Traveling is often fairly simple. You grab your passport, book a flight, and off you go. Around the world, many nations have worked out various deals to allow citizens of different countries to pass through their borders with relative ease. A great example of this is the relationship between Canada and the United States. Nationals of either country are often treated preferably by border security. Canadians, for example, may be told to line up with US citizens during security checks. The European Union is another example. Some EU countries even allow citizens to move through without a passport!
For many other countries, however, the process isn’t nearly as simple. You’ll need to get an entry visa in order to visit. Some countries require visas for just about everyone, and it doesn’t matter how long you’re staying. Others issue travel visas for people staying for longer than 30 days.
In many cases, getting a visa is a relatively simple process. You’ll fill in some forms, and then you’ll be granted a visitor’s visa. Australia is an example of a country where it’s relatively easy to get a visa. Some other countries, however, keep tight control over who qualifies and who doesn’t. It can be next to impossible to get a visa, and often for ridiculous reasons.
Saudi Arabia is one of the richest countries in the world, endowed with massive oil wealth. Its fairly conservative monarchy keeps tight control over almost every aspect of the country, from how it’s being talked about on the world stage to who gets a visitor’s visa and who doesn’t.
Those who have tried can tell you it’s often next to impossible to secure a visa to the Desert Kingdom. Many people end up going outside official channels. Why is it so difficult? Saudi Arabia is so wealthy, the tourism industry isn’t important. Therefore, it’s easy to limit the number of visitors. The country also sees millions visit Mecca each year, meaning they have little reason to allow other tourists.
The Africa nation of Chad does issue visitor’s visas. It’s just that it can be a little bit of a convoluted process to obtain one. In order to secure a visa, you’ll need to submit a letter from a sponsor or a hotel located in N’Djamena, the country’s capital. Your sponsor will need to invite you to visit, explain your relationship to officials, and tell them the purpose of the trip.
Only a handful of hotels issue these kinds of letters, and most of them want you to book a non-refundable stay. If that feels a little underhanded, you’ll likely still be asked to bribe border security agents and others at the airport so you can enter the country.
Somalia is considered a failed state, which means it doesn’t have a functioning government. That said, there is a government in Mogadishu, the capital, that tries to exercise some control. One of the things it controls is visas. Somalia needs its tourism industry, but the level of danger often present means officials are reluctant to issue visas to hapless vacationers.
Some hotels and guesthouses can help you secure a visa, although they primarily cater to officials from non-governmental organizations and diplomats. They’ll also recommend that you book a cadre of 4 to 6 armed guards who will be your personal detail for the duration of your stay.
Sudan is another African nation that’s difficult to get a visa issued for. The reasons are apparent enough. The government has been accused of many things over the past few decades, including the crisis in Darfur.
The Sudanese government hardly wants camera-toting tourists traipsing around the country. As a result, they put strict limits on how many tourists can enter the country. They also limit where people can go and even what kind of photos they can take. If you apply for a visa, you’re likely not to be outright denied, but merely told that the application is “being considered.”
Angola is yet another African nation that tends to be stingy with visa issuing. Since the 1970s, there’s been a good deal of animosity between the United States, Britain, and Angola. As Angola moved toward independence, the US and the UK both tried to shape the outcome by supporting different factions.
The result? The current government has a deep suspicion of outsiders who might want to meddle in the country’s affairs. There’s also a rumor that foreign visitors are only after one thing. The country is rich in diamonds, and it’s widely believed tourists only visit to make off with millions in precious gems.
So, you’ve decided to visit Bhutan! You’ll need to get a visa if you want to visit this South Asian nation. Maybe you want to visit the Paro Taktsang Monastery, or maybe you want to challenge some of the Himalayan peaks found in the country.
Whatever you want to do, you’d better be ready to pony up. You’ll need to prebook and prepay your entire trip before the government will issue a visa. You’ll have to book this all-inclusive package through a Bhutanese travel agent, and you’ll need to pay it via money transfer. Prices range between 200 and 300 USD per day, so if you want to go for 2 weeks, be prepared.
Until the early 21st century, the island nation of Nauru was rich because of phosphate mining. Around 2007, however, things took a turn for the worse. The island’s natural resources were completely depleted, leaving Nauru desperately seeking dollars to replace rapidly declining income.
Like many other nations, Nauru has turned to tourism to make up the deficit. Unless you live in Australia, Fiji, Taiwan, or Thailand, however, you might have some trouble getting a visa to visit this tiny island nation in the South Pacific. You’ll need to visit an embassy or consulate, and they only exist in those 4 places.
Trying to get a visitor’s visa to enter Pakistan is a bit like playing the lottery. Sometimes, you’ll get lucky, but most of the time you’ll walk away empty-handed. No one can quite say why there’s such inconsistency, but the policy seems to change with the winds. You may get your visa issued one day, while another person will be turned down the next.
This uncertainty makes it difficult to plan a trip to Pakistan. If visas are being issued, however, you’ll likely be impressed by the speed of service. You know the old saying though. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
Given how secretive NK is, you could be forgiven for thinking it’s difficult to secure a visa. Surprisingly, it’s relatively easy to get a visa, provided you’re willing to wait around 6 to 8 weeks to arrive.
The trickier part is that you’ll be limited to a pre-planned itinerary delivered by one of the 3 state-approved tour operators. You can’t travel independently, and you’ll need to be accompanied by a guide at all time. Even with this strict policy, they still deport a fair number of tourists each year. Maybe it’s not surprising that just 100,000 people visit each year.
