Visas can be a pain – not only can their costs really add up in some regions (Africa or parts of Asia), but you can end up stranded for days waiting for them. You may even have to back-track if your planning is off or your visa is wrong/expired. However, for most Westerners, visas can be hassle free either not required at all, or a simple free stamp at the border.
All this information is based roughly on experiences of an EU or North American passport holder. Australians, Kiwis, Israelis, Japanese and Koreans will run into slightly more problems and costs. South Africans, Indians, Chinese and other similar nationalities will run into a load of problems.
Generally, do yourself a favour and don’t put down ‘photographer’, ‘journalist’, ‘author’ or anything similar on a visa application.
Internet newsgroups/forums and your national travel advisory website are both good resources to ask questions and get answers.
The best general sources of visa information are online:
www.schengenvisainfo.com – for Europe
www.travelvisabookings.com – make dummy flight and hotel bookings for visa purposes only.
PROOF OF FLIGHTS, ACCOMMODATION AND MEDICAL INSURANCE. These are required by many countries. This can get very expensive if actual bookings are made.
How to Book a Round Trip Reservation or Flight Itinerary for Visa Application
Many countries require a traveler to prove they hold a booked flight itinerary and/or flight reservation. Sometimes, they might even ask you to submit the actual Air or Flight Ticket for your intended destination. “Proof of booked flight itinerary” is confusing and you risk losing your money from paying the real flight ticket, even by knowing that your visa can be denied.
Even Embassies and Consulates understand that it is not clever to push applicants to buy a complete flight ticket. It may be suggested by these diplomatic offices about getting the flight ticket with a “free cancellation” option. But, tickets possessing such an available option often tend to be much more costly than the regular ones. In fact, the European Union’s visa consulate advice has been amended.
Some Schengen authorities accept the itinerary when applying for the visa but request the original air ticket when visa is collected. A flight itinerary and reserved flight ticket may cost nothing or a very economical fee for getting one dummy flight itinerary with a reservation number for visa applications.
What Is A Flight/Travel Itinerary for visa application? It is not an actual air ticket that you spend money for, but a document of a detailed plan of your flight or travel journey to the Schengen Area: a flight timetable on the chosen airline, comprised of a flight name, your name, a valid flight reservation number or booking ID, arrival and departure date and airport IATA codes, as well as the price of a real flight ticket. This fulfils the requirement of the Embassy or Consulate. 1. A few air companies might do this for free, by not charging you anything until you buy the actual flight ticket.
2. TravelVisaBookings.com do flight itineraries, hotel reservations along with free consultation over email. Usually, the reservation or booking is valid only for a week, so be careful as the company might cancel your reservation if you do not buy the flight ticket until then – you risk losing money you’ve spent on the reservation. 3. Buy directly from the airline company, or through online search travel engines. They may charge 10% of the fixed ticket price. This way you will cut the risk of, from getting a real flight ticket bought before knowing if you will get your Schengen Visa. As the visa might need 10-15 working days to process, it is recommended to find a travel agent that can give you a greater period of booking validity, at least up to 10-15 working days.
Why do embassies or consulates need a proof of a booked reservation? 1. to avoid overstaying in the Schengen Area – the best way to avoid overstaying is a booked round-trip flight ticket 2. to decide on the length of the visa and 3. to double-check if the applicant is applying at the appropriate embassy or consulate. Generally, you must apply at the Embassy or Consulate of the Schengen country where you are planning to stay the most.
An open or one-way flight ticket is insufficient and will result in refusal of the visa.
Proof of Accommodation. The diplomatic office of the relevant Schengen country has to see if you have an agreed or prearranged place to stay for the duration of your visit in the destined country. This can be with a 1. hotel booking. Booking.com allows free cancellation of bookings and is one online travel web site commonly used to provide accommodation for visas. The booking is subsequently cancelled. 2. invitation from the host with a copy of his passport (proof of sponsorship), whether the host is an individual, a company or an organization; the host’s identity and contact details; the invited applicant and the address of the accommodation. The invitee’s letter must have his signature as well as must be approved by the local town hall or an officer. or 3. evidence of a pre-paid tour with details of payment to the tour operator. Also required are: documents indicating the purpose of the journey and documents in relation to accommodation and proof of sufficient means to cover accommodation.
