Passports and Visa, a Breakdown

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.