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Visas & Border crossings

All you need to know about getting, and staying, in your Gap Year countries.

Visas may be the last thing on your mind when you’re planning that exciting gap year but they’ll be the first thing you encounter when you arrive in any country outside the European Union.

Visas are one of the most important parts of your trip – get it wrong and you could find yourself being rejected entry to the country you’ve dreamed of seeing.

What is a visa?

A visa is a legal document that allows you to enter a particular country. It will normally state the reasons for your trip and the length of time you can spend in the country.

It’s best to get your visas sorted as soon as possible – the longer you leave it, the more expensive it will be. Most countries allow you to get a visa on arrival, either at the airport or when you cross the border.

However, with countries such as ChinaRussia and Vietnam, you'll have to get the visas before arrival otherwise you will be turned away. For Vietnam, you are able to get the visa in neighbouring Laos but for China, you must apply in only your country of residence, not at foreign embassies.

Types of Visa

If you have no intention of working then you will only need to apply for a tourist visa for each of the countries you are visiting. This visa does limit the period of travel, with most allowing you to stay for up to 90 days and there is also a set of circumstances you will have to meet.

Working visas are popular with travellers who intend to earn while they are abroad. You can normally get a working visa for a period of one or two years. These visas are required for working holidays in Australia, New Zealand (both countries have a high demand for harvest workers) and Canada but they are not available in some countries, such as Chile.

If you’d like some help, you can go through agencies such as BUNAC and STA Travel who will sort out all the paperwork for you.

5 Visa Questions

How long does the visa take?

Some visas can take up to six weeks so leave plenty of time to apply.

How long is the visa valid for?

Check it covers the amount of time you’ll be in the country and ideally a little longer as you just never know what could happen.

Where can I get a visa from?

You may be able to obtain your visa when you arrive but it may take up to six weeks in some countries so research what the country’s procedure is.

How many pages do I need free in my passport?

If you have one page with even a small stamp on, an embassy will not issue a visa over another visa or immigration stamp. Make sure you have at least two pages free for each destination you enter.

Is there any possibility I’ll be turned away?

All embassies reserve the right to request further information, change visa requirements or forms at little or no notice but it’s unlikely you’ll be rejected providing everything such as paperwork is in order.

Crossing borders

Borders play an important part in travelling, simply because you’ll need entry and exit stamps to continue on your travels.

As you travel across the world, border crossings will pop up anywhere and everywhere, be it in the Sahara Desert, up the Andes Mountains or across the Mekong River.

Many border crossings are run by the military and most countries charge a fee for entering and leaving. Make sure you have some local currency on you but it does vary. In South America, the payment is in American dollars. Ask the locals before you head out to the border.

When planning your travels, consider the whereabouts of borders. Border crossings should be an important part of your route around the continent.

When approaching borders, be patient. This can be one of the most bureaucratic aspects of your gap year. There’s a good chance you’ll be waiting around for a couple of hours, and this could be down to other factors, such as other people’s applications or searches.

Do your research, get your visas sorted and plan your route around crossings, and all being well, everything should run smoothly.