Using reference amounts set by the Member States’ Schengen Borders Code for board and lodging in budget accommodation, multiplied by the number of days stayed serves as the basis amounts required for a visa.
Backpacking Or Van Traveling In Europe? You must still attest having a booked accommodation to the relevant diplomatic office of your arrival country in your country. Showing a photo of a van or a tent which you plan using for your accommodation is not enough for the diplomatic office. Use dummy hotel bookings for visa purposes so you DO NOT have to spend your money on paying the complete hotel stay before being sure you get a Schengen Visa. Or submit a request letter for hotel reservation to the hotel or the online hotel booking agency – you will not actually pay for your accommodation and pay a symbolic fee to reserve a room in a hotel, as a proof of accommodation letter for visa application. Go to www.travelvisabookings.com, choose flight, hotel or both to book, pay their fee and get the relevant bookings by email. The hotel reservation package includes all the days of the trip anywhere in Europe, based on your travel route. Everything is organized in a very professional way and in accordance with the Schengen Visa formal requirements.
Ensure that the hotel confirmation number is valid as the diplomatic office will do it anyway. If there is a fraudulent hotel booking, the visa application may be denied.
Proof of Europe Travel Insurance. Travel medical insurance is recommended for all travellers anyway, but is mandatory to get a Schengen visa for most countries: medical insurance to cover repatriation for medical reasons, urgent medical attention and/or emergency hospital treatment or death. The insurance shall be valid throughout the territory of the Schengen Area Member States and cover the entire period of the person’s intended stay or transit. The minimum coverage shall be EUR 30,000. Apart from medical expenses, travel insurance also covers lost luggage, cancellation of your flight , travel agency or accommodation bankruptcy. Health insurance may be part of your employment contract, but usually, travellers purchase an individual Schengen travel insurance policy. A recommended company is Mawista VISUM – It is very cheap and it is accepted by European Embassies and also you can cancel it for free of charge, subject to presentation of proof that a visa has been refused!
An e-visa is really a pre-approval and pre-payment for a visa on arrival. It cuts the time you need to wait for your visa at the airport/border and removes the need for spot payment (and carrying money for). It also allows governments to check if they actually want you in their country without you needing to send your passport off or deal with an embassy. The USA was probably the first such scheme in response to terrorist attacks (note entry to the USA is visa free for most nationals of rich nations, but an ‘admin’ fee is charged). In recent years Sri Lanka, Nepal and Turkey – all of which previously let you pay for a visa on arrival have moved to the system. In 2014 the previous tourist and international outcast, Myanmar, also moved to the system and more will no doubt follow (come on India). Procedures are normally simple, with a form – and sometimes photo – submitted electronically. You pay with a credit card and get an answer pretty soon. Some countries still let you get a visa on arrival if you have forgotten to apply electronically, but others like the USA and Australia are notoriously strict about the requirement.
VISAS ON ARRIVAL
In the countries that are most commonly visited by independent travellers, visas are available on the border or upon arrival at a main airport or land border for free or a small fee – no advance planning is needed (although you may need to fill in an e-visa application before you travel). More and more countries (i.e. Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia) are taking measures to make visas easier in order to encourage tourism. In other cases visas are available in a neighbouring country’s major city with much less fuss and [often] cost than in your home nation. These are all visas obtained en route.
VISAS ON ARRIVAL (for a fee) – when a visa is more than a visa
There are plenty of visas required around the world that are available, on arrival, for a fee. There are no checks on your personal records, other than your passport being scanned (and perhaps a photo required or form completed), you just stump up the cold hard cash. These are most common in Southern and East Africa, but also in parts of Asia. Just hand over your hard currency (substantial amounts in some cases) and get your ‘visa’ sticker. So this is really a visitor/tourist tax and governments should have the balls to call it such. Many ‘visa systems’ seem to do nothing, but raise funds for a network of foreign embassies or provide an opportunity for embassy staff to get their own back on the citizens of countries that make visits for their nationals so difficult/costly (yes West Africa we are talking about you!).
Equally you may come across ‘reciprocity entry fees’ which are charges/arrival taxes levied in response to the amount same amount charged for a national of the country you are visiting to visit yours. Americans pay more for almost every visa compared to other countries. Chile is a good example in this instance, which although dropped the huge charge for Americans, Ozzies still pay a steep fee on arrival. Americans still get hit big time in Bolivia and Brazil.
