If your business operates internationally, or if you're trying to build relationships with people in other countries, it's important to be able to travel to other countries as easily as possible. Depending on your goals and your needs, you may make frequent visits to one other country, visit many other countries on an occasional basis, or make isolated trips as needed to close deals.

In any case, you'll need to understand how visas work for businesses.

What Is a Visa?

A travel visa is a kind of conditional authorization that grants travel permission to a foreign person. If you're traveling to another country, you may need a visa to travel legally. If someone from another country is coming to your country, they may need a visa. Though visas take different forms, the most common form is a sticker endorsed in your passport--another travel document you may need if you plan to travel.

Different countries have different restrictions on travel, typically based on the following:

  • Country of origin. Countries with good relationships typically make travel between those countries easy, sometimes forgoing the need for a travel visa for short stays. For example, if you're traveling from the United States to Canada for a stay of less than six months, you may not need a visa. However, if you're traveling from another country to Canada, you may need a travel visa, or an electronic travel authorization (eTA).
  • Length of stay. Generally speaking, the longer you intend to stay in a country, the more restrictions you'll face and the more paperwork you'll need. The shorter your stay is, the simpler things will be.
  • Purpose of travel. Some motivations for travel, like traveling for work or school, tend to be treated with laxer standards than others in most countries. If you're traveling for business purposes, you can usually get a business-specific visa.

Determining Paperwork Needed

If you're traveling to a specific country, you'll need to review that country's specific standards for allowing travel. For example, the visa policy of the United States dictates who needs a visa, depending on their country of origin and the length of their stay. Currently, there are 39 countries selected by the U.S. government for inclusion in the Visa Waiver Program, which exempts traveling citizens from needing a visa (if they get an electronic travel authorization). Countries selected for the Visa Waiver Program include Australia, Chile, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Kora, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and more. If traveling to the United States through this program, a traveler can stay for up to 90 days.

The rules get more complicated for visitors from other countries. An incoming visitor may need to apply for a visa with the United States government, sometimes weeks (if not months) before their planned travel.

If you're the one doing the traveling, you should know that not all countries handle travel permits the same way the United States does. You may need a travel visa, a work permit, or both, depending on the activities you plan to do when you visit.

The Bottom Line

Will your business need to get a visa before you travel abroad, or host an inbound traveler? The answer isn't straightforward, making business travel even more complicated. However, if you know exactly where you want to travel and how long you want to stay, it should be easy to figure out your specific requirements. For short visits to familiar countries, you may not need a visa at all.