Global Travel Permissions: Understanding Visa Exemptions

Last Updated on October 27, 2023

Visas and Travel Permissions

Nearly every country across the globe requires immigration permissions to be held by foreign nationals by virtue of a visa or other government-issued status document. Immigration status documents, like visas, grant conditional entry and stay in a destination country for specific government-approved activities and purposes.

The rules and permissions of each immigration status vary based on the conditions established by authorities within the government of each country. These conditions are often established based on current and past diplomatic relationships between governments, overarching historical trends of immigration, the desire to encourage tourism and travel for economic purposes and other considerations that vary from country to country.

Fundamentally, governments and the specific authorities responsible for managing immigration categorize these conditions based on nationality, home country immigration status and other personal background details when determining what permission can ultimately be granted.

A traveler’s nationality and background can impact the processing time of immigration permissions and authorizations, dictate the places they can travel and even influence the documents required for travel. Many countries have introduced visa exemptions to travelers who hold a nationality of a country that has established a good diplomatic relationship with the receiving country or otherwise fit into a category deemed desirable to allow for easier travel and entry.

For work authorization, a category that also varies by country, separate additional approvals aside from just an entry visa are typically required. However, for many business activities, such as attending meetings or receiving brief training, an entry visa for business visitors (or an exemption) may be sufficient.

What is a Visa Exemption?

A visa exemption, sometimes called a visa waiver, allows foreign nationals from select countries to enter another country without requiring an entry visa for limited activities. In some countries, such as Thailand and Indonesia, visa-exempt foreign nationals are still obligated to apply for a visa on arrival, resulting in simplified entry procedures and reduced wait times for eligible travelers.

Other countries, such as Canada and New Zealand, require some visa-exempt foreign nationals to obtain electronic travel authorization (eTA) before entering the country. The United Kingdom and the European Union also plan to launch their own electronic travel authorization systems for visa-exempt travelers.

Most often, visa-exempt business travelers are permitted a period of stay between 15 and 90 days for limited activities. However, the period of stay and allowable activities for visa-exempt business travelers can vary greatly by country and the traveler’s nationality.

Processing Times

While some travelers are permitted visa exemptions to enter countries for tourism and business purposes, visa-required travelers must apply for a visa and typically tolerate processing wait times. Visa processing times vary depending on a wide array of factors.

As countries began to reopen following changes in the COVID-19 global pandemic, governments have been forced to contend with government and consular labor shortages. These shortages have been paired with increased demand for travel and citizens holding out-of-date travel and identity documents. This development has substantially impacted processing times globally and it is not uncommon to find processing periods significantly longer (and less predictable) than was the case pre-pandemic.

Some countries are taking steps to address extensive processing times. The Netherlands, for instance, has expanded government business hours in order to ensure more immigration application appointments can be made to cut down pre-appointment waiting periods. In June 2022, Australia redirected its focus on reducing visa processing delays and backlogs that resulted from the country’s reopening.

Countries with the Most Visa Exemptions by Region

*Note that the average processing time is an approximate timeline. Processing times may vary depending on the embassy or consular office where the application was filed, the intended purposes of the visit, COVID-19 processing delays, the traveler’s nationality, and a number of other factors.  

Envoy maintains information on business visa exemptions for travelers and estimated government processing times for visa-required nationals who file for short-term business travel permissions. Below are three countries whose citizens are permitted to enter many countries without requiring an entry visa.

The entry conditions and terms differ based on the destination country and the traveler’s background. Envoy’s Global Team helps clients determine which visa is most appropriate and, based on that determination, outlines what documents are required and how to navigate the resulting process. Continue to check Envoy’s global mobility resource center for additional information on visa exemptions, visa processing delays and additional helpful considerations.

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Envoy is pleased to provide you this information, which was prepared in collaboration with Brendan Coggan, who is the SVP of Global Services at Envoy Global and a Founding Partner at Corporate Immigration Partners. 

Content in this publication is for informational purposes only and not intended to serve as legal advice, nor should it be relied on as such. For additional information on the issues discussed, consult an attorney at one of the two U.S. Law Firms working with the Envoy Platform or another qualified professional. On non-U.S. immigration issues, consult an Envoy global immigration service provider or another qualified representative.