In recent years, electronic visas and travel authorizations have become commonplace for international travel. More and more countries are introducing systems to obtain these digital travel permits online.
Just a few decades ago, getting a visa almost certainly meant going through a lengthy application process, which might have included paperwork, interviews, and waiting weeks or even months to find out whether your visa had been approved.
Now, many countries offer a way to get an electronic visa (eVisa) or electronic travel authorization (eTA) within a few days or even hours, all without having to leave the comfort of your own home.
Even some nations whose tourism industry is still young have been quick to jump on the eVisa bandwagon.
Saudi Arabia is a notable example. Until recently, the kingdom was relatively closed to outsiders, issuing few visas and having little to no tourism. Then, in 2019, it launched the Saudi Arabia online visa, which is now available to visitors from around 50 different countries, including the US, UK, and all EU member states.
Quick, simple, and effective: benefits of online visas
The huge advantage of digital visas is the ease by which travelers can get one. Most countries that have an eVisa or eTA use systems that work in a similar way. Applicants simply enter their details into an online form and click “submit”. There is usually a processing fee, but this is a small price to be paid for the speed of the thing.
In most cases, the electronic visa or travel authorization websites indicate that applications will be processed within a few working days. In reality, this is often an over-estimate. Many travelers only need to wait a few hours at most to receive an eTA for Canada or the ESTA to visit the US.
These systems not only benefit travelers, but save immigration authorities a lot of time dealing with in-person visa applications. They are a great example of how technology is revolutionizing travel.
Many eVisas and eTAs go hand in hand with biometric passports and ePassport gates to speed up the process of clearing border control and entering a country.
Different types of electronic travel permits
Although the application processes tend to be very similar, eVisas and eTAs can work very differently depending on the country in question.
Some live up to their name and are completely electronic in nature. No physical document is required; it is all done with the traveler’s passport. The passport number and other details are required as part of the application and are registered to the visa or eTA database.
When the traveler arrives in the destination country and scan their passport at border control, the visa or travel authorization is read electronically and verified.
This is almost always the case for eTAs (which are visa waivers, rather than actual visas), and for some electronic visas too, such as the Australian eVisitor Visa.
These types of visas require a modern biometric passport with a machine-readable electronic chip.
Other online visas are electronic only in the sense that they are applied for digitally. Once approved, they are emailed to the traveler as an attachment. These visas may need to be printed or downloaded to a mobile device and shown at border control to enter the country.
The future of international travel?
In general, electronic visa and travel authorization systems have been a huge success. They allow countries to improve their border security, with better screening on who is coming in and out. At the same time, they make it quicker and easier for visitors to authorize their trip and clear border control on arrival.
The number of eVisa and eTA platforms around the world only seems to be increasing. Europe’s Schengen Area is one of the latest to join the trend. This region, including almost all of the EU and all 4 EFTA countries, has announced the launch of a joint electronic visa waiver called the ETIAS (European Travel and Information Authorisation System). This is slated to come into effect in 2023.
Online visas seem to be here to stay. As more and more countries follow suite, it could be that in the future, all traditional visas will be phased out in favor of online alternatives.
As it stands, however, most countries still require foreign nationals to come in person and submit to more in-depth screening for long-term visas for work or residence. It may be that these types of visas will never be handled online. Or, it may simply be a matter of time. Certain countries are already offering Digital Nomad Visas electronically.
What is certain is that these digital permits are now an important part of organizing a trip abroad. If you are traveling abroad on vacation this summer, you may well need one, depending on where you are going. Always check what you need before you fly.
Then, it is as simple as typing your details and waiting for an email.