this would require a tourist visa, but for other countries, like Russia, it would require a “homestay” or “family visit” visa.
- Attend a conference or trade show. Some countries may want you to get a business visa if you are going to attend a business-related conference or trade show. India even has a special “conference” visa meant for people attending conferences organized by a government organization or public university!
- Do volunteer work. Usually, if you are not being paid for volunteer work, you can enter the country on a tourist visa. However, some countries are strict about not allowing tourists to do volunteer work. Tanzania, for example, has several different categories of visas that are issued to volunteers, depending on how long they’ll be working in the country.
- Go on a religious pilgrimage, or do missionary work. Like volunteer work, if you will be doing missionary work or volunteering for a religious charity, you may need a special type of visa. Some countries also require special visas for people doing religious pilgrimages. Saudi Arabia, for example, has two special classes of visa called “Hajj” and “Umrah” for religious pilgrims.
- Take a class for fun. Thinking of taking language classes when you travel? Or signing up for a course in photography or yoga? If you won’t be earning educational credit for your class, you can likely use a tourist visa.
- Hunting. A tourist visa is all you need for a hunting trip for most countries, but if you plan to bring in your own weapons, you’ll need to get a gun permit as well.
What Can’t You Do On a Tourist Visa?
Certain activities always require a different type of visa instead of a tourist visa. If you plan to do any of the following, don’t try to use a tourist visa!
- Do business negotiations. If you’re traveling on behalf of your company and will be doing business negotiations, meetings, site visits, or other business activities, you should have a business visa.
- Get a job. You’ll need to have a work visa in order to legally gain employment in a foreign country.
- Go to school. Doing an exchange program or attending university in another country? You’ll need a student visa.
- Take up residence. If you’re going to live overseas on a long-term basis, you’ll need a residence visa.
If you aren’t sure whether you should get a tourist visa or another type of visa, we recommend you contact a visa expediting service for assistance.
What Do You Need to Get a Tourist Visa?
Every country has their own set of requirements to get a tourist visa, but you are likely to have to submit the following:
- Your Passport. Your passport must be signed and have two blank pages marked “visas,” and must be valid for at least six months past the end of your trip.
- Passport-style photographs. These should be new photographs, taken within the past six months. They need to be on photo paper and have a plain white background.
- Visa application. Your visa application should be completely filled out, and you’ll need to sign it in ink.
- Your flight itinerary. This should show your name and your departure from the US, your entry to and departure from your destination country, and your return to the US.
- Hotel reservations or a letter of invitation. Your hotel reservations should show every day you’ll be in the destination country. If you have a letter of invitation instead, this can be from a tourist company in the country, or from a personal host like a family member or friend.
You can find the exact requirements for the visa you’ll need by contacting the appropriate embassy or consulate or by working with a visa expediting company.