What is a Visa on Arrival – and how do you get one?

Border control isn’t the first thing people consider for a medical transport. Finding a trustworthy repatriation company, searching out the best hospital for a loved one’s cancer treatment, liaising with the local doctors about whether your patient is fit to fly – absolutely. Visas and travel permits? Not so much.

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Fortunately, many countries offer a “Visa on Arrival” service for temporary foreign visitors. Done right, they can remove the time and hassle from the entry process. But the rules and regulations differ widely from country to country, so it’s very important to check ahead.

What is a Visa on Arrival?

In simple terms, a Visa on Arrival is like a last-minute visa. As the name suggests, it gives you permission to enter a foreign country as you arrive at its border. It’s sometimes also known as a Border Gate Visa, Landing Visa or Visa Upon Arrival. The visa itself is often issued as a sticker that’s applied to one of the pages in your passport. Online versions – in the US, for instance – are known as e-visas.

What’s the advantage of a Visa on Arrival?

The two main advantages are speed and flexibility. Applying for a regular visa often requires a visit to the country’s foreign embassy, usually well in advance of your departure. A Visa on Arrival allows you to complete the forms when you get there, or while you’re in transit. Clearly, this can be very useful when speed really is of the essence, as in a medical emergency.

What are the limitations?

Like an ordinary visa, a Visa on Arrival is only valid for a certain time period. This differs from country to country, from 30 days (for citizens of certain countries travelling to the UAE, for example) to three months (in Germany) or longer. If you leave the country, you will usually need a new visa in order to return, or apply for a “multiple-entry visa” if you’re planning to come back and forth (e.g., for ongoing medical treatment). The risk of a Visa on Arrival is that you could be denied entry if you don’t have the right documents or fulfil the right criteria when you arrive at the border (see below). Some countries will process Visas on Arrival at certain airports or ports of entry and not others.

How do I know if I need a Visa on Arrival?

The rules differ widely depending on your country of origin and where you want to go. Some countries have more relaxed entry requirements for certain other states – the European Union’s 26-country Schengen Area, for instance. Other countries – Afghanistan, for example – face much tighter rules around visas and permits. The easiest way to check is to visit the consular website for your destination country. Here are some examples:

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(Example screenshot from the UK’s online visa-checking service.)

What will I need to bring with me?

Once you’ve established that a Visa on Arrival is possible, you’ll need to find out which documents your destination country needs for your application. This is extremely important: failure to bring the right documents could prevent your entry. Here are some examples of what you might need to bring:

  • Passport (valid for at least six months)
  • Copy of passport
  • At least one blank page in passport (some countries use a whole page for the Visa)
  • Address where you’ll be staying (and / or proof for that address)
  • Proof of onward travel (e.g. a round-trip airfare)
  • Proof of medical need (e.g. a letter from your destination hospital)
  • Travel health insurance details
  • Evidence of sufficient funds (e.g. bank statements)

The border authorities may also require certain biometric information when you arrive – taking your fingerprints, for example.

Can EMS Air Ambulance & Medical Repatriation help me with my Visa on Arrival?

Absolutely. We can’t apply for it on your behalf, but we can certainly offer help with the process. Our repatriation experts deal with hundreds of enquiries from patients and patients’ families every year, from every corner of the world. Many of the protocols between countries are familiar to us already. But even if they aren’t, we can point you in the right direction or help you with the application. If necessary, we can

What if I can’t get a Visa on Arrival?

For various reasons, it’s not always possible to secure a Visa on Arrival for the journey you want to make. But other options are often available – especially if you need to travel abroad for medical treatment. We may be able to ask the embassy for an emergency permit or exemption, for instance, or a temporary passport if your patient has lost their documents, or if they’ve expired. Get in touch with the EMS team and they’ll be happy to explore the options with you.

Contact us

Confused about Visa requirements for yourself or a family member? Drop the EMS Air Ambulance & Medical Repatriation team a line and they’ll be delighted to help. You’ll find all our international contact details on our Contact page. Looking into how much a medical repatriation might cost? Why not try our quick, simple online cost calculator.

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