30 Jul

You can’t come here without one

ABTA's Sean Tipton tells you you why it's important to check the entry requirements of the country you're visiting before you book.

Picture the scene – you’re heading off on an exotic trip so you’re doing your last minute checks. Passport up to date, travel insurance sorted, you’ve had all the relevant jabs weeks ago but then a nagging thought suddenly strikes you. Do I need a visa? Well the answer to that, for most destinations, is that you probably don’t. We are very lucky, as UK and EU citizens, that most countries will let us in so long as we have a valid passport, though some do insist that it’s got at least six months’ validity on it. But there are a significant number of very important destinations that do require visas. These include Australia, the USA, India and Turkey, and if you’re heading off for more than three days, Russia, but there are plenty of others.

...it’s important that you check if you need a visa as soon as you make the booking...

As a rule of thumb if you’re heading off anywhere outside of the EU, check the relevant Foreign Office travel advice page under Entry Requirements and it will tell you whether or not you need a visa and, just as importantly, where to get one; the FCO travel advice will link you to the official government website of the destination concerned.

The fact that so many destinations have moved the visa application online is a significant improvement for travellers, making the application process much less time consuming.

However, some destinations will require you to attend an interview in person and that’s why it’s important that you check if you need a visa as soon as you make the booking as the process can sometimes take a while. If you are travelling at the last minute it’s a good idea to check visa requirements before you book to make sure you have enough time to apply. If you are travelling to the USA you will be able to get your electronic visa online – it’s called an ESTA. However, if you have had any involvement with the police, no matter how minor, you will almost certainly be called in for a face-to-face interview, with no guarantee that you will be successful with your application, so it might be advisable to sort out your visa before you book your trip.

Finally, why do visas exist in this day and age of fast and convenient international travel? Well, firstly, it’s a way for a destination to keep a check, in advance, on who is visiting its country and keep out any undesirables. Secondly, destinations may feel that the citizens of certain countries are much more likely to overstay their welcome and visas are a good way of keeping track on them. Lastly, they can generate a nice revenue stream and what government doesn’t like the sound of that?