For all intensive purposes, a visa is an endorsement or stamp placed by officials of a foreign country on a passport that allows the bear to visit that foreign country. Pretty much, a visa is permission to enter a country.

This information deals with travelers visiting for tourism and business, not those planning to emigrate to foreign countries. Several countries have visa waiver programs for citizens wishing to visit for less than 90 days. For more on the visa waiver program

Visas are issued by governments for specific purposes and for finite periods. If you overstay your visa or use it for a purpose for which it was not issued – for instance, if you work while on a student visa – you may be deported. Moreover, if you are caught “out of status” – which includes using your visa incorrectly or overstaying it – you can be prohibited from returning for up to three years. Do it again and you can be banned for a decade. Immigration reserves the right to refuse entry to anyone they feel is going to go outside their visa restrictions.

Remember, it is your responsibility to obtain all necessary visas where required from the appropriate embassy of the countries you are planning to visit. Make sure you allow sufficient time for processing your visa application, especially if you are applying by mail. Processing times are difficult to predict for an individual applicant. Advance planning is a key ingredient to getting a visa.

It is important to note that most countries require your passport be valid at least 6 months past the date of your trip. You should always check with the embassy of the countries you plan to visit for any other requirements.

Which visa is for you?
Most countries have three major types of visas, and, as with most government documents, some of these have awkward numerical names. There is a Tourist Visa which is intended to allow a foreign citizen to come to do the tourist thing for up to three months. If your intention is simply to take a vacation or to come out for a special occasion like a wedding or graduation, this is the visa you need.

Student Visa is just that – a visa for students who wish to study abroad. In most cases this visa will allow you to remain in the country for as long as your degree program. Make sure you find out if you can work as most prohibit at least full time – they figure you’re there to study.

The third major type of visa is a Working Visa. If you want to go to a country to work full time or for a finite number of years, you will need a working visa.

There are also transit visas valid for 1-2 days and are issued if you need to travel overland thru a country.

Some visas can be obtained at the border while others you must get before you leave. Contact the embassy of the country you wish to visit for more information. Typically, there will be a embassy or consulate in the capital city of your home country as well as in the major cities i.e. Los Angeles, Sydney, Zurich.

You will be required to pay a fee (usually non-refundable) with your visa application. You may also be required to submit a passport sized photo. Before you send your passport through the mail to apply for a visa, sign it in ink and write in pencil your current address and daytime telephone number in the space provided. This will help the embassy return it to you should it become separated from the envelope during processing.

It is interesting to note that some Middle Eastern or African countries will not issue visas or allow entry if your passport indicates travel to Israel.

Here is more information on the individual types of visas available: