The process of obtaining a visa, as I’ve now come to learn, is vastly different depending on each country you’re trying to visit as well as which country you’ll be traveling from (or have your citizenship in). As Americans, getting in and out of the majority of worldwide nations remains on the easy side; however, do not be fooled. There are still a plethora of proverbial hoops to jump through.
If you’re a tourist and traveling to a country for three months or less, most countries will allow holders of United States passports the luxury of purchasing a visa at the point of entry, most often an airport or train station. If you’re planning to live and work abroad, the process is similar albeit somewhat more complicated.
For example, when I was hired at Samanyolu Schools in Turkiye, I was told to pay $20 USD at the airport for a 90 day tourist visa and once inside the country, the school and recruiting firm would work tirelessly (a joke unto itself) to help me obtain both a residence permit and work permit. In most cases, residence and/or work permit will supersede tourist visas, thereby allowing you to remain in the nation longer than three months (for more information on residence permits, please click here).
On the contrary, when I was hired at Avalon Academy in South Korea, I had to FedEx my passport, application, college degree, and other documents to Seoul so they could prepare them and send them to the consulate in New York. Once the consulate was through with them, they mailed the passport – complete with visa – back to me and I became eligible to live and work in South Korea for one year.
Both processes were virtually painless and easy. So when it came time for Jen and I to apply for our work permits and visas for the upcoming year in Shanghai, China, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I suppose being American spoils one a bit. South Korea loves the United States. Turkiye used to love us and now has a ‘meh’ sort of indifference toward us. Some countries make it very difficult to get inside their borders to visit, let alone work for a year. Apparently, China tows that particular line (just slightly below North Korea, Cuba, and Iran).
- From the China Embassy website: “Any person suffering from a mental disorder, leprosy, AIDS, venereal diseases, contagious tuberculosis or other such infectious diseases shall not be permitted to enter China.”
what, What, WHAT?!?!
When we began, I knew we would be applying via the Chinese consulate (in New York City) or the Chinese embassy (in Washington D.C.), but I assumed we could do everything using in the mail. Oh, how wrong I was. Not only did we have to prepare a mountain of paperwork, but we had to report to the consulate in person… twice. Yep, you read that correctly. We had to drive up to midtown Manhattan to drop off the paperwork and then again to pick up the visas about four days later. Two trips (that’s two more than I had to make for both Korea and Turkiye).
Additionally, we had to email said documents to the school in China first and wait impatiently (for over 2 weeks) while they prepared our work permits and – get this – a ‘letter of invitation’ from the Chinese government. Without this letter, we would not be allowed to get visas or enter the country. Below is the list of documents we needed to gain access:
- Photocopy of Passport Photo Page
- College Degree
- TEFL/TESOL Certificate
- Criminal Background Check
- Physical Health Report (complete with HIV and other blood work)
- Letter of Recommendation from Previous Employer (aka Turkiye, which ended up being a pain to get)
Aside from the resume, all of these documents needed to be stamped with an official seal from the doctor, employer, law enforcement agency, or educational institution before they would be accepted as authentic copies. Once they were supplied to the school, we were gifted with the letter of invitation and our work permits. Then the application for the visa with extra passport photos needed to be handed to the consulate in person with the documents from China so that we could obtain our visas.
I’m thankful we live close enough to the northeast US to get to either New York or Washington. But what if you live somewhere in middle America? Residents of Idaho, Iowa, or Oklahoma would have a substantially difficult time without the money required to fly to the consulate in person. So what do they do?
There are several online companies offering visa services for a small fee. They will collect all your documents and have a duly designated representative apply on your behalf. After the visa has been processed, they’ll pick it up and mail it back to you. Typically these charges range from $50-$70 USD; unless of course you need the visa expressed or expedited due to time constraints. That will jack your price up to approximately $120-$150 USD – per visa!
Needless to say, we did not utilize one of these services and simply drove up to the City. During the drive, I found myself wondering what we might have to do in order to get into more difficult countries than China (which is already on the list of most difficult). For instance, to visit the Door to Hell in Turkmenistan visitors must agree to pay for a guide up front, before obtaining the visa. They also require a letter of invitation (we probably won’t be visiting one of the most underrated tourist attractions in the world then, sigh…).
If you’re planning on working overseas, your employer should be able to answer any questions you may have about the work permit and visa applications. If you’re only visiting, there is plenty of information online to assist you as every country’s consulates and embassies have their own websites with pages specifically for visa applicants. I encourage everyone to get off their bums and visit and/or live in some place new. It will change who you are and how you view the world.
Until Next Time…