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 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.
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).
7. North Korea
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.
5. 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.
To get a tourist visa for Bhutan, you will need to go through a licensed tour operator, who will guide you through the process step-by-step. The process takes a great deal of time, but, once approved, you will have no trouble getting in.
3. Central African Republic
The Central African Republic embassies and consulates have little to no presence on the web. In fact, the Embassy of the Central African Republic in Washington D.C. does not even have a website. The trick is to find the Embassy contact information (which you can find pretty easily doing a web search) and call them up to find out the latest paperwork and fees required.
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. Did you know that for several years prior to June 2010, Libya banned tourist visas for U.S. citizens? Libya had implemented similar bans in the past for citizens of various countries in Europe.
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)
There you have it!
You now have a few additional details on visa requirements for entering the 10 countries with the toughest and most confusing visa processes. The important thing to remember is that, if you are planning to travel to any country, it will be necessary to find out all the detailed information you need to know, all the proper documentation you will need to have, and how the entire process works before you board your flight. With the information provided here, you can at least be rest assured you are headed in the right direction.
For more information on the visas above, visit my website Visa Hunter. I launched this site in order to provide free, simple steps on how to get visas for any country in the world.
Disclaimer: Note that each country has different levels of safety and stability that you will need to take into account when planning your trip. Not all countries mentioned in the list above are considered safe for independent travel, so be sure to get an update on the latest safety situation on the ground by either going to the U.S. State Department website or contacting the relevant consulate or embassy before you plan your trip.
Addison Sears-Collins is a Rio De Janeiro, Brazil-based U.S. citizen, originally from Atlanta, GA. Addison recently launched a website Visa Hunter to provide free, do-it-yourself steps on how to get visas for any country in the world.
Traveling to foreign countries has been in his blood since his first trip overseas at the age of 9 when he went to Paris, France during spring break. Since then, he has been to over 50 countries on 5 different continents and has lived and worked in South Africa, Mauritius, and Brazil.