Most countries have a set of organized visa requirements to facilitate the entry of citizens of other countries for tourism, business, study, work, or retirement purposes. In countries where organized visa requirements are not the rule, getting a visa can confuse and frustrate even the well-seasoned traveler.Below is a list of the top 10 countries with the most difficult visa processes (in order of increasing difficulty). I have also included information on how to go about getting the visa and what you can expect after applying.
There are two main ways you can get a visa to go to Iran as a tourist. The first route is travelling to Kish Island, Iran. Kish Island is a beautiful island located just off the coast of mainland Iran, surrounded by the crystal clear turquoise waters of the Persian Gulf. I went a couple of years ago, and it is definitely worth the trip.Passport holders of any country can travel to Kish Island without having to obtain a visa in advance. The easiest way to get there is to fly into Dubai International Airport and then transfer to the Kish Air flight to Kish Island. When you arrive in Kish Island, you will have to present your passport and take a series of fingerprints. The whole process takes about 30 minutes, and the immigration officials are friendly.
“Citizens of many countries can get a tourist visa on arrival at the airport in Tehran, valid for a stay of seven days. U.S. citizens; however, must arrange for a visa in advance”
The second way to get to Iran is to apply for a visa for mainland Iran, which will enable you to visit Tehran and other areas of mainland Iran. If you are planning to travel during the winter, Iran has some amazing ski resorts, no more than an hour’s drive from Tehran.Citizens of many countries can get a tourist visa on arrival at the airport in Tehran, valid for a stay of seven days. U.S. citizens; however, must arrange for a visa in advance by applying through an accredited Iranian tour group. This group will take care of all of the necessary paperwork you will need for the visa. Be sure to plan ahead (10-12 weeks in advance).
For those wanting to travel to Iraq, the easiest and most viable option is to fly into Erbil, Iraq, an old town in the relatively stable Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Citizens of several countries, including the United States, European Union, Canada, Japan, or Australia, can obtain a free stamp upon arrival (good for a stay of 10 days).As a side note, if you go to Erbil, be sure to go to the Erbil International Hotel and try their barbecued chicken. It is the best tasting chicken I’ve ever had! The secret is the Hello Barbecue Sauce, a top-selling barbecue sauce made in Iraq that is composed of various delicious ingredients, including crushed dates.
While independent travel to most of Somalia is dangerous and not advised, the autonomous northwestern part of Somalia, known as Somaliland, is open for the independent traveler.The easiest way to get to Somaliland is to fly into Addis Ababa, Ethiopia first and then head over to the Somaliland Liaison Office, located next to the Embassy of Mozambique. You can get your visa in 5 to 10 minutes. Just make sure you bring your passport, a passport-sized photo, and some cash (US$40 at the time of this writing).
You will be the talk of the town after you travel to this off-the-beaten-track destination. When most people think of North Korea, they would never imagine traveling there as a tourist. Well, guess what? You certainly can. The secret is that you will have to book a tour package through a travel agency accredited by the Government of North Korea. Although the process is difficult, it is not impossible. By gathering the proper documentation, you should be able to visit this country without any serious issues.The steps required are as follows:
- Book a tour package through a tour group accredited by the Government of North Korea.
- Fill out the online visa application. (Most tour groups will have an online application posted somewhere on their website).
- If you plan to enter North Korea via China, you will need to get a multiple entry visa for China first. Note that, in most instances, you will need to travel to Beijing and then go to Pyongyang from there.
- Once your visa has been processed, your tour group will usually provide you a location where you can go pick it up in Beijing. Sometimes, they may even pick up the visa for you on your behalf.
- If you are not entering North Korea via China, then you will not have to worry about picking up any documentation in Beijing.
Nauru is the world’s smallest independent republic. It is a tiny country located in the South Pacific Ocean. You will find that the process of gathering the proper documentation to enter Nauru is quite bureaucratic and cumbersome.The process for getting the visa to Nauru entails the following steps:
- Book a flight to Nauru on Our Airline (formerly known as Air Nauru).
- Reserve a hotel room in Nauru
- E-mail the Nauru Consulate in Brisbane, Australia in order to obtain a visa form
- Fill out the visa form and return it to the Nauru Consulate so that they can send you your permission letter in order to enter Nauru
- Carry this permission letter with you on your trip and present it upon landing in Nauru
- Hand over your passport to Immigration upon entry to Nauru. They will process your visa, which should be ready either same-day or next-day.
Sao Tome and Principe
Sao Tome and Principe is a beautiful island country located off the west coast of Central Africa. Information on how to get a visa to go there is really tough to find if you do a search on the web, so I will spell out everything clearly for you below.There are two main ways to get a tourist visa for Sao Tome and Principe:
Option 1: Contact a travel agent to do everything for you
Option 2: Apply through your local consulate/embassy
I advise you to select Option 1 and have a reputable Sao Tome and Principe travel agent process all the paperwork for you so that you don’t have to go through the hassle of gathering a lot of documents to send off to the local embassy or consulate. The travel agent will likely request a copy of the first two pages of your passport and then e-mail or fax to you a formal permission form from the Ministry, authorizing you to enter Sao Tome and Principe without a visa. Be sure to bring this formal permission document with you, or you may not be allowed entry into the country.
Central African Republic
Guinea-Bissau does not have a consulate or embassy in either the United States or the United Kingdom. In 2007, in fact, the Embassy of Guinea-Bissau in Washington D.C. completely suspended operations.In order to get a visa to enter Guinea-Bissau, you will need to go to either Lisbon, Portugal and get it the same day (expensive option) or go to Ziguinchor, Senegal and get it at the Guinea-Bissau Consulate (recommended option).
“Libya is the toughest place to enter as a foreigner.”
The situation is volatile in this part of the world, but, if you are determined to add Libya to your bucket list, you need to know that, like North Korea, Libya requires tourists to apply for a visa through a licensed tour operator. If you do a search online, you will find several reputable Libya tour agencies. After booking a tour, you will be asked to send a scanned copy of your passport, your dates of travel, return ticket, personal contact information, and other information that is typical for getting visas for other countries.The tour agency in Libya has the responsibility for filing all of your paperwork with the Libya Immigration Department, who will issue a letter (in Arabic) that you will need to bring with you on your trip. This letter is your official authorization for a visa upon entry into Libya.
Other countries with hard-to-get visas: Turkmenistan, Equatorial Guinea, Cuba (for U.S. citizens)