Getting to the South Pacific island of Kiribati is a bit of a trick. You’ll need to hop across other remote islands. Seasoned travelers often set out from a major center like Honolulu, Fiji, Brisbane, Taipei, or Manila, before traveling through some of the remotest airports in the world.
If you’re from one of 60 approved countries, you’ll be able to purchase your visitor’s visa when you land in Kiribati. If your country isn’t on the list, however, you’ll need to apply for a visa the old-fashioned way: by visiting a consulate. Kiribati’s consulates are few and far between, and they’re often located in tiny villages and remote places themselves.
Russia is another country where obtaining a visa isn’t strictly difficult, but you’ll be asked to work your way through some bureaucratic red tape first. Step One is often getting an invitation to visit. A hotel can provide this. You’ll also be asked to fill out a questionnaire. The latest version for US citizens asks some fairly personal and sensitive questions, but if you don’t answer all of them, your application will likely be denied.
Service is often slow, so be sure to fill in your application well before your departure date. Don’t be surprised if your visa is subjected to additional scrutiny when you land either.
There are many reasons people choose to steer clear of Equatorial Guinea. The state has tainted history of oppression, so it’s little surprise many tourists find the country isn’t exactly the most open or friendly of places to visit.
The mutual animosity between visitors and the state may be one reason it’s so difficult to get a visa to this country. Unless, of course, you happen to be from America. US citizens don’t even need a visa to enter. The rest of us will be waiting to see if our visa applications are granted.
Eritrea’s visa granting process can feel much like Pakistan’s: arbitrary. You never know if your application for a visitor’s visa to this African country will be approved, or if it will be returned with a denial. Sometimes, there isn’t even a reason for denying a visa.
Even if you fill in the form very carefully, the application might still come back with a big rejection notice. The process is also incredibly slow, taking between 6 to 8 weeks. You’ll just need to play wait and see, and maybe don’t book any non-refundable tour packages before you’re sure you’ll get a visa.
Iran’s relations with many countries have been rocky since the 1970s, so it’s not exactly a surprise to find the process for getting a visitor’s visa is fairly convoluted. The process was never exactly straight-forward, but things have been tightening up in the last few years.
Before you can even think about submitting a visa application, you’ll need to obtain an authorization code. That’s right. You need to be approved to apply to be approved. The code needs to be obtained by an official Iranian travel agency in Tehran, and it can take up to a month to get one. Get started early.
Generally speaking, getting a Chinese visa for 30 days or less is relatively easy. You’ll need to apply using a letter of invitation, which can be provided by a hotel, along with some other supporting documents. Then you’ll make an appointment with an embassy or consulate.
The application will demand documentation of your flights in and out of China, as well as confirmation of a hotel booking for every night you’re spending in the country. Trips to sensitive areas or longer than 30 days will need to provide a detailed, day-by-day itinerary before they’ll be approved. It’s a lot of red tape, but you can often get approval.
It isn’t necessarily difficult to get a tourist visa to Azerbaijan. If you have a tendency to worry about every little thing, the process might drive you a little crazy.
You’ll have two options for a tourist visa. You can apply directly to an Azeri embassy, which will take 2 to 3 weeks to process. You can also decide to apply for an electronic visa, issued directly from the country’s foreign affairs ministry. The electronic version can be done online, which is handy. It also takes longer, often between 4 to 6 weeks.
No matter which direction you choose, you can expect to hear absolutely nothing from the agents. You can’t check the status or get the visa rushed either.
Technology is a traveler’s best friend, but also their worst enemy. Case in point: the new electronic visa system introduced by India. In theory, being able to fill in your details online and submit an electronic form should be much faster and easier.
Many people have found it incredibly frustrating. The system doesn’t work across all operating systems and browsers, so you may not be able to fill in all fields of the form. In some cases, you won’t be able to pay. Payments are processed by the Bank of India, so if their system is down, so is the visa application system.
If you thought Russia was the most bureaucratic state, we’d like to introduce you to Nigeria. To get a visiting visa to this African nation, you’ll need to turn over a fairly hefty dossier of documents. First, you’ll need to provide confirmation of a hotel booking. Then you’ll need to provide some bank statements. You’d also better have a job, because you need to submit a letter of employment!
You’ll also pay 3 times over for this visa. You’ll need to pay the Nigerian government when you fill out the online application form. Then you’ll need to pay the Nigerian High Commission via a postal order. Finally, you’ll have to pay the visa application center.
At first glance, needing a letter of invitation to visit another country can seem daunting. After all, unless you have friends or relatives living there, who is going to invite you to visit them? Most of the time, a hotel or travel agent can provide the document.
This is the case in Turkmenistan, and your best bet is to get a tour agency or guide to arrange the letter. Like Bhutan, you might be expected to pay for the trip in advance. This is no guarantee, however, and your application might still be rejected. All in all, your application, if successful, will take about 4 weeks to be processed.
Many countries have online forms for visa applications. Until recently, Brazil wasn’t one of them, but when this country did decide to get on board with the 21st-century way of doing things, things took a turn for the worse.
Some people reported spending plenty of time and money trying to use the form, only to have it summarily reject applications. Most of the time, photo files appeared to be the problem. Even visa agencies didn’t have much more success, however. Let’s hope they’ve got the bugs worked out now, or that they decide to extend visa-free status to countries other than New Zealand.
References: The Atlantic, Wanderlust, The Culture Trip, Garfors, Traveller.com.au