Nowadays, there are various different types of visas available for many countries. While traditional consular visas can be obtained from embassies, different sovereign states may offer eVisas, visas on arrival, electronic travel authorizations, or a selection of the above.
While not everyone is eligible for every type of visa, some travelers may have a choice of which type of visa to apply for.
Some countries even allow visitors of certain nationalities to enter without any type of visa. For example, Canadian and American citizens can travel freely between the United States and Canada as long as they have ID.
With the rise of digital technology, electronic visas and travel authorizations have been introduced by many countries and this trend is expected to continue growing.
Different types of physical visas
Historically, visas were issued by immigration officials to visitors arriving at the border. If the new arrival was granted permission to enter the country, the official would stamp the traveler’s passport.
Modern visas generally have to be applied for in advance, with the exception of visas on arrival.
Consular visas are issued by embassies belonging to the country that the visa grants entry to. These are physical documents that are needed to enter that particular sovereign state.
Consular visas vary in form between different states. They can be a sticker or a stamp in the traveler’s passport or a separate official document that must be presented at the border in order to enter the country.
The digital age of visas: eVisas and Electronic Travel Authorizations
Electronic visas (also known as eVisas or online visas) are modern digital visas that can be obtained by applying via the internet. Many countries have introduced eVisas for travelers of select nationalities to facilitate travel and improve security with the digitalization of data.
Online application forms for eVisas are typically straightforward and quick to complete and come with the distinct advantage of being able to apply from your own home, rather than having to travel to an embassy.
Some countries may require a confirmation slip to be printed and presented at the border, while others will have their eVisa systems electronically linked to the traveler’s ePassport, meaning that only the passport is required.
Electronic travel authorizations (eTAs) are similar to eVisas, but feature an even more simplified application process and usually remain valid for a period of years, allowing multiple visits, while eVisas are typically more limited. Examples of eTAs are the US ESTA, the Canadian eTA, and the upcoming ETIAS.
What is the difference between an eVisa and a Visa On Arrival?
The main difference between an eVisa and a visa on arrival (VOA) is that travelers can apply for an eVisa online before their journey, while VOAs can be obtained once they reach their destination.
A visa on arrival is a visa that can be applied for and obtained when the traveler lands at an airport in the destination country. A foreign visitor may be granted a VOA if they meet the following conditions:
- Their nationality makes them eligible—many countries only offer VOAs to citizens of certain states
- They have the relevant documentation on their person
- They pay the fee
- There is not any reason to deny them the visa, e.g. being on an international watchlist
If a traveler has the option of applying for either an eVisa or a VOA, it is advisable to choose the eVisa. The uncomfortable situation of traveling all the way to the country and then being refused the VOA because they have forgotten essential documents (or for any other reason) can be avoided by applying for the eVisa in advance.