Keep a level head with our guide to getting a visa in the Switzerland of the Middle East.
Navigating the visa system in any country can be tough, whether you’re traveling, studying or working abroad. The documents, passport photos, photocopies and hidden fees can all make you want to give up and go back home.
If you’re going to a country like Lebanon, where information isn’t readily available, it’s easy to sink into hopelessness before you even board a plane.
We’re here to help you navigate Lebanon’s complicated visa system. We tell you when and if you should apply for a tourist visa, how to apply for a student visa and what to do when applying for a work visa.
You’ve probably read on the Lebanese embassy’s website that you can buy a $30 single-entry visa or a $75 multiple-entry visa. Sounds like a good idea, right? Wrong.
Buying a visa ahead of time is a common mistake a lot of Americans make before their first trip to Lebanon. Because it sounds safer than risking being turned away at the airport, they gather the required forms and FedEx their passports before booking a flight.
Not only is this a long and expensive process, but it’s also unnecessary: US citizens are entitled to stay in Lebanon for up to three months on an entry visa without paying fees.
How do I get a tourist visa?
When you land at the Rafic Hariri International Airport in Beirut, you’ll see a sign that says “Visas.” This is not for you: US citizens get their visas at passport control.
Before getting in line, you’ll fill out a pink card with your personal information, the purpose of your visit and where you will be staying. You absolutely must include the address of your hotel or family you’re staying with, otherwise you risk being detained.
The border official will stamp your passport. validating your visit for one month. If you plan to stay longer, renew your visa for two more months at the General Security building in the area you’re staying in.
Studying at the American University of Beirut or the Lebanese American University? Getting a student visa is significantly more complicated than a tourist visa.
But you can’t do anything before you enter the country. Instead, you’ll first need to enter on a tourist visa. Once you’ve arrived, you’ll apply for a student visa with:
- A completed residence permit application form, signed and stamped by your university’s office for international students and registrar.
- An enrollment certificate from your university, notarized by your embassy and stamped by the UNESCO Council of Higher Education.
- A notarized statement pledging to not work during your stay in Lebanon.
- Proof of housing from your local mukhtar, which is similar to a mayor who has a smaller jurisdiction.
- A paid statement of university fees.
- Your bank statement.
- Three passport photos.
- Three copies of the first page of your passport.
- Three copies of your entry visa.
- 300,000 Lebanese pounds — or about $200 American dollars.
Submit all documents to your local General Security office, where you will pay your fees and have your photo and fingerprints taken. It’ll take around a month for General Security to process everything.
Five tips for applying for a student visa in Lebanon
- Start as soon as you can. Getting your documents together takes a lot of time, and even planning can take longer than you expect.
- Make an appointment at the US Embassy. Appointments are open in the morning only and fill up fast. You can enter the US Embassy with your documents and cash to pay fees — that means no keys, purse or phone. Going with a friend’s car is best — that way, they can keep an eye on your stuff while you’re inside.
- Prepare for extra fees. Every step of the application process costs money. And getting anything notarized at the US embassy costs $50.
- Renew your entry visa if you need more time. If your experience is like mine, you won’t be able to get everything together in a month.
- Check your status with General Security. The last thing you want is to be turned away because they’ve made changes or you’re missing a document.
If you’re lucky enough to find a job in Lebanon that provides a work visa, there’s not much for you to do — it’s up to your employer to put together your paperwork and pay any fees.
Processing can, however, take more than six months. Just make sure you’re in the country legally while your employer gets your paperwork together. You might have to go to Cyprus for a day to renew your entry visa.
Getting a visa for Lebanon can be confusing and nearly always take longer than your expect. But it’s possible with persistence and by staying on top of the process and documentation.