Timelines for obtaining official passports and visas vary. They depend on the action being requested, processing times at the Department of State (DOS) and/or the foreign embassy, as well as country-specific visa requirements and back-to-back travel. Travelers should start the relevant request process as soon as possible, i.e., as soon as travel plans are being initiated or discussed.
Refer to the following submission timeframes when needing to obtain an official passport and/or a visa for foreign travel. Late passport/visa requests may result in trip delays or cancellations or the traveler having to submit their request in person to DOS/foreign embassy.
To ensure timely processing, submit request(s) to FIC as outlined in the following table:
Which countries require a visa for travel on an official passport?
chart of visa and training requirements by country or territory to determine if a visa is needed.
This information applies ONLY to U.S. official/diplomatic passports. It does NOT apply to U.S. personal passports or to passports issued by other countries. When in doubt,
contact your FIC International Travel Program Specialist.
You are responsible for applying for the visa of the country where you are planning to conduct NIH business.
What is a visa?
A visa is an endorsement or stamp issued by an official in the Consular Section of a foreign embassy. The visa, placed into the passport, allows the bearer to enter that foreign country. Visas are valid for a specified time period, number of entries and duration of stay.
The duration of the visa's validity will be noted on the visa itself. Depending on the embassy, the visa may only be valid for a very limited number of days, such as the days of visit the traveler specifies on the visa application. The majority of visas are valid for 30 days, 3 months, 6 months, 1 year, or 5 years from date of issue. Some visas also indicate how long the traveler can stay in the country. Permission to stay in the country is generally granted for 30 to 90 days per visit.
Some visas are issued with the date that traveler is scheduled to enter the country. Take special care when changing travel dates after submitting a visa application to FIC - make sure to
notify your FIC International Travel Program Specialist immediately of the change.
Three kinds of visa entries are granted:
Single-Entry Visa is only valid for one use, and only for a certain period of time, then it will expire.
Double-Entry Visa can be used to enter the same country twice for a certain period of time, then it will expire.
Multi-Entry Visa can be used for multiple entries into the same country before expiration date. Multi-entry visas can be requested from some embassies, but it is at their discretion to grant one.
When a visa expires or was only valid for a single entry, it cannot be renewed or extended. A new application must be submitted.
Visa application process and requirements
Visa applications and requirements must be submitted to FIC at least 60 days prior to departure, or 90 days in advance if a new official passport also is needed. Email your FIC International Travel Program Specialist to request visa application forms. Take into account any transit or overnight stay as a visa may also be required. Depending on the country, the passport must be valid at least 3 to 6 months beyond the extended stay. Passports with less than 6 months validity remaining must be renewed before a visa is processed. (This is also the case if a visa is not required for entry.)
Due to continuing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, foreign embassies may still face backlogs and limited visa services, including limited hours of operation. Be aware that changes to requirements and timeframes could be implemented with little or no warning. Most embassies do not offer expedite service and process visa applications on a first-in, first-out basis. Plan ahead and apply early, particularly around the holiday season as embassies close for U.S. holidays and for their own national and religious holidays. Late visa requests may result in trip delays or cancellations or the traveler having to submit their request in person to the embassy.
If multiple official trips are scheduled within a short time frame (e.g., back to back official travel with less than 3 weeks in between), or personal travel is scheduled immediately prior to or after the official trip, please indicate this at the time of submission to have everything completed and returned in a timely manner.
Countries requiring special invitation letters
Certain countries require special invitation letters in support of the visa application. For example, for travel to Russia, Vietnam, and Belarus, start the process of obtaining information from FIC at least 90 days prior to departure. Special invitation letters are required from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in these countries; it takes about 21 days for the sponsor or host of the country to obtain such a letter for the government traveler. For further details, contact your FIC International Travel Program Specialist.
Visa fees charged by embassies
For China visas, travelers using the official/diplomatic passport must pay the visa fee at the time the application is submitted to FIC. Currently, this is the only embassy that charges official and diplomatic passport holders. For travelers using their personal passport, a visa fee will be charged by the consular section of the embassy for which the visa is being obtained. Fees vary depending on the traveler's country of nationality, duration of visa requested, etc.
All travelers paying for a visa will receive a receipt to request reimbursement on their travel voucher. IC CAN numbers or IC/LAB Purchase Cards cannot be accepted for payment.
Travelers not eligible for an official/diplomatic passport
In some situations, Fellows (IRTAs, CRTAs, Visiting Fellows), non-U.S. citizen employees and contractors can be assisted in obtaining a visa for official travel with personal passports. However, many embassies require non-U.S. citizens to submit the application in person, and an appointment may be necessary. Contact your FIC International Travel Program Specialist for more information and visa requirements.
The personal passport must be used to enter a country solely for annual leave in conjunction with an official trip. The FIC Passport Office cannot assist in obtaining visas or tourist U.S. passports for personal travel.
Photos submitted with passport applications must be taken within the last six months. You can get passport photos from:
NIH photography team, Events Management Branch, Multimedia Section
- Building 10, Room B2L328
- Telephone: 301-496-9993
- Hours: Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and Thursday from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m
- No appointment is necessary
- Bring a completed
photography request form
Eye glasses may not be worn in passport photos. If you cannot remove your glasses for medical reasons, you’ll need to obtain and submit a signed statement from a medical professional or practitioner with your passport application.
Immunizations, medications, and preventative measures
Please contact the NIH Occupational Medical Service (OMS) four to six weeks prior to travel about Yellow Fever Cards or immunizations:
Contact your Fogarty Specialist for assistance.