VISAS EN ROUTE
Other visas require more complex application procedures, including visits to embassies in neighbouring countries, letters of invitations, itineraries, variable waiting times (a few days to months) and significant fees, but are best applied for en route making them easier, cheaper and more convenient than applying for them at home. you run no danger of your visa(s) expiring before you get to use them.
There may be many reasons why they are best picked up en route. 1. If you don’t live in a capital city of your country where there are embassies or consulates, mailing passports and obtaining the visas can be very time-consuming. 2. You might also find that smaller nations are not represented in your home country. 3. Many countries require the use of “visa service companies” whose fees significantly add to the cost. 4. Some visas are date and/or exit – entry point specific (Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan) – planning visits to those countries on a long trip would seriously decrease travel freedom. Careful itineraries need to be planned to enter and exit at the right times. 5. Some visas expire and there is the danger of them expiring before you get to use them especially on long trips.
These visa – if you have the time – are best picked up en route as you travel (with the exception of specific countries outlined later).
Always try to obtain up-to-date visa information, which can be hard to come across unless on the ground in the area. Guidebooks and websites are often out of date and situations are always changing (e.g. many countries are moving to the e-visa system and in general countries (notably in South East and Central Asia and Eastern Europe) have/are relaxing previously tight and expensive visa requirements).
Remember when picking up visas en route to be flexible – things don’t always go the way you expect and you certainly can’t go anywhere you want, when you want. Visas maybe available next day in many embassies, but if you apply on Friday, you won’t be able to pick it up for three days. Be wary of festivals that bring everything to a halt and unexplained rejections or transit/shorter visas being issued when a full one was requested. Patience really is needed to deal with a lot of pointless bureaucracy in some places. Luckily this seems to be in decline (apart from the former Soviet Republics and West Africa) as governments discover the potential of tourism and the world becomes more open.
Where you don’t have free passage, can’t get a visa on arrival or an e-visa system is not in place, then it’s normally easier when en route to get an agency to deal with your visa for a small commission that saves you the taxi fares to and from the embassy. The use of these services can range from laziness to essential, when a recommendation or invitation letter is required.
Some difficult to obtain visas en route are: Russia, entering China via the Karakoram highway and then into Central Asia, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran (almost impossible for Americans, Canadians and UK citizens), Pakistan.
Currently the most difficult visas to obtain are those for Russia, former members of the Soviet Republic (e.g. Belarus, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan), strict Islamic countries (e.g. Iran, Saudi Arabia) countries isolated from the west (e.g. North Korea, Eritrea), countries with civil wars (Libya, Syria, Yemen), need for expensive organized tours, long wait times Iran for Americans, Canadians and UK) and countries with a minefield of buracracy (India). To obtain these visas an invitation letter (LOI) or voucher of sorts is oftened required (this can be provided by a hotel, friend in the country, travel agent or tour) as well as a whole load of red tape (Itineraries, entry/exit flights, booked accommodation, multiple photos, photocopies of passports and exit/ongoing visas). All these factors significantly restrict freedom. These may be best applied for in your home country.
If you have no means to get these, transit visas can normally be obtained for a fee and with a valid visa for a neighbouring country.
Of course, if visa on arrival is not possible, get the visa for the first country of your trip in your home nation.
Upon getting your visa, check how many days you have (you may not get what you asked for), if there are any limitations, whether it can be extended (especially if transit) and whether all details are correct (all t’s crossed and i’s dotted) before you leave the agency or embassy – mistakes do happen.
DOUBLE AND MULTIPLE ENTRY VISAS
Whenever applying for a visa think about whether it is worth paying a little extra for the flexibility of a double entry visa, Ghana (pop into Togo), India (pop into Nepal), or Nepal (pop into Tibet) or Tajikistan (pop into Afghanistan) to name a few popular examples. You’ll save time and money in the long run. Below is a rough summary of major regions, but for a more detailed overview the Rough Guide: First-time series is recommended.
