The Common Law

Visa to travel – when & why?

I'm planning to travel abroad and have my passport, but others have told me I might need a visa for some of the countries I plan to visit. I'm not sure what a visa is and never had one when I left the country before. How do I know if I need a visa, and where do I get it?

Armed with lots of energy and your passport, you plan for the international trip of a lifetime. Unless your dream trip involves endless hours in customs, never-ending phone calls, long lines, and bureaucratic red tape, you better think about where you are headed and whether you need a visa to enter the country.

Overlooking visa requirements is a common mistake for American travelers who are accustomed to traveling to destinations that don't require visas. The mistake happens more frequently than you might think. For example, the Common Law recently learned about a prominent Austin attorney who suffered several days of delays because she failed to get a visa to enter Brazil.

A visa is permission granted and issued by another country for you to enter that country. Permission to enter another country is within the sole discretion of that country. Some countries allow Americans to enter the country for limited periods of time without visas (Mexico & many Caribbean nations for example). But many other countries require a visa to enter the country.

Visas are issued by foreign government offices in the United States. You should contact the embassy or consulate in the United States of the country you are traveling to in order to determine whether a visa is needed.

There are many categories of visas depending on what you intend to do while you are abroad: visit, work, or study. The requirements and processing times for your visa will depend on which type of visa you need. It is important to note, however, that it can usually take several weeks to obtain a visa, so it's best to get your visa well in advance of your departure date. Expedited options for processing a visa request are usually available but require additional fees.

Read next week's column to learn more about the process for obtaining a visa.

Please submit column suggestions, questions, and comments to Submission of potential topics does not create an attorney-client relationship, and any information submitted is subject to being included in future columns.

Marrs, Ellis & Hodge LLP,

The material in this column is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute, nor is it a substitute for, legal advice. For advice on your specific facts and circumstances, consult a licensed attorney. You may wish to contact the Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas, a non-profit public service of the Austin Bar Association, at 512-472-8303 or

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