A foreign affair

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Before sending your executive jetting off on overseas travel, make sure you’ve satisfied all the necessary business visa requirements, advises Karen Taylor. Companies often have the misconception that business travel visa requirements are the same across the world. This is far from the truth and in fact the difference in the application processes and traveller requirements from China to India, or from Russia to Nigeria, is startling and, despite the cries of some desperate company bosses, certainly never an instant process.

The other misconception is that the rules can be bent. Unfortunately, this is simply not the case; while the pressures of doing business internationally can often put a strain on resources and encourage corner-cutting, national embassies and application centres will not be swayed. Visa applications must be done by the book or not at all.

As territory and country-specific business travel application guidelines continue to change almost daily, since they are extremely sensitive to the local political and social conditions, it’s vital to ensure that both you and your company never take these regulations lightly.

The following are some misconceptions you need to look out for when you’re next arranging a business visa.

One visa suits all purposes
If you’re planning to do business in your destination territory then you need to make sure you’re applying for the appropriate visa. Given its role as the 21st century’s fastest growing superpower, it’s no surprise there is a growing number of business travel visa requests for corporate visits to China. However the Chinese government takes a hard line on the difference between tourism and business travel. You are not allowed to attend meetings or work in any form while on a tourist visa, so do not under any circumstances attempt this. You can, however, go sightseeing on a business visa.

The process is the same for all residents of a territory
Strict rules apply to travellers of various nationalities. For instance a French national, regardless of British citizenship, is required to appear at the Chinese embassy in person and by appointment in order to apply.

All you need to do is to fill out a form and send off a photo
Some territories require you to have a letter of invitation from a company registered in the country you’re planning to visit. These include China, where this is regarded as a pre-requisite to your visa application being successful. It must accompany your passport, standard passport-sized photos and application form. However, other territories insist on a letter of invitation from the government of the country you are planning to visit. This is the case with Russia, for instance, where you will need a letter from the Russian Foreign Ministry, not the company you are visiting. This can be requested from the Russian Tourist Board. It is issued in Russian and a translation will be required of the document.

For some countries you need more than one letter – Indian visa applicants are required to provide a letter of invitation from the company they are visiting in India as well as the company they are travelling from in the UK.

You always need a standard passport-sized photograph
Don’t assume a standard British passport-sized photo will be acceptable. In some instances you will also need to supply two passport photos measuring 2in x 2in – considerably bigger than the normal UK passport size – alongside your forms.

You can just send off a cheque with your application
Business travel visa fees and how they are processed differ from territory to territory. To visit Nigeria, for example, the applying traveller has to personally pay a fee of $164 to the Nigerian government by credit card, as they will not accept cheques or debit cards. It is then vital to provide proof of this payment, in addition to two passport-sized images and completed online forms, in order for your application to even be considered by the embassy – a process that can take up to six weeks.

Karen Taylor is the Co-founder of the Travel Visa Company. For further information on its services visit thetravelvisacompany.co.uk

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    Molly Dyson

    Former Editor – PA Life

    All stories by: Molly Dyson