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Do you need an International Visa for Business Travel?

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Every business’ global mobility policy should begin with ensuring its employees have comprehensive travel and medical insurance and the necessary international visa for their stay.

Some countries allow British citizens to enter and conduct business without any visa. Others have more stringent requirements.

As a guide, we’ve outlined the international visa requirements for some of the most common business destinations.

  1. The United States of America

Every year, nearly four million British citizens visit the United States.

As part of the Visa Waiver Program, most UK citizens can travel to the US for business or pleasure for a period of up to 90 days, without a visa.

Leaving the country for trips to Canada, Mexico and adjacent islands are included as part of the 90 day period. So travellers have to leave the continent to re-enter for a further 90 days.

While a formal international visa is not required, travellers are nevertheless required to apply through the online Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) at least 72 hours before their travel. These applications require a processing fee of US$14 per application.

British nationals who have visited Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Syria, Lybia, Somalia or Yemen, since March 2011, are not eligible for the Waver Program.

Travellers without an embedded electronic chip in their passports are also barred from applying through ESTA.

Those who are ineligible, or who plan to stay in the continent for longer than 90 days, will need to apply to the US Embassy for business immigration clearance.

  1. The United Arab Emirates

A British national intending to stay in the United Emirates for a period of less than 30 days does not need to make any visa arrangements prior to travel. A 30-day visitor visa can be obtained from immigration free of charge on arrival and used for business purposes.

This can be extended for a further 30 days on payment of approximately £120.

Travellers intending to stay longer, and citizens of ineligible countries, can make an application for the appropriate visa online.

Travellers must have legal status in order to depart the United Emirates and may be prevented by any legal proceedings or unpaid debts.

  1. India

Since 15 August 2015, visitors on casual business for less than 30 days may be eligible to apply for an e-tourist visa (eTV). Applying for an eTV is a streamlined process that requires a fee of £60.

Other business visas can be obtained for single or multiple entries over one year for £150 or up to five years for £450.

All international visa applicants are required to complete an application online.

Dual British-Pakistan citizens must apply for entry on their Pakistan passport and can expect a processing time of up to eight weeks.

  1. South Africa

No business immigration visa is required for UK citizens visiting South Africa for a period up to 90 days.

Be aware, however, that any parent travelling with a child under 18 is required to carry a full, unabridged birth certificate. Only originals or certified copies will be accepted. There are additional requirements if the child is travelling with only one parent or with neither biological parent.

South Africa does not accept expired British passports that have been extended by the consulate.

  1. Singapore 

Global mobility in Singapore is straightforward. For British citizens, business trips of up to 30 days do not require an international visa.

Historically, women who were more than 12 weeks pregnant were required to seek permission before traveling. This is no longer the case. However women planning to give birth in Singapore still need prior entry clearance.

  1. Israel

British citizens are granted entry clearance in Israel for up to three months on entry.

Instead of receiving a passport stamp on arrival, visitors are given separate entry cards. These must be retained until departure, as evidence of legal arrival.

Passport stamps from other countries within the region do not usually prevent entry into Israel but may lead to some additional questioning.

Passing through immigration in Israel can be a drawn-out and intimate process. Electronic items, like laptops, may be retained and damaged. On occasions, immigration officers request access to a person’s emails as a condition of entry.

Palestinian dual nationals, or people of Palestinian origin, will require a Palestinian passport in order to leave the country. British nationals with Palestinian names should take extra precautions.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office advises against travelling to a variety of areas in Israel including Gaza, east of Route 98 along the Syrian border, the Sheba’s Farms, Ghajjar and within 500m of the border with Lebanon, east of Metula. Visa officials may place restrictions on the areas you are permitted to travel.

  1. Hong Kong

While Hong Kong is now part of China, it remains subject to its own immigration controls. British nationals can stay in Hong Kong for up to 180 days without a visa.

Be aware that an employee will need a Chinese visa if travelling to Mainland China and will need a multi-entry Chinese visa if traveling frequently between Hong Kong and China.

  1. Canada

UK citizens are not required to obtain a visa for Canada, but from 15 March 2016, if arriving by air, Canadian visitors must gain an electronic travel authorisation (eTA).

The authorisation system will be enforced with leniency until autumn 2016. Applications can be made online.

When only one parent is traveling with children, it is advised to carry a letter of consent from the other parent.

  1. China

All British nationals need a visa to enter China. There are several alternatives depending on the specific purpose and length of the business trip. Applications are made through the Chinese Embassy and fees vary.

Travellers must register their place of residence within 24 hours of arrival. If you are staying at a reputable hotel, this registration is usually done on your behalf as part of the ordinary check-in process.

If in transit, a traveller can stay in China for up to 72 hours without a visa.

  1. Japan

Japan allows UK nationals to enter as visitors for tourist or business purposes for up to 90 days without a visa. Immigration officers may however require proof of onward travel within that time limit.

General Business Immigration Requirements

There are other global mobility checks that businesses should have in place before their employees depart.

Most countries require an entrant’s passport to be valid for at least six months on entry. Often there is also a requirement that there are at least two blank pages in a passport.

Many countries also require proof of recent vaccination if the entrant has travelled through a country in Africa or South America falling within the “Yellow Fever Belt”.

When an employee travels internationally, it is usually for some critical purpose. All UK businesses should have global mobility procedures in place and ensure their staff meets the business immigration requirements of their destination.

If you have a query about an international visa, or business immigration in general, please contact us.


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