Living in another country for a long period of time generally requires a residency visa no matter where you go. However, U.S. citizens can travel as short-term tourists to many countries – Canada, Mexico and European Union (EU) countries, among them – without needing a visa. A number of other countries do require that you get a tourist visa before you leave the U.S. Some of the more popular travel destinations that require a visa include Brazil, China, India, Russia and Vietnam.
U.S. citizens need a visa when traveling to Brazil for any purpose. You must have proper documentation, including a visa, upon landing in Brazil. If you do not have the proper visa, authorities will deny you entry. You can apply for a visa at the Brazilian Embassy or on Brazil's electronic visa website before you leave home. Upon entering Brazil, travelers also have to fill out an immigration form that will be handed back to them by officials. You need this form to leave the country. If you lose it, you could be detained by police and owe a fine. The cost for U.S. citizens to obtain a visa to Brazil starts at $79.50 – $44.50 plus a $35 service fee.
U.S. citizens planning to visit China’s mainland must apply for an entry visa through the Chinese Embassy or Consulate General. With a U.S. passport, citizens do not need a visa to enter Hong Kong, but travelers who plan to visit China’s mainland while in the region will need a visa to travel from Hong Kong to China. Visitors must apply approximately one month before their trip; they will not be granted a visa at the port of entry. A single entry visa is $140.
Any U.S. citizen traveling to India must have a travel visa. Visitors with visas may stay up to six months from the day they enter. Anyone needing to apply for a visa must do so on the Cox & Kings Global Services (CKGS) website. Requirements for an Indian visa change frequently, often without notice, so travelers should get the latest information from the Indian Embassy website. Fees start at $160 plus service charges.
According to the U.S. Embassy website, Russia has a very strict and complicated visa system regarding foreign nationals entering the country. Not only must American citizens have a visa to enter the country, but if it expires before they leave, they may be stranded in the country for up to 20 days. There are many nuances to obtaining a Russian visa, including needing a Russian sponsor, which could be a travel company, relative or friend, hotel or university. There are also places in Russia where Americans are not permitted to go. It is best to book travel through a known travel company that can grant sponsorship and help you navigate the visa system. The cost for Russian visas changes often, as well, but has started at $90 plus processing fees.
Vietnam has become one of the most popular Asian countries for U.S. tourists. Besides a visa, U.S. citizens must have more than six months' validity remaining on their passport. A traveler may obtain a visa in person at the Embassy of Viet Nam, by mail or online. An alternative is a written approval letter gotten through a travel agency prior to departure for Vietnam that allows travelers to get a Visa on Arrival (VOA). Be wary of unscrupulous travel companies, which have been charging very high fees for these visas. The U.S. Embassy also warns travelers that Vietnam has both a visa fee and a visa-processing fee, and sometimes it varies from person to person. For current fees, email the Vietnamese Embassy through its website.
No matter where you're traveling, be sure to research the country's visa requirements and give yourself plenty of time to get your papers in order before your trip begins. You can find updated country information on the U.S. State Department website.