Here is a quick guide to regions (see country summaries at www.travelindependent.info for focused advice) – bracketed examples are not comprehensive lists and paragraphs are only rough guides for developed nation passport holders:
Asia: Only more developed nations issue free visas on arrival (Japan, S. Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines and Singapore). Generally visas are best obtained in a major city in a neighbouring country, most effectively Bangkok, Delhi or Hong Kong for China. More and more nations (Nepal, Laos, Mongolia Sri Lanka, China (in places) and Cambodia) have started offering visas for a [sometimes big, sometimes small] fee when you arrive. This facility may however only exist if you fly in or enter at a major crossing and may be for a short stay only. Almost everyone will need a visa before arrival for entry to India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Independent travellers cannot visit North Korea or Bhutan. A tour must be booked – this is technically the same for travel in Tibet.
Central Asia. I was there in the fall of 2015 and will give detailed accounts of the visas and my experience. Also refer to the Travel Facts post for each country on my Travelogue Page.
Kyrgyzstan: visa free for almost everyone. Simple and fast with no forms or money. Kazakhstan: 15-day free visa on arrival for most Western countries. Canada was just added to this list and when I wanted to go, needed a visa that took 4 days in Urumqi China.
Tajikistan: Visa required for most everyone. Bishkek is the best place to apply. Available same day here if arrive early in the morning. Fee $55 for most countries.
Uzbekistan: This visa is a pain and very expensive if a LOI is needed.
Letter of Invitation. Citizens of Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Malaysia, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand, UK and USA do not need a letter of invitation to apply for their Uzbekistan tourist visa. Citizens of Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine have visa-free travel. All other nationals need a letter of invitation from a tour company.
The LOI is processed by the Uzbekistan government with the application
submitted by a tour company. Like the visa itself, it is date specific. It normally takes 7-10 days to process so plan ahead. The consulate only processes the visas before noon, so again to save time, make sure you deal with the tour company in the mornings. The tour company was very helpful and answered emails promptly.
I applied for my LOI though the Cavavanistan.com travel site. It cost US$85 for a 15-day visa ($70 for 7 days and $115 for 30 days, $10 for express service but double the consular fee, and $10 for each additional entry).
If you have a LOI, you can usually get the Uzbek visa the same day or the next day, but embassies may differ (I got mine with a LOI in 2 minutes for $55, note you can use different dates for the visa than on the LOI). The catch is: if you are from a country that does not need one and thus you did not bother getting a LOI, it will take much longer. 1 week? 10 days? 2 weeks? It depends on your embassy. For this reason, many travelers who don’t need the letter of invitation decide to get one anyway so as not to get stuck too long if they are applying on the road.
Uzbekistan tourist visa
The Uzbekistan tourist visa is issued for 7, 15 or 30 days. It is date-specific, meaning that entry and exit dates are set on the visa. You can enter after the visa entry date and leave before the exit date. It is possible to get a double entry Uzbek visa simply by paying 10$ extra.
For your Uzbekistan visa application you will need:
1. Your passport with 6 months validity after expiry of the visa and 2 empty pages
2. A copy of your passport (you can keep your passport during processing)
3. 1 filled-out Uzbekistan visa application form (download and print it from here)
4. 2 passport pictures
5. For a transit visa, proof of onward travel is needed.
Cost of the visa is around $55 for 15 days, 90$ for 1 month, double entry is 10$ extra. Americans and Israelis pay 120$ to 165$, Japanese go for free. A double-entry visa is also valid for 30 days. I’m not sure how this works, but it seems you can only stay 15 consecutive days in Uzbekistan on a double entry visa if you get it without LOI, but that you can stay as long as you want within the 30-day window, go out of the country and come back for the remaining time on your double entry tourist visa if you get it with LOI.
Turkmenistan: This is the biggest pain of all because of how long it takes and is date and entry/exit point specific.
A Turkmen visa is date-specific, meaning it has fixed start and expiry dates. You cannot enter Turkmenistan before the start date or leave after the expiry date, but you can enter after the start date and leave before the expiry date.
Turkmenistan tourist visa
Getting a Turkmenistan tourist visa ìs expensive as you must book a tour through a tour company. Prices range from 120 to 250 USD per day, including guide, driver, accommodation and food. You can cut your costs considerably by sharing with other people, but you need to find them yourself. It is not possible to go on a standard tour with a bunch of strangers. To receive your visa, your tour company will tell you what to do.
Travelers on a Turkmen tourist visa need to be registered with OVIR, but this will be handled by the tour company arranging your visit.
