Travelling abroad is one of the most enriching things we can do, where we explore new countries and cultures, encounter people with diverse backgrounds and experiences, and survey business opportunities. The ability to visit foreign nations is therefore an asset and a valuable one at that.
Yet, this isn’t always easy. You need a visa to visit many countries, even for a brief stay. This can mean long queues at embassies and consulates, and time spent obtaining required documentation, such as letters of invitation, in advance.
If you are lucky though, your passport may allow you to enter a country with a visa-on-arrival, or even visa-free. But what exactly are these two modes of entry, and what is the difference between them?
As the term suggests, visas-on-arrival are issued when the visitor arrives in a country. Government authorities generally examine their passport and collect payment before issuing the documentation. Some countries also take photos and biometric data like fingerprints to confirm the visitor’s identity, and check things like their immigration and criminal history.
Like a normal visa, the visa-on-arrival is printed on the passport, which therefore must have enough empty pages to accommodate a stamp. This process takes place at the point of entry, such as airports and large ports. If these facilities aren’t available, such as when crossing a land border, the visitor must have already obtained a regular visa.
It is easier to obtain a visa-on-arrival because all of the required steps are performed in one location, and the applicant will not need to visit the country’s consulate or embassy beforehand. That said, some nations may require additional evidence of return or onward journeys, hotel reservations, and proof of sufficient funds.
Visa-on-arrival facilities are also generally separate from immigration controls. This means that the officer who receives payment and issues the visa is different from the one who allows the visitor to cross the border, reducing the possibility of corruption.
At the time of writing, the following countries offer UK citizens the option to obtain a visa-on-arrival:
Visa-free travel enables passport holders to enter a country without a visa at all. That said, they must still pass through an immigration control facility where their passports are checked for validity, and may also be stamped. Countries like Japan and the United States stamp passports upon entry only, while others like Singapore and the United Arab Emirates do so upon exit as well. Nations like Hong Kong and Israel have done away with passport stamps entirely, but instead provide visitors with landing slips, which usually are not required for departure.
Visa-free travel allows visitors to travel on a whim, with no need to pre-plan or collect documentation. What’s more, it also means it’s free to enter these countries, unlike those where you have to pay for a visa. Indeed, visa-free travel is one of the main benefits of dual citizenship, with different countries extending this right to specific nations, but not others. As a result, holding a second passport can give you visa-free travel to place your first one doesn’t. For example, British citizens require a visa to gain entry into Cuba, while holders of an Antigua and Barbuda passport don’t.
Despite the numerous benefits of visa-free travel, visitors must not stay longer than they’re allowed. Even individuals entitled to visa-free entry may only remain in a country for a limited time, usually between 15 and 90 days, and sometimes this has to be within a given period of 180 days or one year. An overstay is an immigration offence, which could lead to civil or criminal charges, and bans on travelling to the country in the future.
At the time of writing, the countries below offer UK citizens visa-free entry: