Those days are over when everything had to be done in person or over snail-mail. And this also applies to various government services, including the visa issuing process. For some time already, travellers can obtain their visa online, and these are called e-visas or digital visas. The same as banking services some time ago, the governments are now undergoing a rapid digitalization of various processes ensuring a much faster, much cheaper, and more transparent work. But why are some countries still hesitant to implement this extremely convenient approach? And what might make them change their minds? This article will answer those questions briefly, but let’s start with some background information!
They are digital and linked to your passport number. It allows avoiding any stickers, labels, or stamps placed in your passport. I can remember those times when I saw some very well-travelled individuals whose passports were so full of visas that they had to get a new one—done with this nonsense! Additionally, this allows more discrete travel, because some countries deny entry if you have visited some particular country (-ies) beforehand. Any remarks in your passport might be a direct visual reminder of a trip to someplace and therefore also serve as a reason not to let you in.
They are much easier to obtain. Apply online, pay online, and store it in your mobile device to show to the border control. Similarly, like you would do with an electronic airline ticket! It is obvious that they are also easier to use and they save up some serious amount of resources for you and the governments. Imagine all the costs saved on those automatic online services as well as the printing of stickers! But for you, it might mean saved costs on travel to the embassy that sometimes might also mean travelling to another country.
The particular applications differ from one country to another. But the basic principles still apply – you fill out a form stating all parameters for the expected visa, attach the necessary documents (that could be a copy of your passport, bank statement, or other formalities) and pay with one of their offered means. Usually, they would offer to pay with a debit/credit card or PayPal. And then all that remains is to wait to receive the visa in your email! In some cases, it might take as little as 15 minutes to get it done. Amazing, isn’t it?
The number of countries that allow obtaining digital visas is continuously growing. I will argue that the situation with this global lockdown will also speed up the creation of e-visa systems. At the moment of writing this article e-visas can be obtained for travel to the following countries: Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Armenia, Ascension Island, Australia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Benin, Cambodia, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Georgia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Hong Kong, India, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Mexico, Montserrat, Morocco, Myanmar, Oman, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Qatar, Rwanda, Saint Helena, Saint Kitts and Nevis, São Tomé and Príncipe, Saudi Arabia, Singapore,
Please take into consideration that this is not an exhaustive list as the countries are introducing this service continuously. Simultaneously, not all countries offer e-visas to all nationals of every other country as there are the most difficult countries to get a visa as well.
Each government has its reasons for implementing one thing or another in their system. The same goes for e-visas too. Even though most governments are rapidly noticing the benefits and switching to offering digital visas, some are still hesitant, and below I will try to explain a few potential reasons and solutions that might already be in place in other countries.
One of the main concerns is identity theft. Applying for a visa online poses several opportunities to use the system for fraudulent activities, mostly because the applicant does not appear in person in the visa office. Considering that so many countries have solved this risky question, there must be various ways to make sure the person arriving in the destination country is the one who got the visa. For example, cooperation with airlines to ensure the visas are being checked before embarking the plane.
Forgery of documents is another one. It is quite obvious that supporting documents like invitation letters or medical insurance sent digitally can be easily forged in favour of travellers. There are several ways to prevent this – like hiring a company that specializes in verifying the validity of scanned documents or asking e-visa applicants to pay for it with a bank card registered on their name.
Not coming to the visa office in person also denies collecting very valuable biometric data (like fingerprints). Even though it is an actual hole in the current e-visa systems, technical solutions to collect this information securely already exist. It is currently just necessary to find ways to bring these products to be used securely within the process of obtaining an e-visa.
And finally, some countries just have a poor digital infrastructure (including software, hardware, firmware, networks, and company websites). This might compromise the efficiency and the safety of e-visa service. The only way to think about this is – considering that most classic visa systems are already based on some IT solution, this should not be considered as a viable argument.
After all, there are countries where change takes quite a long time due to more complicated government systems as well as laws in place of the country. Imagine passing a law through voting with 100 person parliament in tiny Latvia vs 535 members of the US Congress! Both of them have yet not introduced an e-visa system, but that is not the point. Bigger and heavier bureaucratic governments just take longer to bring the change through all the formal systems. We just have to deal with the fact that such countries will offer e-visas to the incoming travellers a bit later. The question is not IF, but WHEN.
What can you do about this issue? If you are eager to travel to a place that requires a visa but are for whatever reason unable or unwilling to obtain it the regular way (i.e. going directly to the embassy), try contacting an online visa services company to do it for you. All you need is to send your details, and all the formalities will be done for you! Even if e-visa is not available at the time and getting your travel document might happen a bit later, you will still save loads of time, effort and put complications in your life!