Turkmenistan visa on arrival
It is possible to get a Turkmenistan tourist visa on arrival in the airport of Ashgabat, as well as on the land borders. You will need a letter of invitation from a tourist agency, which means a booking with them. The Turkmenistan visa on arrival is valid for 10 days, with extensions possible based on the duration of the booking.
Turkmenistan transit visa.
Getting a transit visa might require a long wait, but you do not need to book a tour and do not need visa support (LOI). A transit visa allows for a visit of 3 to 7 days. How many days you get is essentially up to the whims of the official granting the visa, but 5 days is standard. 7 days was impossible for a long time, but now possible again in Tehran on a regular basis. Perhaps elsewhere too, so try.
A transit visa means you need to go from one country to another through Turkmenistan. You cannot go back to the same country you came from on a transit visa. Flying in and out is possible. Transiting Uzbekistan – Turkmenistan – Kazakhstan has been refused in the past, seeing you don’t have to cross Turkmenistan for that, but Afghanistan – Turkmenistan – Uzbekistan has been granted before.
Visa requirements for transit visa application:
1. 1 filled out Turkmenistan visa application form
2. 1 passport-sized photo
3. 1 passport with minimum 6 months validity after the expiry of the Turkmen visa and 2 empty pages
4. 1 letter from yourself stating your purpose of transit and route (you are given a sample letter to follow)
5. photocopies of your main passport page and of visas of the two countries to be traveled to/from (some embassies may not require the visa for the country you are traveling from, only the visa of the country you are traveling to). If you do not need a visa for the countries you are going to next, explain that to the embassy staff and they will understand.
6. photocopy of your airline ticket, if applicable
7. You do NOT need a LOI for a transit visa
To apply for a transit visa, go to a Turkmen embassy with the documents listed
The transit visa has a set start and expiry date, so it is essential to be ready to enter the country when the visa starts. The cost is around 55$ (155$ for Russians). Note also that you need to enter your entry and exit points on the visa application form. When you get back your passport, check which entry/exit point you got, it might be different from what you asked for. Don’t exit from a different border crossing than the one stated on your visa, it will not be fun!
If you get a 7-day visa, you need to register with OVIR.
The embassies of Tashkent, Dushanbe and Vienna give transit visas, to be picked up at the border with Uzbekistan after you get a code e-mailed to you.
My experience. I applied in Dushanbe 15 days before my requested transit visa date. I did not have my Uzbekistan visa yet and they let it go. I was flying to UAE (visa on arrival) so did not need to show a visa for there). My entry point was Nukus and exit Ashbergat. My email with my visa did not arrive until my last day of my Uzbek visa, 17 days after application. As it is not good news to overstay a Uzbek visa, I had left the previous day from Nukus for the 21-hour train ride back to Tashkent (that is the only place to fly out of Uzbekistan) and received the email at noon on my last Uzbek visa day. There were flights back to Nukus but they arrived after the border closed (when it gets dark), so I did not go to Turkmenistan. Many other tourists had my experience. The message is to apply at least 3 weeks before you plan on entering. That would take having a good itinerary for your Tajikistan and Uzbekistan visits to make it all work – something I hate doing.
Afghanistan: Easy especially if applying at the consulate in Khorag, Tajikistan. It took me 90 minutes including a 15-minute walk each way to pay at the bank. $50 for Canadians, $85 for Europeans, $160 for Americans.
AFRICA: (see North Africa right) Visa requirements vary dramatically for different passport holders. Generally visas are required for countries in East Africa, however these are normally obtained at the border (have $$ ready) with limited hassles (Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Zambia) or in a neighbouring country’s embassy for more off-the-beaten-track destinations (Eritrea – one of the hardest these days, Sudan). Some visas such as Ethiopia may be available upon arrival at the airport, but not on the border and others may only be available on arrival if there is no embassy in your home nation – such is the case with Mozambique. Worth noting that Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda can be visited on one multi-entry/country East African visa (saving multiple visa costs). African island nations are all visa free (apart from Comoros which will sell you one on arrival).
