Visa applications: From US to China, all you need to know about the forms and how to apply

​We’re still in the European Union, and so you can visit dozens of countries with nothing more than a wave of your passport. But some non-EU nations are tightening up on red tape, raising the risk that British travellers could be barred from their destination — or even denied boarding from their holiday flight.

A recent survey by CS Global Partners suggests that 35 per cent of UK travellers fail to check if they need a visa. Consult this guide – for UK passport-holders – before you commit to an expensive long-haul trip. 

Check you passport expiry date now

If the document has less than six months to run, you could face problems getting in to Egypt, Turkey and some other countries.

Summer isn’t the ideal time to apply for a replacement, because of the extra demand at the Passport Office, so if you need to take action do it now. 

If there is less than nine months remaining on your existing passport, you will get full credit for unspent time. For example, if it runs out on 1 December this year, the replacement will be valid until 1 December 2027.

Do I need a visa for the USA?

Not if you’re a “normal” holidaymaker, ie visiting for no more than three months and not planning to work, study or report. So long as you haven’t been in trouble with the police, you can fill in the online form for an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization), pay $14 (£11) and cross your fingers.

Permission is usually granted within a few minutes; if it is refused (for example because your name is similar to that of a “person of interest”), you face a tricky and expensive series of skirmishes with the US authorities before you can obtain a visa.

Note that an ESTA, like a visa, merely entitles you to apply for entry. Customs and Border Protection officials will decide if you can be admitted.

Is it true you need a visa for Canada now?

Yes, to the exasperation of many travellers, the government in Ottawa is marking the nation’s 150th anniversary by making it tougher to get there. It’s as though the country has decided to deter as many visitors as possible. The ETA should be a formality, but The Independent has heard from plenty of people whose applications were refused — whether because of a mix-up with another person, making a mistake on the online form, or previous links with Canada. If this happens to you, consider contacting your MP to make representations on your behalf; he or she may have some clout with the Canadian High Commission. But for those whose applications work, the cost is gratifyingly low at C$7 (£4).

But I paid much more than that…

Then you were caught by one of the firms that pays search engines to be ranked above the official sites when people search online for “Canada ETA” or similar. Their business model is to charge many times the going rate while failing to add any real value. Watch out for that small “Ad” symbol beside the listing, and avoid it.

Is a visa for Australia really free?

Well, for most UK visitors, the red tape is cost-free. The eVisitor is just fine for most holiday and business visits for up to three months at a time within a year. The only vaguely tricky thing about the application is that you need to create an ImmiAccount. But once organised, responses are normally quick and positive.

How hard is it to get an Indian visa?

Easier than it was, at least if you apply for an e-Visa. It’s a gruelling ordeal, in which you must upload your photo and the key passport page, answer a giddying number of questions, and pay US$75 (£60). 

You must apply between four days and three months ahead of your intended arrival. Note that your passport should be valid for at least six months from the date of arrival in India, and have at least two blank pages for stamping by the Immigration Officer. And bear in mind the Indian government’s warning: “It is advised not to believe or fall in trap of any such unscrupulous elements who claim speedy/express grant of e-Visa and charge money for it.”

Is it true I can visit China without a visa?

Yes, on a short visit, so long as you adhere meticulously to the rules for a visa-free stay. For a 144-hour trip to Shanghai, or a 72-hour stay in Beijing, Guangzhou and various other cities, you can get in free so long as you arrive by air or sea direct from another country, remain within the city, and depart by air or sea direct to another country. So you could fly Heathrow-Shanghai, and six days later sail from Shanghai direct to Korea, Japan or Hong Kong (which counts, for this purpose, as outside the People’s Republic). But flying Manchester-Beijing-Manchester for three days does not qualify, because you are not in transit to a third country.

If you do need a visa, prepare for expense and complication. It is easiest to organise through a visa firm or specialist China operator, though the £151 basic cost will increase when you do.

What are the entry requirements for Russia?

Expensive, for starters. Russia has outsourced visa applications to VFS Global. You apply at the Russia Visa Application Centre in London, Manchester or Edinburgh, from which your application is sent to be assessed by one of the Russia missions in London or Edinburgh.

An urgent application for next-day travel costs £186.60, while if you are more relaxed, £108.40 should do it. As with China, it is worth paying extra for expertise.

Can I pay on arrival for a Turkish visa?

Not anymore. Prospective British holidaymakers must apply online in advance. British visitors are generally granted visas valid for 180 days (just under six months) but for maximum stays of 90 days. The visa costs US$20 (£16).

How about Egypt?

Access has become easier, with no need to plan in advance. 

If you are heading for one of the resorts on the Sinai Peninsula (Sharm el Sheikh, Dahab, Nuweiba or Taba), do not intend to travel to the rest of Egypt, and are staying for 15 days or less, you qualify for a free entry permission stamp upon arrival.

Elsewhere, you pay US$25 (£20) or equivalent in the airport arrivals hall, before the passport check. The Foreign Office warns: “There’s no need to buy a visa from an agent. In many cases agents will charge more than US$25 for a visa. If you’re harassed by an agent, report the incident to the tourist police in the airport terminal.”

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