I myself always use the term "tourist visa" for the common type of visa used by tourists on sightseeing visits to countries. Some people probably say "tourism visa" instead.

But very often I hear or read people use the term "visitor visa". I've always just thought it means pretty much the same thing I described above.

But is it actually the same? Is there some technical difference I'm overlooking?

For instance is there any country that has both kinds of visas as distinct types?

Perhaps some countries use one term in the official terminology where other countries prefer the other term and there's nothing more to it?

  • Ah that makes sense. I wonder if there are any other less common overlaps? Aug 2, 2015 at 19:01
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    This is a politically driven issue and as such will never make complete sense. The difference is rather arbitrary in many cases and completely dependent on the locale in question and the time you check the rules (in some places the classification and which country's residents can get what type after what sort of effort changes from year to year).
    – zxq9
    Aug 2, 2015 at 21:23
  • @zxq9: Well if that's the case then it's a perfectly fine answer, especially if we can actually demonstrate it to be the case. If it doesn't make sense then here will be the place for people to read how and why it doesn't make sense. Aug 3, 2015 at 2:06
  • So it looks like the common term "tourist visa" is unambiguous and broadly useful even though it maps to visas with different official names with varying scope in different countries. In contrast it looks like the common term "visitor visa" is too ambiguous to be broadly useful because it maps to very different types of things in different countries. But in context with a particular country it's still OK. Wouldn't make a good tag here for instance. Aug 4, 2015 at 2:34
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    If you want ambiguous and confusing, apply for a visa to Canada, where tourist, business, and transit visas, along with several other purposes, are all known as temporary resident visas. Sep 11, 2016 at 6:28

5 Answers 5


According to Visa policy of China, there are at least the following four distinct types of Chinese visa:

  • F - Visit Visa (访问签证) Issued to those who intend to go to China for exchanges, visits, study tours and other activities.
  • L - Tourist Visa (旅游签证) Issued to those who intend to go to China as a tourist.
  • Q2 - Family Visit Visa (探亲签证) - Issued to those who intend to visit their relatives who are Chinese citizens residing in China or foreigners with permanent residence in China.
  • S1/S2 - Private Visit Visa (私人事务签证) - Issued to those who intend to go to China to visit their family members who are foreigners working or studying in China.

These are all categories of visa which, in other countries, might all fall under a "general visitor visa" category.

  • 1
    Ah of course "visitor" can sometimes (or always?) mean the traveller intends to visit relatives (or other people?) rather than go sightseeing? Aug 3, 2015 at 1:58
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    @hippietrail: Perhaps, that might be the difference. I don't know the details of how China actually distinguishes between those. I suspect that it has a lot to do with whether you're visiting some people in particular, or not. Aug 3, 2015 at 2:00

I can answer for the UK. You can use this formula...

Tourist Visa = Visitor Visa = Family Visitor = Entry Clearance

'Entry clearance' is the 'official' terminology and all of UKVI's internal documentation uses that term. "Entry Clearance" is preferred because it tells everyone that the visa was issued by an overseas post. When an American (Canadian, etc) applies for leave to enter at a port, the 'official' term for the stamp in their passport is "Entry Certificate" (whether it constitutes a 'visa' or not is a matter of context). The definitions are given in the Immigration Act 1971 and have not changed since then.

When a person is actually in the UK on one of those, their legal status is "Visitor"; there is no such legal status as "Tourist". A person is either a visitor with an entry clearance or a visitor with an entry certificate.

Entry clearance takes the form of a visa (for visa nationals) or an entry certificate (for non visa nationals). These documents are to be taken as evidence of the holder's eligibility for entry into the United Kingdom, and accordingly accepted as "entry clearances" within the meaning of the Immigration Act 1971.

Source: Paragraph 25

"Family Visit Visa" and "Business Visit Visa" were abolished last spring. People still use the terms to describe the premise of their visit, but everybody gets a "Standard Visitor Visa".

It was only recently that they decided to use the term 'visa' in the laws; before that, the term 'entry clearance' or 'entry certificate' or 'leave to enter' was used. The change of language is part of UKVI's ongoing initiative to become more customer focused and professional.

For the part of your question about what's preferred... 'entry clearance' is preferred when it describes something an overseas post issued, and hence the most precise. Secondarily, "Standard Visitor Visa" usually describes the same thing. And 'visa' is preferred for everything else (including 'entry certificates').

A note on Schengen: Schengen uses a number of the same concepts, but the terminology was never imported.

A final note on terminology: Americans (Canadians, etc) may use the term "I came over on my passport". In the context of UK law, it means they applied for leave to enter at a port and received an entry certificate.

This whole answer is bounded by the domain of 'visitors'. Spouses get entry clearances as do workers as do performers and so on, but these sorts of visas are out of scope here.


In Japan, "Temporary Visitor" visa (or more accurately, status of residence, it also applies to people who enter visa-free) allows you to do anything except taking paid employment, so it's not only for tourism but also for example short-term study courses, volunteer work or unpaid internships.

It is also limited in duration, typically to 90 days but citizens of a select few countries (Austria, Germany, Ireland, Liechtenstein, Mexico, Switzerland, UK) can apply to have it extended to 180 days. (On the other hand, citizens of Brunei and Thailand who enter visa-free get only 15 days.)

For longer stays and/or for taking paid employment, a proper visa has to be applied for, but there is no "Tourist" visa, so in principle it is impossible to stay in Japan over 90 days for tourism (or 180 for the countries mentioned above). In practice, people who wish to do so do a "visa run" to Korea.

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    I'm not sure this actully answers the question, since there is no "Tourist" visa. I guess I just wanted to say that what is very commonly referred to as "tourist visa" in fact encompasses many other things.
    – fkraiem
    Aug 2, 2015 at 19:29

In Saudi Arabia and Kuwait you have:

  1. Visit Visa, which is divided into Business Visit, Family Visit, Personal Visit

  2. Tourist Visa (very new for Saudi Arabia); available in Kuwait through hotels and travel agencies.

The general distinction is that the visit visa usually has a sponsor on the other side, the tourist visa is one that is issued by a tour operator or hotel on your behalf.

  • Is Saudi issuing tourist visas again? Last I heard, this was still on ice: arabnews.com/travel/news/680441 Aug 4, 2015 at 4:21
  • Yep they are, thanks to some UNESCO world heritage sites in Saudi. Aug 4, 2015 at 4:22
  • You can even apply for it online. Aug 4, 2015 at 5:58
  • Got source? That form including "tourism" dropdown option looks unchanged since ~2008, doesn't mean they're actually issuing visas... Aug 4, 2015 at 6:06
  • They are because the system itself is new (the online system); however they are very restrictive (as you can imagine) on the conditions - especially if you are a non-Muslim. Aug 4, 2015 at 6:13

In some countries tourist and visitor visa are treated as same while in others, they are classified as different categories

A tourist visa stipulates the duration of stay and the purpose (which is leisure travel) and visitor visa may be for the purpose of visiting friends or family, medical treatment, business etc.It is granted for a longer duration and the immigrant has to get extensions after every 6 months.

  • Think US B1 and B2 visas.
    – Karlson
    Aug 5, 2015 at 2:03

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