Living in another country for a long period of time generally requires a residency visa no matter where you go. However, U.S. citizens can travel as short-term tourists to many countries – Canada, Mexico and EU countries, among them – without needing a visa. A number of other popular destinations do require tourist visas, generally before you leave the U.S.
Here, in alphabetical order, is a list of some of the most popular countries that require a visa.
U.S. citizens need a visa when traveling to Brazil for any purpose. You must have proper documentation, including a visa, upon landing in Brazil. If you do not have the proper visa, authorities will immediately deport you back to your home country. The visa application may be obtained from the Brazilian Embassy before you leave home. Upon entering Brazil, travelers will also have to fill out an immigration form that will be handed back to them by officials. You need this form to leave the country. If you lose it, you could be be detained by police and owe a fine. The fee for U.S. citizens to obtain a visa is $100.
U.S. citizens planning to visit China’s mainland must apply for an entry visa through the Chinese Embassy or Consulate General. Visitors must apply approximately one month before their trip as they will not be granted a visa at the port of entry (this can also be done through a reputable tour or travel company). With a U.S. passport, citizens do not need a visa to enter Hong Kong, but travelers who plan to visit China’s mainland while in the region will need a visa to travel from Hong Kong to China. A single entry visa is $140. For more on visiting China, see 5 Money Saving Travel Tips For China.
Any U.S. citizen traveling to India must have a travel visa. U.S. citizens planning to stay fewer than 30 days may apply for an electronic travel authorization at least four days prior to their arrival in lieu of applying for a tourist visa at an Indian embassy or consulate. Visitors who plan on staying more than 180 days and are planning to work, do research or act as missionaries must register their residency with 14 days at the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO). Requirements for an Indian visa change frequently, often without notice, so travelers should get the latest information from the Indian Embassy website. Fees start at $63.
According to the U.S. Embassy website, Russia has a very strict and complicated visa system regarding foreign nationals entering the country. Not only must American citizens have a visa to enter the country, but if it expires before they leave, they may be stranded in the country for up to 20 days. There are many nuances to obtaining a Russian visa, including needing a sponsor, which could be a travel company, relative or friend, hotel or university. There are also places in Russia where Americans are not permitted to go. It is best to book travel through a known travel company that can grant sponsorship and help you navigate the visa system. The processing fee for visas changes constantly; a single or double entry visa is $160.
This has become one of the most popular Asian countries for U.S. tourists. Besides a visa, U.S. citizens must have more than six months' validity remaining on their passport. A traveler may obtain a visa or a visa exemption document from a Vietnamese embassy or consulate prior to traveling to Vietnam (and must apply for the right kind of visa, whether it is for tourism, work or volunteer activities). An alternative is a written approval letter gotten through a travel agency prior to departure for Vietnam that allows travelers to get a Visa on Arrival (VOA). Be wary of unscrupulous travel companies, which have been charging very high fees for these visas. The U.S. Embassy also warns travelers that Vietnam has both a visa fee and a visa-processing fee and sometimes it varies from person to person. For current fees, email the Vietnamese Embassy through its website.
The Bottom Line
Be sure to research whether any countries you wish to visit have visa requirements and give yourself plenty of time to get your papers in order before your trip begins. In addition, it's safest to be sure your passport is valid for at least six months before you travel anywhere. Click here for the U.S. State Department website's country-by-country information. For more on traveling see The Best Places To Exchange Currency and Do Your Card's Travel Benefits Make The Grade?