Many countries that do not require a visa for a regular tourist or business trips DO require a visa if you plan to film or perform. In some countries, special categories of visas are issued for these purposes, sometimes called Entertainment or Journalist visas. Though some small productions have been known to sneak in under the radar as tourists to shoot their projects, the fines and penalties if caught can be severe. If you are traveling with a carnet of professional camera and audio gear, there will be greater scrutiny on arrival, and not having the appropriate visa can be costly. Penalties can include fines, detention, and deportation, and can prevent someone from being able to visit or work in that country again.
Document requirements and lead times vary greatly from country to country when it comes to film permissions. Some countries, including most of Europe, require US citizens to visa consultancy obtain only local film permits if the project is on location less than three months. Other countries, like India, may take up to 6 weeks to process a film permit application, which must be approved before the crew’s visas can be obtained. Australia, and in most cases New Zealand, requires “Letters of Non-Objection” from the local unions before the appropriate visas can be issued.
Some countries require the filming application to come from a production company that is a registered in their country. Further, they may require invitation letters from a company in their country in order to issue the visas. In these countries, it is a good idea to line up the facilitator, or “fixer”, early in the pre-production process, so they can assist with these steps.
Keep in mind the nationalities of the crew traveling on the production. Green Card holders can apply at consulates located in the US, but those holding temporary US visas or living outside the US may have to apply for their visas in their home country. Moreover, visa regulations that apply to US citizens may be different for crew holding non-US passports. In some cases, it may be easier for them to obtain a visa. In other cases, there may be more visa requirements, or the process may take longer, or not be possible at all. For example: A French national going to China must appear at the consulate in person to be fingerprinted, while an Israeli crew member cannot get a visa to enter Indonesia, Malaysia, and a dozen other countries at all.
In order to ensure a smooth visa process for International productions:
1. Determine if you need film permission from the Government (or unions) prior to obtaining visas. 2. If you do, apply for the permission as soon as possible. 3. Once approved, apply for the appropriate visas, keeping in mind the nationalities of your crew.
While step 1. takes only a little research, steps 2. and 3. can takes weeks. Combined, they can take months, depending on the country. If you plan to film abroad, and are not already familiar with the visa process for your international location, it may be worthwhile to hire an experienced visa consultant to assist with film permissions and visas.