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 the 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, such as China, India, Russia, and Vietnam. Previously Americans who wanted to spend time in the country of Brazil needed to apply for a visa, but as of June 2019, a valid passport is enough to enter the country as a tourist.

If you are planning a vacation abroad and you are in doubt as to whether you need a visa or not, always check with your destination's embassy to verify what documents you need to gain entry.

China

Do U.S. citizens need a visa to visit China? Yes. U.S. citizens planning to visit China's mainland must apply for an entry visa through the Chinese Embassy or Consulate-General.

Do You Need a Visa to Go to Hong Kong?

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.

Key Takeaways

  • Always check a country's embassy website to find out if you need a visa to travel there. 
  • U.S citizens do not need a visa to visit Hong Kong but do need one if they plan to visit mainland China from Hong Kong. 
  • Some countries, like Russia, for example, have very complicated visa systems. 
  • Requirements for visas may change over time, but you can find a list of countries that require them via the U.S. State Department's website. 

India

Any U.S. citizen traveling to India must have a travel visa. Visitors with visas may stay up to 6 months total 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. A tourist visa for U.S. citizens costs $160 for up to 10 years, as of February 2020.

Russia

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, 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 as of July 20, 2019, starts at $49 plus processing fees. 

Vietnam

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. For current fees, email the Vietnamese Embassy through its website. 

The Bottom Line

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.