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The answer is: it depends. First and foremost, to travel to foreign countries you will typically need a passport to enter another nation and a passport to re-enter the United States.
Next let's discuss what exactly a visa is, if you need one to go to certain countries, where to get one, etc. In the United States we have two different types of visas: immigrant visas and nonimmigrant visas. Nonimmigrant visas are usually for tourists and business visitors. Those who hold immigrant visas are entitled to stay in the U.S. permanently and eventually apply for citizenship.
Many Americans may think visas are only needed by those visiting or attempting to move to the United States, but that is not the case. While the United States does require visas for certain travel to the U.S., most other countries have similar policies in place as well. Indeed, Americans traveling to countries like Brazil and Argentina have recently learned that it can be a pricey proposition to get a visa to those countries because they have opted to charge the same amount of money for a visa.
In any event, the U.S. Department of State outlines the specific requirements for Americans traveling abroad. In many cases, the need for a visa depends a lot on the length of your stay. Many countries, including Western Europe, Chile, Peru, Thailand, the Caymans and Bermuda will let you enter with just a valid passport and return flight information and allow you to stay up to 90 days in a 6 month time period. A valid passport is usually also required for sea travel including ferry service in countries with cruise ship ports.
Visa requirements vary from country to country. If you are planning to visit as a tourist for less than 90 days a tourist visa should cover your stay. If the trip is specifically for business you may be required to obtain a special visa depending on the purpose of your business. For example in the United States we have visa specifically for people of extraordinary talent such as athletes. They require a different visa than a head of an international corporation visiting the United States branch office.
A few countries, such as Egypt and Bangladesh will allow you enter with an airport visa (landing permit), this is not recommended as the operating hours of these facilities do not always correspond with flight arrivals.
For the remaining countries requiring a visa upon entry you must obtain your visa prior to your departure. Additional prerequisites may be required including a passport with at least six months or more validity, a completely blank page for the country’s visa and, in less developed countries, evidence of yellow fever and other vaccinations. For additional information traveling with a visa click here.
Getting your travel visa is fairly simple in the internet age. There are a number of companies online that will process your visa application for you for the cost of the visa (this varies from country to country) and a small processing fee. Or you can visit your local consulate to complete the process.
When planning your next adventure abroad, make sure your passport and any necessary visas are valid are taken care of prior to departure to ensure a hassle-free trip.
For more information on visas, contact an local immigration attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.