The idea of getting a visa to become a missionary in a foreign country can sound like a large task to tackle––where do you start, why do you need one, and how do you even get one? These are all necessary questions that need answers, and these answers will give anyone seeking to become a missionary the confidence they need to check this step off their list.
Why do missionaries need visas? Visas are necessary to missionaries because they allow missionaries, tourists, entrepreneurs, etc. to enter a foreign country and stay for a period of time that is designated by the government of the country in question.
What is a Visa and Why Do You Need One?
In short, and in more precise wording than above, a visa is a document that permits you access to a country that you are not a citizen of.
There are many different kinds of visas, ranging from work visas, student visas, missionary visas, and many more; the one you get depends on what you intend to do in the country, and also which country you are seeking to enter.
The need for a visa is generally dependent on how long you will be in the country, which country you are going to, and again, what you are doing. For the tourist who is only spending a few weeks or a couple of months even, a visa is generally not necessary. Anything beyond 90 days, however, is the usual time period in which a visa is required. And again, this changes with the country you are visiting.
Why Do Missionaries Need Visas?
Visas are important because in most countries it is illegal to enter without permission from their government. If you have not received permission even for tourism and are discovered to be in the country illegally, there are many consequences that can arise depending on the nation.
The Difference Between a Visa and a Passport
It’s important to properly understand the difference between a passport and a visa, so below I have listed the key characteristics and difference between the two.
- Passports are essentially IDs––Their main purpose is to identify your country of citizenship and permit you re-entry. They contain birthdate, gender, photo, and physical characteristics.
- Visas are endorsements in your passport––Visas do not work as an ID but instead, they are approval to enter a country.
- Passports allow US citizens to enter some countries without a Visa
Different Kinds of Visas
The most common visa types are tourist, student, work and transit visas, but these only scratch the surface of the number of different kinds of visas that countries offer.
Each visa type serves a specific role and permits you to operate in a specific way. For example, someone who enters the country under a tourist visa but goes to volunteer in an orphanage or in any other work-related capacity is working illegally and can lead to you being arrested. Even though it is viewed as volunteering to us, it is actually seen as stealing people’s jobs, and thus it’s illegal.
It’s important to understand visa requirements and laws so that you can be protected and choose the right visa for that work you will be doing.
There are two major visas and permits that should be noted when seeking entry to a nation, and I’ll go over those in this section.
If you’re like me, you probably thought that missionaries have to enter every country with their purposes incognito, under the guise of an entrepreneur, tourist, etc. but this is not the case.
During a recent interview with Brian Arensen, the Director of Personnel at Bethany Gateways, a missionary sending agency that has been around since 1945. I learned that some countries have what is called a Missionary Visa. Brian Arensen was a missionary himself and now works to send missionaries out across the globe, he has extensive experience with the visa process both through sending others and going himself.
In the interview, Brian Arensen shared that when he was a missionary to Kenya, he worked there under a missionary visa. Missionary visas are available in countries that are open to the Gospel, while there are a lot of nations who do offer this visa option, not all do.
Arensen explained that the best visa to get for the Christian seeking to do missions work, is the missionary visa, it is much cheaper than other visa options because those who have it are not entering the country to make money. It also gives you the freedom to do whatever you want, whereas if you get a business visa you are restricted to only business-related ventures.
Work Permits Versus Visas
For the missionary seeking to stay long-term, they will need to enter the country under a work permit which allows them to stay for longer periods of time.
Work permits are acquired by the employer of a company for an international employee.
Thedifferencebetween.net summarizes the differences between visas and permits perfectly, here:
- A Visa is a travel document to enter into the country whereas a work permit is a job authorization letter from any company.
- Visa and work permit expiry and renewal need very critical attention.
- Immigration visas, businessmen and study visas have greater benefits than work permit but they are more expensive.
- Work permits are distributed free. Some companies would even pay all the expenses for their qualified employees.
- Immigrant visa holders can apply for citizenship in accordance with the law of the country.
For more information on work permits, check out this article: Difference Between Visa and Work Permit
How to Get a Visa
Now that we know the importance of a Visa and what their purpose is, let’s move on to the how-to part.
Again, during my interview with Brian Arensen, I learned so much about visas. The first thing I learned is that getting the right visa can be a tricky business if you don’t really know what you are doing. But the second thing I learned is the most important part: if you have a good outline or road map, you’ll be prepared and ready to get exactly what you need.
This next part is a straight and to the point “how-to,” that will get you on your way.
Where to Start
The best place to begin your visa process is by going directly to the website of the country you intend to go to and checking the visa requirements there.
Occasionally, there is a US website that also gives you information on which countries require visas. Canada is a good example of a country that does not require US citizens to have a visa to enter, only a passport is necessary.
How Long it Takes
Typically, it takes 2-4 weeks to get a visa after starting the process, but sometimes you can get it on arrival in the country though most countries require you to have the visa before you enter. This means applying to an embassy in your own country to get the visa in advance.
Something very important to keep in mind is the need to start your visa process ahead of time. While the usual time is 2-4 weeks, things happen and governments are busy so waiting until the last second can put your
The Best Visas for Missionaries
Every country is different so it’s rather a tricky question to answer. The best way, however, to answer this would be to tell you to research the country in question.
Discover whether they are an open country or not; an open country simply means that they are open to Christianity and proselytizing, whereas a closed country would be one that rejects any form of evangelism/proselytizing, but this can even vary in degree. For example, some closed countries are hostile to Christians and it is illegal to be a Christian, while others are open to Christianity but do not permit attempts at conversion.
