Time counts, and waiting is hard. That's why you find yourself wondering, "How long does it take to get a visa?" Also, you just want to get going. Come on, already!
How Long Does It Take to Get a Visa?
So, how long does it take to get a visa? Realistically, most visas from most countries are processed within 15 to 25 days. Of course, there are always exceptions. For instance,
Europe's Schengen visa process is exceptionally streamlined, and every embassy uses the same standardized vetting process. China is notoriously bureaucratic. That means your work visa to China could take much longer.
Likewise, thanks to NAFTA, visa applications to Canada and Mexico are quick and easy. You can expect to wait between five and seven business days for a Canadian visa.
Meanwhile, a Mexican visa will take around 10 days. Also, a permanent resident visa will always take longer than a straightforward work visa.
What Type of Visa Do I Need?
Ultimately, it all comes down to the type of visa you need. And this is where it gets a little sticky.
Countries all have their own visa names and classifications. And despite numerous attempts by the international community to standardize visas, little progress has been made.
Until such a time as every country signs on to some sort of visa naming convention, we'll have to make do with the confusing array of international visas. So how long does it take to get a visa? A lot depends on the name.
There are working holiday visas, H-class visas, permanent resident visas, visas, and all sorts of in-betweens. But all visas can be classified into several broad categories, depending on what you're planning.
Let's assume for the moment that you're not interested in diplomatic visas or tourist visas. After all, you're an expat! Also, most residency visas are family-based, such as spousal visas, so we'll ignore that class for the time being. And transit visas are issued for those transferring through a country, which can include sports teams visiting for a day or two. So that doesn't apply to you, either.
Instead, we'll look at working visas, student visas, and business visas.
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How long does it take to get a visa if you're planning on working?
Working visas usually get processed rather quickly. You see, with a working visa you have a guaranteed source of income. Also, your employer promises the government that they'll be responsible for you. Governments love that kind of assurance!
That means your working visa should be processed in as little as a week, although they can take up to a month.
Allow me to tell you a story that begins when I applied for a visa to teach English in the Russian Federation.
The entire process was surprisingly easy, and I was able to do most of it online, thanks to excellent digital infrastructure in Russia. But then I had to mail in my passport, photos, and a voucher from the bank proving that I had deposited the respective fees. Here's where things slowed down.
The local Russian consulate took 21 days to process my visa. Meanwhile, I was biting my nails the entire time. What if they stole my passport? What if the post lost my application?
But then, my passport arrived via registered mail with a shiny Russian work visa affixed inside. I was good to go.
At the same time, a student visa can take a little longer to process.
How long does it take to get a visa if you're a student? A lot depends on the country. Surprisingly, more advanced nations have more stringent student requirements. For instance, Australia, Canada, and England can take up to a month.
Why is that?
It's because governments want to be sure that the applicant can afford to take care of themselves while they're studying. They need to confirm not only the invitation from the university but also the student's income and plans following graduation.
On the other hand, countries such as Japan and many European nations have much faster student visa turnaround.
Image via flickr
Finally, business visas take a little longer to process. How long does it take to get a visa if you're staying for business? Well, the answer once again depends on the country issuing the visa.
Europe's Schengen business visa takes between 10 and 15 days. But get this: a Mexican business visa takes between one and two days! However, a business visa to China takes, on average, between two and four months to process.
What Do I Need to Get a Visa?
You can stop asking, "How long does it take to get a visa?" now and focus instead on what you'll need for a visa. That's the most critical part of your visa application. That's because any mistakes here results in your application being returned.
And guess what?
Now you're back to square one and have to wait longer.
So, here's where we start.
Did you know that in most cases, you'll need someone to officially invite you to their country? It sounds weird, but that's how these things work.
However, in most cases, the letter of invitation is issued either through your employer or by a third-party agency who specialize in them.
These letters are actually legal documents written not for you, but for the government issuing your visa. As such, they are couriered to you, and the embassy will only accept originals. So make sure you add it to your visa application.
That said, not all countries require one, so double check before you start the application process.
Your ticket anywhere
Next is a no-brainer. You'll need a passport in order to get a visa. But here's the thing: in almost all cases, your passport has to be valid up to six months after your visa expires.
So that means if your visa expires in 12 months, your passport has to be valid for 18 months.
Make sure you double check your passport expiry date.
Third on the list of things you'll need to get a visa are passport photos. Most countries issuing a visa require two to four photos. You can usually get these done at the same place you get your passport photos taken. Often, they have the same requirements, although some places may have unique requirements.
You'll need to include these photos with your application.
Why do they need them? It's because they're entered into a government database. As soon as you apply for a visa, that government opens a file on you. They want to know who you are, what you look like, and above all, how they can find you if they need.
It's all rather serious stuff, so don't mess around with the photos.
Pay your way
Another big item on any embassy's visa requirements list is proof of income. How long does it take to get a visa if you have no money? A long time. As in forever, because no government wants to take on an extra burden to their social services.
So they require proof that you can support yourself while you're in their country. Which is why work visas are issued quickly, while student visas and business visas take longer.
With a work visa, you provide proof that you'll be working and earning a salary.
However, students need to show that they have finances in their bank account or some type of income to sustain them.
Business visas are tricky because many business people are in the country to start a new branch or sell a franchise or consult with local business operators. There's no income to show. So instead, embassies require proof of funds in a bank account. It can range from $100,000 to over a million. Each country is different.
Just in case
Finally, most nations require you to provide proof of health insurance. That's because even those countries with universal health care only provide it for their citizens and permanent residents. Visitors, including expats, still need to pay out of pocket.
And if you get into an accident or fall sick, the embassy wants to know that you'll be able to pay for health care. For that reason, you'll need long-term health insurance.
Don't Forget Visa-Free Travel!
Lastly, there's always the option of heading to a visa-free country.
Some countries don't require a visa for U.S. passport holders. It's true! Now, we're not talking about a quick visit to the Eiffel tower and a stamp in the passport. If you want to be an expat, you'll need to be able to stay for six months or longer.
Americans, Canadians, Brits, Australians, and most western Europeans can travel to dozens of countries visa-free. For instance, you can stay in Mexico for up to 180 days without a visa. It will cost you $22 to enter. Then, all you need to do is leave the country for 24 hours, and come back for another 180 days. There's no limit to how many times you can do that.
Georgia allows you to stay for up to one full year without a visa. The U.K. allows you to visit for up to 6 months in a 12-month period, but you're not allowed to earn money in that time.
Here are some other countries you can live in for six months or longer without a visa:
So you can wait for two weeks to six months for a visa from some countries, or enjoy living visa-free in one of these nations! How long does it take to get a visa? It all depends on where you're going and what you're doing there.
But no matter what, remember to enjoy your travels, and leave us some comments about your experiences getting a visa. We would love to know!