West Africa is a difficult place for visas and visa fees are expensive. Unless you are African you’ll need a pricy visa for almost all countries (only Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal and The Gambia are visa free, although Guinea-Bissau and Togo (kind of) let you collect on arrival) – so much for encouraging much need tourism. However, you can pick these up as you travel with relative ease. They go for about US$20-100 a pop. Some are issued on the border, many are not and take 24-72hours in a neighbouring country (note a Ghana visa in Côte d’Ivoire can be problematic). With poor diplomatic representation abroad, even finding an embassy in your home country can be tricky and requests for documents to apply are sometimes crazy. So get only the easy ones, fly in and get the rest as you go. There is one combo visa available for this region (Visa Entente) it is valid for Burkina, Togo, Benin, Niger, and the Ivory Coast.
Even a visa for Nigeria or Cameroon, both of which have a reputation for being difficult to obtain on the road is possible without too much fuss somewhere like Ghana. The real standout however is Angola, for which even a transit visa is real challenge and is currently one of Africa’s most needlessly most painful. It is typical that many Central and West African countries (especially if apply in your home country) will require an invitation letter from a government ministry (such as DGM in Congo) that you will be required to buy (spread the money around). Many countries where few tourist tread (like DRC, Republic Congo, Angola and Equatorial Guinea), but with mineral or oil wealth don’t really understand the concept of a ‘tourist’ visa and the visa process seems to be set up to extract as much money from those applying (normally business travelers or expat workers) as possible.
The Americas are visa hassle free for most (Australians and Kiwis have a few problems in South America). Visas are almost always free on the border and for a nice long period. Do check, there are some funny scenarios – for example: some EU countries may need a visa for Bolivia and US/Australian citizens will in some case have to pay a fee. For US citizens things are tightening up in Latin America with this reciprocity tax/fee causing visa costs to really mount up for USA citizens (see comment) not just in Brazil, but in many other of the regions countries (Bolivia), making country hopping expensive.
Central America is free of most visa hassle.
EUROPE is visa free for most developed nations with the exceptions of a few ex-USSR countries.
Western Europe is visa hassle free for most can crisscross Europe at leisure.
Eastern Europe is now visa free for most. Some like Albania require on the border fees. Moldavia, Serbia and the Ukraine have recently dropped visa requirements for most (EU, Swiss, Japan, USA/Canada) and the EU has extended to include the likes of Romania and Bulgaria, but with some Eastern European countries Ozzies, Kiwis and Yanks will require a visa (Baltics, Poland & Bulgaria now don’t).
Azerbaijan, Belarus and Russia will require expensive and sometimes difficult visas (a letter of invitation will be required issued by an agency that makes you a real (or in the case of Russia, usually ‘theoretical’) hotel booking.
Australia and the Pacific: You need a visa for Australia that is electronically stamped in your passport (e-visa). The cost will vary depending on the type, but for a simple tourist visa it is a small fee (about 20AUD) – apply on-line. New Zealand and most of the rest of the Pacific is visa free (the cost is getting there!) with the major exception of Nauru.
Middle East and North Africa: Within the Gulf States and North Africa visas are normally easy or not required. The key exceptions are Saudi Arabia (very tricky if not transit or for religious reasons), Iran, and Libya plus Syria due the current conflict. An Iranian visa is best achieved with a ‘authorisation code’ letter. For an easier ride, it’s best to contact an agency such as Key2persia and get them to send a visa authorisation code to your embassy of choice. Many travellers settle for a transit visa (5 days), however they can no longer be extended. For more details see the Iran summary.
Traditionally Libyan authorities will not grant a visa without a tour, but there are tour agencies who will get you a visa, having to meet you at the airport/border (forget the embassies or the lottery with the Tunis consulate). Despite widely reported information to the contrary, independent travel is possible in the country (at least along the coast). If you still run into red-tape some agencies can provide a guide rather than a tour. Still Libya is tough to get a visa for (even with regime change) without a pre-booked tour and not that safe currently.
Worth mentioning here is that for all Middle Eastern and North African countries (except Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Qatar, Oman, Morocco, Mauritania, and Tunisia) you must have no evidence of a trip to Israel in your passport – see Israel country summary for details on avoiding that stamp you don’t want.
The rest, apart from Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iraq (outside of Kurdistan, which is easy on arrival) – which are almost impossible unless you are a Muslim or aid worker – are normally easy enough. However, visas can be complicated for nations like Sudan, Eritrea and Djibouti where tourists rarely stray.
You will need to book a tour or a guide to get a tourist visa for Bhutan, Turkmenistan (although transit without guide is possible), North Korea and Libya.
