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What Is a Visa and Why Do I Need One?

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A visa is a type of travel document that gives someone the ability to spend time in particular countries for a variety of reasons. If you were born in the US and have no intention of traveling to other countries, you’ll likely never need a visa or a passport. If, however, you have aspirations of traveling the world or living and working in another country, you may be required to obtain a visa just as people from other countries are required to do so when they come to the US.

Reasons for US citizens to obtain visas

Depending on where in the world you plan to travel, you may need to obtain a visa from the other country’s consulate prior to being allowed into the country. While some countries have reciprocal visa waiver agreements with the US, this only applies to shorter stays, usually for brief business or tourism purposes. Since the visa is only valid for entry into the issuing country, you’ll still need your US passport to regain entry to the US after you return.

For US citizens hoping to work or study abroad, the visa requirements will vary by country. This has the potential to be a lengthy process, so it’s always best to apply for a foreign visa well in advance of when you hope to move to another country.

Getting a visa to enter the US

While residents of certain countries will need a visa to enter the US even for a brief vacation, the most common reasons to apply for US visas are:

  • To move to the US with the goal of becoming a permanent resident or citizen
  • To study at a US college or university
  • To work for a company in the US.

Although there are various government websites that explain the process involved with applying for a US visa, it can be a difficult and lengthy process for many hopeful immigrants. Whether you’re hoping to obtain a visa for yourself or you’re a US citizen who’d like to help family in another country join you here, it’s wise to consult with an immigration attorney. Even though no attorney can predict whether the government will approve your visa application, working with someone who has experience with the process and paperwork can help you ensure your application isn’t denied because of an administrative issue.

Determining whether you need a visa

When you’re trying to determine whether you need a visa to enter a foreign country, www.travel.state.gov provides a wealth of information about everything from the requirements to enter other countries to what type of vaccinations you’ll need before you leave. This is also where you can find the most current list of countries the US maintains reciprocal visa waivers with, which is useful whether you’re visiting the US or going abroad.

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