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What type of visa do you need?

Visa types

When traveling abroad there’s often a lot of red tape to get through, the most important part of which is your visa. A visa is, in the simplest terms, a document issued by the host country’s government that permits travel within their borders. It is, however, generally accompanied by a term of conditions you need to respect while in the country.

When applying for a visa, it’s important to understand these conditions – and to understand the different types of visa available for any given country. Visas may be tourist, temporary, working, long-stay, spouse, student, or any other type of visa issued by the country. There are sometimes exit visas too, for the purposes of leaving the country (though these are comparatively uncommon).

Finally, it’s worth bearing in mind that a visa does not guarantee entry to (or a continued stay in) a country. It’s still possible for the country to deny entry or to revoke your visa.

What Types Of Visa Are There?

There are, as mentioned, many different kinds of visa, and the visa that you’re applying for will affect the documents you need. It’s therefore important to know about the various types of visa available, and the supporting documentation you will need to apply for them. Let’s take, for example, the Schengen Visa.

Type of visa Description
Type A Airport transit visa – you cannot leave the airport.
Type B Schengen transit visa. You can cross the borders of countries within the Schengen Zone and can stay in one of them for a period not longer than five days.
Type C Schengen short stay visa. This visa varies from person to person (e.g. length of stay, purpose of visit etc.).
Type D Long-stay visa. This allows you to stay in the Schengen Zone for longer than three months.

Let’s take a look at the two visas used for longer visits – the types C and D visas.

Type C Visa

This category of visa allows travel within and through any countries that are part of the Schengen Agreement. You can also reside in the country that issued the visa for up to six months. You must apply for this visa 90 days before the start of your intended visit.

This visa is the most popular for travelers and tourists, as it’s the best option for short-term traveling within the Schengen Zone. The visa is further divided into several subtypes:

Subtype Length of stay
C1 Up to 30 days
C2 Up to 90 days in a six-month period
C3 Up to 3 months in a 12-month period
C4 Up to 3 months for 1-5 years

Type D Visa

The type C visa is undoubtedly the most popular option among travelers and short-term tourists. However, it does have its limits. The longest period of time you can stay is 3 months, and even then you’ll usually be unable to exceed that period in a single year.

The type D visa opens up more possibilities, and is particularly useful for those looking to reside, work or study in the Schengen Zone.

What Is The Difference Between Type C And D Visas?

A type D visa is the only Schengen Zone visa that can be converted into a residence permit. Though you cannot reside in the Schengen Zone for longer than 3 months using a type D visa, you can apply for a residence permit during that time and receive a ‘residence card’. This allows you to stay indefinitely while your application is being processed.

When Might You Need A Type D Visa?

There are many reasons you might apply for a type D visa. However, whether or not your reason is a valid one is subject to the decision of the host nation’s visa authority. If they decide it is, a type D visa will be issued, which can then be converted into a residence permit.

Some of the reasons you might apply for a type D visa include:

  • Marriage 
  • Living with family 
  • Adopting a child 
  • Studying 
  • Participating in professional sports 
  • Accompaniment of a relative for medical or academic reasons 
  • A visit upon medical grounds 
  • Business 
  • A politically or religiously motivated trip 
  • Settling down 
  • Citizenship by investment 
  • Activities relating to education or scientific research 
  • Investment in the national economy 
Note that owning ordinary real estate that does not meet a specific threshold is not considered a valid reason for applying for a type D visa.

The documents required when applying for a type D visa differ significantly from those required for a type C visa. They can also vary depending on the country to which you’re applying, and your reason for applying.

How Does The Schengen Area Differ From The European Union?

Because there is significant overlap between the Schengen Zone and the EU, this is a commonly asked question when applying for a visa for either area. The two areas are defined as follows:

  1. Schengen Area. The Schengen Area (also called the Schengen Zone) comprises 27 countries, some of which are not EU members (Switzerland, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway). There are no internal visas or border controls between these countries.
  2. The European Union. The EU is a collection of 27 countries that have partially delegated their powers of government to the European Parliament and the EU Council. No visas are required to travel between EU countries.

It’s important to remember that the Schengen Zone and the EU are not identical, as the Schengen Zone contains several non-EU countries, as well as a handful of Atlantic islands (the Canary Islands, the Azores and Madeira).

Schengen Zone Visa Classifications By Purpose Of Travel

The type of visa issued often depends on the purpose for your visit. Here are some of the more common reasons:

  1. Visitor Visa. This visa is required when you are visiting family or friends who are resident in the country. The host must send an invitation letter for this kind of visa.
  2. Tourist Visa. This visa is quite self-explanatory; visiting a country (or several countries) for the purposes of experiencing local culture, historical sites, and landmarks.
  3. Business Visa. Available in single-, double- and multiple-entry forms, this visa is for those who are visiting in order to do business. It’s necessary to have an invitation letter from a company for a business visa.
  4. Transit Visa. This short-term visa is usually used when you’re transiting through a country (or countries) with no intention of staying for longer than five days. You will need to present evidence of your ongoing journey for a transit visa. It’s possible to get single- and double-entry transit visas.
  5. Work Visa. This visa is required for legal employment, and is renewable annually.
  6. Study Visa. Required for further education studies within the Schengen Zone. Valid for no longer than a year, similar to work visas.
  7. Medical Visa. If seeking treatment or diagnosis within the Schengen Zone, a medical visa will be required. Supporting documentation will be needed to establish that medical treatment (or a diagnosis) is indeed necessary.

Number Of Entries Allowed

As we’ve seen, visas can sometimes be single-, double- or multiple-entry, with the number of entries permitted depending on the nature of your visit and the type of visa issued. The number of entries differ as follows:

  • Single entry — valid only for one entry into the Schengen Zone. This visa is no longer valid once you exit the Zone (and you therefore cannot use if for re-entry).
  • Double entry — with a double-entry visa, you can leave the Schengen Zone and re-enter once. If you leave the Zone a second time, the visa is no longer valid and you’ll need a new one.
  • Multiple entry (MULTI) — you can enter and leave the Schengen Zone as many times as you want with a multi-entry visa. You may still be restricted, however, by the length of time you’re allowed to stay within the Zone (for instance, if you’re on a type C visa that restricts you to 3 months in any given year).
It’s generally type C visas that are issued with a single-/double-/multi-entry stipulation. There is a caveat with all such visas, however, in that the first country visited in the Schengen Zone must be the country that issued the visa. If the Norwegian government issued your visa, for instance, you couldn’t enter via Iceland.


It’s generally quite easy to work out what kind of visa you need by using the tables provided above. It’s also important to think about the reason for your visit, and how frequently you intend to exit and re-enter the Schengen Zone. If you’re a businessman visiting for business reasons, for instance, you’ll likely want an annual multi-entry visa. If you’re stopping in Oslo briefly while en route to Moscow, then a single-entry transit visa will likely suffice.

Whatever the reason for your trip, you can remove a lot of the stress of preparing by figuring out the type of visa you’ll need. Once you know that, you can prepare the relevant documents and get ready to go. Good luck and safe travels!

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Josh is our resident content wizard! With his encyclopedic knowledge of travel and visa regulations, Josh shares his expertise on site's pages with travelers around the world.