For more specific country by country information have a look at the excellent Project Visa.
#1. A Great Story
(Told to me by a Dutch woman with many great travel stories)
Just after 9/11, she was flying from East Berlin to Sao Paulo Brazil and had gotten the cheapest fight available with 3 stop-overs over 3 days. From East Berlin she flew to Frankfurt then Amsterdam, then New York where she had a direct flight to Sao Paulo. She was tired and thirsty as it was impossible to buy water because of all the new flying rules.
When she left New York, she didn’t need a visa for Brazil but the rules changed at midnight during the flight. She arrived in Brazil and the only option was jail before she could be deported. That was OK as all she really wanted was water and the price was right.
She was deported to Paraguay that was visa on arrival at the time. There she applied for the Brazilian visa that lasted 90 days. After 30+ days in Brazil, she went to Columbia to visit friends. A fellow she met had a large stash of marijuana and she kind of lost track of time and overstayed her 15-day Columbian visa. When she tried to leave Columbia, she learned that the fine for overstaying the visa was 100$ for the first day and $40 per day after that. Women have available several techniques to garner sympathy that men don’t have: cry a lot, feign pregnancy or embarrass the border guys. She put a whole bunch of tampons in the top of her purse and when she went in to get money, tampons spilled all over the place. The fellow got so embarrassed, he hurried and gave her the needed exit stamp without paying anything.
She then went to Argentina just when the Argentinian peso collapsed. With no money but a credit card, she could buy almost anything (at incredibly cheap prices) on her card but couldn’t get a bus or buy simple things like water. She ended up buying 4 suitcases of goods and stayed in Argentina for over two months.
The plan was then to renter Brazil at Iguazu. She thought that she had lots of time on the visa as she had only been there for 30 days but by now the visa was long past expired and she had a return flight home from Sao Paulo in 4 days. The border guy wouldn’t let her enter Brazil, but it was easy to go from Brazil to Argentina because of the financial difficulties there. In those days, you could simply walk around the immigration post and bypass the border. So, with her 4 suitcases, she snuck around the back of immigration and appeared on the other side as if he wanted to get to Argentina. As she had entered Brazil illegally, the guy had no choice but put her in jail and deport her. She ended being escorted by the authorities to Sao Paulo (all provided free of charge), and caught her plane home.
So she was deported from Brazil twice.
# 2. A fellow entered Russia from Belarus with no visa. It was recognized when he tried to leave Russia. They were very stern about his breaking Russian law. But the only penalty was deportation – just what he wanted!
#3. Belarus Visa. This is a very difficult visa to get with a required Letter of Invitation, itinerary and exit flights. As Belarus hasn’t much to see, most people simply don’t go there. But you can get a Belarus visa in a few hours at the Belarus Consulate in ? Poland, the main border post town between the two countries.
#4. Turkmenistan Visa. This visa is a notorious pain in the ass. It is amazing how difficult they make it for a country with little to see other than to experience a weird country and collect a visa stamp.
Tourist visas require a tour which is very expensive. So almost everyone applies for the 5-day transit visa and enters/exits from Iran or Uzbekistan. It is date and entry/exit point specific. Apply on the road in Tehran, Iran or one of the ‘stans but do it at least 3 weeks before you need it, as it would be unusual to get it sooner. Good things are that you do not need to leave your passport and the visa is delivered by email, printed out and presented at the border crossing you designated. So it takes some planning to arrive at the entry point at the right time.
Just don’t hold your breath. My visa email arrived 17 days after application, the last day of my Uzbekistan visa and I had had to leave my entry point near Nukus, Uzbekistan (21 hours by train from Tashkent) the day before to exit Uzbekistan. So I never did make it to Turkmenistan. Neither did many others who found it simply too difficult to have travel itineraries coordinate with the visa.
#5. Indian Visa. India is notorious for its bureaucracy which has morphed into every consulate in the world. I applied for my triple entry Indian visa by mail a month before it was necessary at the Indian Consulate in Vancouver. It was an error to apply for more than one entry as I failed to provide the exact details and the visa simply sat on someone’s desk for 10 days with nothing happening. By the time the application was corrected, there was a still a 2 week processing time. As my flight approached, I phoned, emailed and wrote letters to not have the visa mailed to my home – I would pick it up in Vancouver before my flight. Of course they mailed it, it did arrive in time but as I couldn’t guarantee that it would, I took the precaution of cancelling my flight for a few days. It was an expensive mistake.
