Outbound Travel Visas

Are you planning travel outside the U.S.? Your destination my require a visa. Processing times and application materials will vary by destination country, traveler citizenship, and visa type.

Who Needs a Visa?

If you are planning travel to a country for which you do not hold a passport may need a visa. A visa provides you with the clearance to enter a country and remain there within specified constraints, such as, but not limited to:

  • Time frame for entry

  • Time spent in the country

  • Travel purpose (e.g., a tourist visa prohibits employment)

Your visa is reviewed by an immigration official at a port of entry or exit (e.g. airport, border crossing, seaport). Authorization can be an e-visa, an endorsed stamp within the traveler’s passport, or a document that accompanies the passport.

NOTE: Not all international travel requires a visa. This is determined according to both the travel destination and the passport(s) held by the traveler. 

When Should You Apply for a Visa?

You should allow plenty of time for visa processing. It is advised to submit visa applications 2-3 months prior to your departure date. Consulates will need time to review your application and consider your circumstance, such as reason for applying, details of previous visits to the country and financial security.

What Type of Visa Will You Need?

Depending on your citizenship, destination, and activity, visa types will vary. You should check with the consulate or embassy, or a visa service like CIBT Visas or VisaHQ, for your visa type. Common types of visas include:


A tourist visa is used for leisure, study tours or group travel, general visits, and visiting family or friends. Depending on the country and individual circumstances, attending conferences may also fall under tourism. While non-business meetings or exploratory interactions may occur, no commercial activity or work is permitted on a tourist visa.


A student visa is used for students enrolling in a foreign institution. A student visa is typically required for full time study as well as semester or year-long study or exchange programs abroad. Students typically must provide proof of admission to the host institution as part of the student visa application.

Note that Penn students traveling abroad as part of a Penn course, and who will not enroll in a local university abroad, typically will not require a student visa.


Business visas are appropriate for business meetings, discussions, and activities abroad. However, business visas may not be used for compensation-generating activities, employment, or paid internships, as these will typically require a work visa.

Note: Some countries have non-business distinctions that fall between tourism and business. This category can include business meetings and non-remunerative activities such as presenting or attending conference. Consult the host country’s consulate website for specifics.


If you have a connecting flight in a country that is not your final destination, you may need a Transit Visa in order to pass through that country.


A work visa provides authorization for paid employment in the destination country. An employment offer letter is often required as part of a work visa application, and sponsorship materials may be required from the employer. Students pursuing an internship in another country may be required to obtain a work visa. Requirements vary significantly by country.

How Should You Apply for a Visa?

Depending on how savvy a traveler you are, or how time sensitive your application is, you may prefer to apply for a visa on your own or engage the help of a visa service.

Directly Apply to an Embassy or Consulate

You can apply for a visa directly through a consulate or embassy. This is a good option for experienced travelers and applications with little to no added complexities. Direct applications can also be a cheaper option for travelers looking to avoid additional processing fees.

To identify an Embassy or Consulate for your desired country of travel, please refer to the U.S State Department Website.

Use a Visa Application Service

Penn travelers have found using a visa application service to be a helpful way of navigating the application process. While an additional fee is required, these services offer individual guided assistance and additional support in processing your visa application.

The University of Pennsylvania has negotiated special rates for the Penn community with CIBT Visas and VisaHQ. To access these rates, use the UPenn portal links below:

CIBT Visas

CIBT Visas is a visa agency offering visa processing services, passport services, and a variety of other travel document services. Information about visa requirements and other travel resources are available through the portal free of charge, while processing services are available for a fee.

Individual applicants seeking CIBT assistance should use the link below to access Penn’s negotiated service rates and to pay by credit or debit card. Applicants may also contact CIBT at +1-800-577-2428 or PlatinumServices@cibtvisas.com.

CIBT Visas Penn Portal


Visa HQ is a visa agency that can assist with both individual visa applications and group visa services. Information about visa requirements is available through the portal free of charge, while processing services are available for a fee. Individual applicants seeking VisaHQ assistance should use the link below to access Penn’s negotiated service rates and to pay by credit or debit card. Applicants may also contact VisaHQ at support@visahq.com.

If you are interested in group visa services through VisaHQ, please contact Global Support Services directly for assistance.

VisaHQ Penn Portal

Non U.S. Passport Holders

If you are traveling abroad and you are not a US passport holder, it’s important to understand that the visa and immigration process may differ, especially when departing from the U.S. Consulates and Embassies are accustomed to processing visas from applicants who apply from within their home country, and US airlines and airports may also be unaware of nuances associated with your status. We recommend you take the following precautions:

  • Add additional time to the normal processing period

  • Carry information or documentation regarding your US residency and association with Penn, in addition to your home country passport

  • If the visa requirements where you are traveling differ for you as a non-US citizen, be prepared with any documentation attesting to the different requirement (letter from host country Embassy/Consulate regarding the requirement for your nationality)