What You Need To Know About Visas
Visa and passport requirements vary by country and depend on your citizenship, reason for travel, length of stay, and whether multiple entries are needed. Research your destination's requirements and apply early to avoid delays or disruptions in your travel.
International students and scholars should always consult advisors at the Harvard International Office before leaving the U.S. to ensure you can return without incident. If you have a single-entry U.S. visa and you plan to return to the U.S., you’ll need to obtain a new U.S. visa while abroad.
Most countries offer some version of the following visas:
- Tourist: for travel that doesn't require another kind of visa
- Business: typically for business meetings; sometimes for short-term research or study.
- Student: for enrollment in an educational institution
- Resident or Employment: for long-term stays or work (a separate work permit may also be required)
Some countries require other specific types of visas for certain work—such as researchers, journalists, or missionaries—or for particular family or immigration situations.
Transit visas may also be required for countries you stop in or pass through en route to your final destination. Visa waivers may be offered to citizens of certain countries traveling for specific reasons in a short amount of time.
Apply early because your visa application can take 12-18 weeks to process—and you may need to make a personal appearance at your destination country’s embassy or consulate in the U.S. and submit biometrics.
There are two ways to apply. You can apply for a visa on your own through an embassy or consulate, or you can choose to apply through a vendor.
Option 1: Apply Through an Embassy or Consulate
You can obtain an outbound visa on your own from your destination country’s embassy or consulate in the U.S. The best way to check on the status of your visa is through the consulate or embassy at which you applied.
Additionally, U.S. citizens can apply for or renew passports directly through the U.S. State Department. When you apply, you’ll have the option to track your application and sign up for email alerts. Non-U.S. passport holders should contact your embassy in the U.S. for detailed information on passport renewals.
Note: The COVID-19 pandemic continues to severely affect the ability of embassies and consulates around the world to resume routine visa services. Apply early and anticipate delays.
Option 2: Apply Through a Vendor
For a fee, visa and passport processing firms can sometimes obtain travel documents faster than individual travelers. Due to certain country-specific requirements, they can't assist with all visa and passport applications—like when you're required to make a personal appearance at an embassy or consulate.
If you decide to apply through a vendor, two options include Travel Document Systems (TDS) and A Briggs (a CIBT Company). For free, these vendors can advise you on your visa requirements; and for a reduced fee, they can assist you with routine and expedited applications.
Note: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, you may experience longer wait times and application delays—even when applying through a vendor—because of embassy and consulate closures, backlogs, and reduced hours of operation.
There are many other visa processing vendors to choose from; contact us to discuss your options.
As part of your visa application, you may also need one or more of the following documents.
- Proof of Evacuation and Repatriation Coverage: Request a letter from GSS for Harvard-eligible travel.
- Proof of Health Insurance Coverage: Review our insurance advice.
- Proof of Immunizations: See the list of routine, selective, and required vaccines recommended by the World Health Organization.
- Notarized Documents: See the notary public services offered by the Harvard Campus Service Center.
- Apostilles and Certification of Documents: Available through the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Office, U.S. Department of State's Office of Authentications, and TDS
- Police Certificates: Obtain criminal records checks and fingerprint cards through the FBI or your local police department
- Translations: Many embassies and consulates provide lists of local translators; local options for translation service providers include Language Connections, Language Line, and Boston Language Institute.
You may need a transit visa for countries you stop in or pass through en route to your final destination. Although most common in Canada, they're also required elsewhere.
Some visa applications, including E.U. and U.K. visas, require you to submit fingerprints at the embassy or consulate. Book these appointments as soon as possible.
Visa applications frequently require a specific number of blank passport pages and six months' passport validity after you plan to leave your destination country. Plan ahead if you need to renew your passport. For U.S. citizens, see how to apply for and renew a passport; for expedited orders, see the State Department's Boston Passport Agency.
Internships frequently require visas that are more complex and have longer application processes, especially if you're being paid by the organization. Plan for your visa as soon as you receive your internship, and ask your organization to assist with your application process.
Visas for stays in a country beyond six months, such as long-term research, can be complicated and require multiple considerations.
For quick reference, we’ve compiled the country specific requirements and visa information most often sought by GSS clients. If your destination doesn’t appear here, please feel free to contact us with questions.
Generally, the easiest way to apply for a Chinese visa is through a visa services vendor. Although we have a vendor relationship with TDS, you can use any visa services agency.
Chinese visa requirements can change without notice and are often specific to the embassy or consulate where you've applied. TDS is in regular contact with embassies and consulates and will take a conservative stance when providing advice.
Chinese photo regulations are quite strict. Authorities may reject visa applications submitted with incorrect photos.
Although you applied for one type of visa, the embassy or consulate ultimately decides which visa you will receive. Unfortunately, visa policies can change without notice, and websites may not be updated in a timely manner.
E.U. Schengen Area Visas
The Schengen Area is a group of 26 E.U. and non-E.U. countries that share a common visa policy. A visa for one Schengen Area country is valid in all of them. Notable non-E.U. countries include Switzerland, Norway, and Iceland.
Yes. Fingerprints are required for the E.U. Visa Information System, which is used by all Schengen Area members. However, you may be exempt if you submitted your fingerprints in the last five years. Check with the embassy or consulate to confirm.
Schengen Area regulations state that you must apply for a visa at the consulate of the country that you intend to visit or where you'll spend the longest period of time during your visit. If you decide to apply elsewhere, you risk incurring issues with your application and/or when you enter the Schengen Area. For more information, review the Schengen visa frequently asked questions.
U.K. Internship Visas
Yes. Most students interning in the U.K. need a Tier 5 Temporary Worker visa, which requires a certificate of sponsorship. Many students obtain sponsorship through BUNAC, a work abroad program. However, because U.K. internships occasionally require different visas, it's important that you confirm with your organization which visa you need.
Yes. You can submit biometrics for free at a designated United States Citizenship and Immigration Services' Biometrics Office. Another option is to utilize VFS Global, a commercial company that assists with U.K. visas, and pay to provide your biometrics through them in their downtown Boston office.