#6. Indian Transit Visa. I was in the Maldives with my next destination as Bhutan. I made the error of not applying for the transit visa when I first arrived in the Maldives and went to a small resort for a week thinking that a transit visa would only take a day or so. After all I was not going outside any airports, only transiting through Chennai and Kolkata airports (the only way to get to Bhutan from the Maldives easily is via India).
I was told the visa would take a week to process and I was willing to wait despite the expense of staying in Male where there was absolutely nothing to do. After returning 3 times before noon on my first day in Male to satisfy all the crazy things they required, I asked just before noon when the visa would be ready. They said 2 weeks as there was a weekend! I was unable to board my flight from Male because I did not have the transit visa. So I had to cancel my flights and the entire Bhutan trip (all paid for) at a significant loss. I flew to Singapore and saw there and Malaysia before returning home.
#7. Vietnam Visa. I was in Cambodia and obtained my visa a few days before I needed it over an afternoon at the Vietnam Embassy. But I had run out of visa pages and had been removing old visas from my passport to make room for the 6 countries on my projected itinerary. The only empty page was in the middle of my passport where India had been. One good thing about the Indian visa is that it is made of heavy paper and is very easy to remove without tearing. I had found some acetone to remove all the glue but there was still some minimal glue residue that was hardly noticeable.
I was on a through bus to cross into Vietnam and Vietnam immigration would not give me my entry stamp as they noticed the glue. After delaying for 30 minutes with the bus waiting, I slipped US10$ into the passport and promptly got my stamp.
#8. Uzbekistan Visa. This is one of the most expensive visas to obtain. Canadians require a Letter of Invitation obtained through a tourist agency that takes 7-10 days to process and costs US85$. The visa is date specific – you can’t enter before or leave after the specified dates. And the cost of the visa goes up with duration and number of entries. Once I had the LOI, it took only 5 minutes and US65$ to actually get the visa. I made the mistake of not changing the dates of the visa from the ones I had put on the LOI, which is possible.
I entered 2 days after the specified entry date giving me only 13 days in the country. I had to be efficient to see everything and exit on my last day to coordinate with the date specific Turkmenistan visa. But the Turkmenistan visa arrived on the last day of the Uzbek visa and I had left my entry point near Nukus in western Uzbekistan by train 21 hours before in order to not overstay the Uzbek visa. There was a flight back to Nukus that day but it arrived two hours after nightfall when the Turkmenistan border closed.
So I decided to enter Kyrgyzstan at the land border near Osh. I didn’t know exactly when the border closed and left Tashkent at 14:00 for the 6-hour share-taxi drive to the border. It was 21:30 before I actually got there and it had closed at 20:00. I had only 2½ hours to exit Uzbekistan and had been warned that it was bad news to overstay the Uzbek visa. I was dropped off at the border in the middle of nowhere, it was dark and there was nobody to be seen. I approached the gate as I had seen a flashlight probing the border post. A guard appeared, I explained the situation and he assembled the entire immigration crew to let me through! He yelled for the Kyrgyz immigration in noman’s land and they finally appeared after about 15 minutes of waiting alone. The overweight guard kept mentioning “dollars”, the only English word he knew. After walking a block to the immigration post, another agent was there and he was very pissed off that I had gotten him up (it was an hour later in Kyrgyzstan). “You must never do this again. I was asleep. Present?” I apologized and said that I had no idea Uzbekistan would let me through. I didn’t want to give him any hard cash so found a piece of turquoise I had bought in Tibet that I thought was fake, weighed a lot and didn’t really want anyway. I said I paid $20 for it, he accepted it and I was through! There was even a car at the remote border that I got a ride into Osh with.
The penalty for overstaying the Uzbek visa was deportation and a prohibition from reentering the country for a number of years. I wanted to be deported and had no plans to ever go back to Uzbekistan anyway.
#9. Apparently you get a Georgia Passport after staying in the country for a short time. I have no idea how good this passport is for most countries but you can enter all the ‘stans visa free with a that passport. I paid US300$ for all my ‘stan visas and experienced a ton of hassle in the process. If the required stay is short or you will be in Georgia for a time, look into it.