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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.

Types of Visas

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.

Advice and How to Apply

Apply early because your visa application can take 10-14 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.

"Start the visa application process early even if using an expediter, there can be delays."

– Harvard undergraduate student

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.

Embassies and Consulates in the US

US State Department Passport Services

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, one option is CIBTvisas. For free, this vendor can advise you on your visa requirements; and for a reduced fee, they can assist you with routine and expedited applications.

CIBT portal for Harvard travelers

There are many other visa processing vendors to choose from; contact us to discuss your options.

Additional Travel Documents

As part of your visa application, you may also need one or more of the following documents.

Other Considerations

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.

Still have questions? Contact us.

Country-Specific Requirements

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.

China Visas


Your visa type may vary depending on your purpose of travel, but you should not travel on a tourist visa if you intend to travel for research, study, or other Harvard-related business.

Generally, the easiest way to apply for a Chinese visa is through a visa services vendor. Although we have a vendor relationship with CIBTvisas, 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. Visa services agencies are in regular contact with embassies and consulates and may 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.

EU Schengen Area Visas


The Schengen Area is a group of 27 EU and non-EU countries that share a common visa policy. A visa for one Schengen Area country is valid in all of them. Notable non-EU countries include Switzerland, Norway, and Iceland.

Yes. Fingerprints are required for the EU 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.

UK Internship Visas


Yes. Most students interning in the UK need a Tier 5 Government Authorised Exchange visa, which requires a certificate of sponsorship. Many students obtain sponsorship through BUNAC, a work abroad program. However, because UK 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 UK visas, and pay to provide your biometrics through them in their downtown Boston office.

You can review the standard processing times on the UK Visas and Immigration website. If you choose to call or email the UK Visas and Immigration office about your application status, you'll be required to pay.