Before you enter Asia you’ll often need a visa. Visas for Asia are mostly easy to obtain, however there are some exceptions. Although you’ll find country specific visa information on our website in the country sections (such as visas Thailand), we’ve dedicated this page for some extra general information.
1. Determine if you can get a visa on arrival
Some countries will grant you a visa on arrival. This means that you can just show up at the airport and get a visa there. Often whether or not you can get a visa on arrival depends on your nationality. Also be aware that sometimes the visa on arrival is free, like in Malaysia, and sometimes you will need to pay for it at the point of entry like in Vietnam and Cambodia.
2. Check if you need to get a visa before arrival
Some countries (such as China and Myanmar) require you to apply for a visa from a visa application center, consulate, embassy, or online before you travel. Often this will be checked by your airline if you are travelling by air and you won’t even be allowed on the plane if you don’t have a valid visa. If somehow you do make it all the way to immigration without anyone noticing (and it does happen) then you will be refused entry and put on the first plane out of the territory, at your own expense. Whatever you do don’t think that you can just take the chance, turn up, and hope for the best. It will be a big waste of time and money.
3. Check your passport validity
This is one area that often causes traveler’s problems. In many countries in Asia you need to have at least six months validity left on your passport either from the date you enter or the date you will leave the territory. If you don’t you will be denied entry and many countries are surprisingly strict about this and will only waive this requirement in a serious emergency (such as visiting a sick family member). Make sure you check this in advance.
4. Check to see if you need an onward ticket
Many countries in Asia also require you to have a return ticket or onward ticket in order for you to qualify for a visa. Sometimes you may be required to show a copy of this before you fly or when you arrive in country, although this is often not strictly enforced. As such, the reality is that many countries don’t check even though this is a requirement. For many travelers with a fluid itinerary this can be annoying as you may not know how long you are planning to stay or where you want to go next. It’s up to you if you want to chance it however and some people get away with it for years and others are unlucky and get caught out first time. If you don’t have an onward ticket and you get asked for one then you will almost always be denied entry either to the flight or to the country itself and your only option will be to buy a ticket on the spot at the airport which will usually be more expensive than if you had booked it in advance.
5. Make sure you have the right money
In many countries you will need to pay for your visa when you arrive and usually you will need to pay in cash. Credit cards are rarely accepted and you would be surprised how many airports in Asia have no ATM facilities at arrivals (or departures for that matter). The currency needed to pay for your visa is also often an issue and sometimes US dollars are preferred and sometimes you can only use the local currency. Make sure you find out before you arrive and have emergency funds in a range of currencies (for example, even if you are planning to use local currency it is worth also having the same amount in US dollars just in case). You can find more information about this in our visas section for each country.
6. Bring some passport photographs
Depending on where you are traveling you will sometimes need a passport photograph to apply for your visa. As a general rule always try and have some passport photographs with you anyway as you never know when you will need them. 4-6 is a good number to carry in your wallet for administrative emergencies.
7. Overstaying on your visa
In all countries in Asia there will be a limit on how long you can stay. If you don’t leave the country when your visa expires then you will be overstaying illegally and the consequences of this can vary. In many countries in Asia you can technically be arrested and placed in immigration detention for visa violations although depending on where you are you may get away with being able to pay a fine. This is usually calculated per day that you overstay on your visa and it can get very expensive very quickly. If you accidentally overstay by a few days then you will usually get away with just paying the fine, but many countries take a dim view of visa violations so it is really best to avoid this unless you have something like a medical emergency. In some places you can even be blacklisted and not allowed to return depending on how long you overstay on your visa.
8. Visa regulations change
Visa regulations in Asia can change at lightning speed and the procedure one day can be completely different the next. This obviously makes planning difficult but there isn’t much that you can do about this. The best advice is to read up on the country you are planning to go to and check their government visa pages (although these are not always updated with the latest news either). Traveler forums where you can check with people who have recently traveled to the same place are also a good idea to make sure you get the most up-to-date advice.
9. Difference with flying in and border crossings
One thing to note is that some countries have different rules when it comes to entering by air and entering over land/by sea. In some places a land entrance at a border crossing will get you a 15 day visa but an air entrance at an airport will allow you a 30 day visa. As such don’t imagine that all points of entry are made equal.
10. Count 30 days properly
Many tourist visas will allow you to enter for 30 days. It may sound obvious, but make sure you calculate exactly what this means. Remember that the visa starts on the day you enter, so that counts as one day. Don’t assume that if you arrive on the 30th then you need to leave on the 30th of the next month. If you arrive on the 30th of July for example (which has 31 days) then you need to leave at the latest on the 28th of August.