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.
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 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).
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.
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
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.
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
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.
3. Central African Republic
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).
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!
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.
To read more about off the beaten track destinations, check out the following articles:
- Top 10 Destinations for Independent Travelers in 2014
- 8 Great Destinations That Are Cheap Once You Get There
- Why You Should Ignore Everything You’ve Heard and Go to Columbia
Photo credits: Delpixel, Rawpixel, Free Wind 2014, Attila JANDI, Brendan Howard, Drima Film, MC_Noppadol, Jay Hocking, Wead, lapas77, JPRichard