Visa 101: What You Need to Know Before Travelling Abroad

A person filling out a visa application

2.91min read

Published 30 September 2019


So you’ve decided to go on an overseas holiday. Exciting! But before you pack your bags and head off on your dream holiday, there’s a bit of research and paperwork you’ll need to do first. Especially when it comes to visas. If you’re lucky, your chosen destination won’t need a visa and you’re free to go. But for many countries, a visa is a must. Here’s everything you need to know about visas to enjoy a hassle-free holiday abroad.

What is a visa?

A visa is an official document that allows you to legally enter a foreign country. It’s usually stamped or glued into your passport, then checked by officials at the airport before you can enter the country. There are different types of visas for different types of travel depending on how long you want to stay in the country, and what you intend to do while you’re there.

When do I need a visa?

That depends on where you’re going. Some countries have an agreement with the South African government, which means you won’t need a visa. But for those that don’t, you’ll need to apply ahead of time.

How do I apply for a visa?

Your best bet is to visit the embassy or consulate website of the country you plan to visit. They usually provide an online form that you can fill in, download and print. Next, you’ll need to gather some standard required documents, such as a valid passport, proof of accommodation, return flights tickets, and a number of others.

Once you’ve got all your paperwork in order, you can apply for an interview at the embassy where they will meet you in person and ask some questions. You’ll also need to pay a visa application fee. Once that’s done, you just have to wait to find out whether it’s been approved or not. It can take anything from two weeks to two months to get your visa approved

What supporting documents do I need to apply for visa?

Depending on the country you're applying to visit you’ll be asked for a number of supporting documents:

  • Valid passport: Make sure your passport is valid for at least 6 months after your return date. You’ll also need 2 or 3 blank pages for visa stamps.
  • Photos: Two identical photos of a specific size (depending on the country).
  • Proof of travel insurance.
  • Air tickets: A return ticket to where you're from, as well as a flight ticket to where you're going.
  • Yellow Fever Certificate: Depending on which countries you’ll be visiting.
  • Proof of financial means: This can include bank statements and proof from your bank to show you have enough money to support your travels.
  • Proof of accommodation: Whether it’s with friends, family or booked accommodation.
  • Letter of Invitation: Depending on which countries you’ll be visiting.

What's an invitation letter?

Some countries, such as Canada and the United States, might ask for a letter of invitation when you apply for your visa. This is just a letter written by the person you’re visiting to confirm why you’re going to the country and how long you plan on staying.

How long does it take for a visa to be approved?

This varies from country to country. Some are as quick as two weeks, others can take up to two months.

What kind of visa do I need?

It depends on why you’re travelling. A travel visa is for tourists going on holiday. A work visa is needed if you intend to work or do business in the country. A student visa is for studying abroad. Some countries also require a transit visa, which allows you to pass through a country on the way to your actual destination. You’ll need to check with your airline whether a transit visa will be necessary or not.

What’s the difference between visa-free and visa on arrival?

Visa-free countries refer to the ability to travel to a foreign country without a visa. A visa on arrival means that you don’t need to apply ahead of time. Instead, you can fill out the required documents and pay any applicable fees when you arrive at your destination.

Where can South Africans travel to without a visa?

The good news is that there are just over 100 countries SA citizens can travel to without a visa. These include Brazil, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mauritius and Singapore. Check out a few of the more popular visa-friendly countries here.

Which countries can I visit with a Schengen Visa?

If you’re headed to Europe, you’ll likely need to apply for a Schengen visa. It allows you to travel freely through 26 countries within the European Union. These include Austria, France, Greece, Italy, Spain, and Switzerland. Find the full list of Schengen countries here

Is there anyone I can ask for help?

If you’re unsure about applying for a visa, don’t stress. Just head to your nearest Flight Centre for advice on all things visa-related.

Feeling a little more confident about visas? Why not go ahead and book that fantastic trip overseas you've been thinking about?

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