Another thing to consider is their relationship with America––are they on friendly or unfriendly terms? And another would be to find out what they are looking for. For example, the nation of Nepal requires that those who are looking to stay for a period of time must get a visa that contributes to art.
Some of my missionary friends who are currently living in Nepal are required to take a class of their choice in painting and sketching, pottery, photography, and more.
Over all, apart from an actual missionary visa, there really isn’t a “best visa,” it is instead entirely determined by the country you are planning to go to.
Resources for More Info On Visas
For anyone who would like to get more information on visas and passports, I have made a short list of some very helpful websites that will give you further information about the steps you need to take to get your visa.
U.S. Department of State
The U.S. Department of State provides an extensive international travelers checklist as well as preparation tips and laws you need to be aware of before leaving the country. It’s a very helpful resource for those seeking to travel out of the U.S.
To save you some time, I’ve provided some of the most relevant and helpful information here. but if you would like to bypass these and get straight to it, this link will take you directly there: U.S. Department of State
For people pursuing missions work overseas:
While You’re There
Remember, you are subject to the laws and the justice system of the countries you are visiting.
Many countries have laws that restrict religious expression. These may include restrictions on:
- Public or private prayer or other religious practices
- Wearing religious attire or symbols
- Preaching in a private or public setting
- Speaking to others about your beliefs
- Possessing religious images
- Criticizing or questioning the religious beliefs of others
- Visiting certain religious sites if you are female
- Possessing printed religious materials
- Distributing religious literature; and
- Participating in religious services or activities.
These laws may be applied more or less severely to foreign visitors, so be sure to research the local laws and customs of your destination country. When possible, coordinate with members of the faith community in your destination country, to make sure planned activities are culturally and legally appropriate.
Another great resource is found at PassportIndex.org; they provide all you need to know about visas and passports, and just all-around traveling to a foreign country. Check them out here: Passportindex.org
Here is some helpful information they provide:
Why Do Certain Countries Have Visa Restrictions?
Countries have visa restrictions in order to check and control the flow of visitors in and out of the country and to prevent illegal immigration and other criminal activities. Forcing travelers to apply for a visa allows the authorities to vet potential visitors. For example, individuals may attempt to travel to a country with better economic opportunities in order to work illegally there.
What Are the Requirements for a Visa?
Each country has its own visa application requirements. Make sure to check with your destination country’s appropriate government website to find out. Requirements typically include filling out the visa application form, providing your passport for stamping if required, a photograph, and additional documents such as your flight itinerary, hotel booking or letter of invitation.
Many countries also have inadmissibility guidelines when it comes to issuing visas. Potential visitors may be deemed inadmissible if, for example, they have a criminal history, are a security risk, have a serious health problem, have serious financial problems and more.
If you do not meet the visa requirements for the country you intend to visit it is highly likely that your visa application will be denied and you will not be allowed entry into the country.
CIBTVisas is another great resource as they are Visa and Passport agency. They cover everything from cost to an extensive alphabetical list of every country telling you whether you need a visa or not, to enter.
Here’s the link: CIBTVisas.com
Here are some FAQ’s they list on their website:
Do I need a visa to transit through a country?
Many countries do not require a visa if you are in-transit to another destination and are staying for a very short period of time however, specific transit requirements vary widely from country to country. Visit our Visas section to view the transit requirements for your destination.
Is my passport required to obtain a travel visa?
For the majority of countries, a travel visa is stamped on, or affixed to, a travel visa page inside a passport. However, there are a few exceptions. To see the travel visa requirements for a specific destination go to Visa Quick Check.
What is consular jurisdiction and how does it affect my visa processing?
Consular jurisdiction is the geographic area for which a consulate has responsibility for issuing visas. Jurisdictional requirements are determined by each country and frequently vary. Some consulates have strict enforcement of jurisdiction while other consulates are flexible with their jurisdictional requirements. Your visa processing options are determined by the jurisdictional requirements in place for the consulate that will issue your visa.
Church of Jesus
For a Christian perspective on visas and passports, you can check out the website of the Church of the Latter-Day Saints. They offer a great FAQ page for Christians looking for visas to do missions. Churchofjesuschrist.org
How can missionaries obtain a police clearance letter?
Missionaries should go to their local police or sheriff’s office and bring a photo ID with them. Missionaries should check their visa instruction sheet for specific instructions. For most countries, this document needs to be in letter form on police department letterhead stating that the missionary has no criminal record, and the document must be notarized by a notary public. Most police or sheriff’s offices have a notary public available.
Where can missionaries find answers to specific questions concerning the visa instructions for a certain country?
Missionaries can visit the Select Mission Location page and choose the appropriate country.
What is an authentication, apostille, or certificate?
An apostille, authentication, or certificate is a document issued by a governmental body which validates the Notary Public or issuing authority of a particular document. These terms are often used interchangeably, however, they are different. These certificates (usually a separate piece of paper with the state seal on it) are placed on a document for use by a foreign government. There are two types of certificates: Apostille Certificate or Authentication Certificate. The type of certificate you need depends in which country the document will be used. State offices generally verify which type of certificate you need and attach the correct certificate based on which Country you list when submitting your documents to their office. If you have questions regarding which type of certificate you need, please contact your State’s Secretary of State Authentication offices. The United States Department of State also issues these two types of certificates.
Where can missionaries obtain passport or visa photos?
Missionaries should use a professional passport photo service to ensure that their photo meets all the requirements. Most post offices, copy centers, drugstores, or grocery stores that have a photo center can take passport-type photos. Missionaries can search online using words like “passport photos” to locate a company that provides passport photos. No photocopies or homemade photos of any kind will be accepted.