Six mainlands, six continents, 195 countries! These figures show us how many times we have to travel, to see and discover, and how many innovations, opportunities, and beauties are waiting for us. One of my biggest and still unchanging childhood dreams is to travel all the countries, witness their nature, climate, wonders, wildlife, and discover the most hidden or least known places. I’m sure that no matter what state you live in, one of the greatest dreams of many people is to cross borders, get acquainted with new places, new people, different cultures.
However, no matter what country you plan to travel, you must not forget that you have to go through specific formal procedures to enter the country. You should get familiarize yourself with the terms of visa, specify your reason for entry, and obtain a visa depending on the country of your citizenship. Unfortunately, this is not always so easy. Many ideas and criteria from your citizenship up to the organization your country member to cause the changes in visa issuance rules. There are many rules like which country requires no visa, provides visa on arrival, or requires a visa in advance, has specific terms in the issue of the visa, indicate how many days you have the right to stay without a visa depending on your country of origin. When you think that each of the 195 countries has specific rules for the remaining 194 countries, you will be scared. However, this should not frighten you, and I am sure that these reasons will not be able to stop those who love travelling and adventure!
Are you wondering how to get a visa? Well, there are ten countries in the world, the visas of which are hard to obtain. Many people have spent their years to get a positive answer from their visa-issuing authorities but got the rejection. If you are planning a world tour and if the following countries are on your list, then my recommendation to you is to apply for the visa while travelling to other countries, as it can take a lot of your time. Let’s get to know these countries.
1. North Korea
I think we start the list with one, or maybe the first of the most difficult countries to get a visa. North Korea is one of the countries famous for its strict laws, and these rules are also applied to tourist visas.
It is complicated to get a visa to this country, characterized by its marvellous nature and is the focus of interest for tourists. However, if you decide to travel here, the only way to obtain a visa is by an exclusive tour. Interaction with the local population is restricted during these tours, and the rules laid down here must be followed strictly. One of the most important rules is not to use any negative words about their president and his family. Smuggling is no way possible here. Moreover, the US and UK citizens may find it difficult to enter the country. Therefore, keep this point in mind while planning a trip here. As these rules change from time to time, make sure to contact your local embassy before the trip and specify every detail.
For the citizens of ex-USSR countries, entry to Russia is visa-free up to 90 days of stay. However, this is not the case for many countries, and Russian visa has even become one of the ten most challenging visas in the world. Even countries, which have the world’s ten most powerful passports, need a visa to enter Russia. Moreover, the process is incredibly long. Be ready to note the start and end dates of every trip you have made over the past decade. It is just the beginning. You must go through all the process and apply for a visa in person. Your fingerprints will be scanned; your photo will be taken. You must also make sure that the online form is filled out without mistakes, as this might lead to a rejected application. Once you’ve received your visa from the consulate, make sure you cross-check every detail on your visa to make sure the dates align with your travel plans.
There are articles and posts about this shared by many travellers; however, I would like to share with you the full experience of Mariska Richters, a Dutch/Canadian travel photographer on obtaining a Russian visa, as a confirmation of the above mentioned:
“My Russian visa was the most expensive visa I have ever applied for, costing me CAD 386 (498.71 AZN). The form was long, and the most challenging part about the application was acquiring the invitation from the hotel I was booked into. The language barrier made this a challenge. The standard process takes 20 business days to get your passport back; I am not comfortable to be without my passport, so I paid more to have it back to me in 5 business days, but it still took ten business days (2 weeks) despite paying the rush fee.
Do your research and have all your ducks in a row before you go to the visa agency. The process will be far smoother for you if you do. I applied with an EU passport, so my application form was shorter. If you are applying with a Canadian or USA passport, there is a lot of historical information required on the application form. You may need to do some digging to remember where you’ve travelled to and where you’ve lived for the past ten years. You must apply in person and be prepared to have your fingerprints taken.” - Mariska Richters
3. Saudi Arabia
Despite its luxurious shopping malls, modern cities, and its sparkling beaches, Saudi Arabia is still incredibly tough with visa entry procedures. For example, solo women travellers must have a sponsor who will be responsible for meeting them upon arrival. The sponsor is also required to keep their passport while in the country. Couples travelling together should be married. Applications without a sponsor or marriage certificate can be rejected in most cases. Those who have Israeli stamps in passports may also be refused entry. As long as you follow these rules, a visa application is not so difficult.
Henrik Jeppesen, who has visited every country in the world, including Azerbaijan until the age of 28, shares his experience: “Saudi Arabia does not have a tourist visa. Therefore, if you are not a Muslim, you have to visit this country only for business purposes. A company has sponsored my trip, however finding a company to sponsor your travel will be a big challenge for many.”
It should be noted that Saudi Arabia is accepting applications for tourist visas since the end of 2019, and visa procedures are planned to be simplified.
Bhutan is one of the most exciting and most desirable destinations to visit. However, there is a reason that makes obtaining a visa to a country difficult than visiting its neighbours: 1.5 million tons of carbon is emitted annually, but more than 6 million tons of carbon is lost due to 72% of its forest cover (statistics from 2017). Perhaps that’s the best way to preserve nature.
The only way to visit Bhutan is through an all-inclusive package booked through a Bhutanese travel agent. At the same time, you’re supporting highly sustainable tourism, and you won’t have to do much to plan your trip. Each package costs about $250-$350 USD per day, which includes accommodations, transport, guides, and meals. It should be noted that the cost of packages varies depending on the season.
Getting a visa to Syria will cost you much as you will need the help of a local travel company. If you do not have a guide, you should stay in Damascus and Aleppo.
Henrik Jeppesen, who visited the country, says: “Getting a visa is not always enough to enter the country. I flew to Beirut, where I had contacts, and they took me to the border. Immigration officer could not believe that I was a tourist in Syria, but eventually stamped my passport.”
Nigeria, located on the west of Africa and coast of the Atlantic Ocean, is a culturally-rich country with much to offer travellers, that is, provided they don’t drown in paperwork before they can get a visa! To apply for a tourist visa, you need an invitation letter, a confirmed hotel reservation, a valid return airline ticket, evidence of funds to cover your stay in Nigeria, and proof of legal residency. The commonality of many countries that we find difficult to obtain visas is that they require a return ticket.
Eritrea, also known as African North Korea, is famous for its complicated visa process. Only Uganda citizens can enter the country without a visa. Sudanese and Ethiopian citizens, however, have the privilege of obtaining visas upon arrival in the country. The rest of the world must get a visa to travel to the country in the east of Africa. You must have definite travel plans, passports, application forms, and photos.
Of course, this was also the cause of the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia. The Eritrea-Ethiopian War in Africa lasted from May 1998 to June 2000 and got peace only after 20 years later in 2018. Eritrea and Ethiopia, the poorest countries in the world, have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the war and given tens of thousands of casualties as a direct result of the conflict. The war only resulted in minor border changes. It was due to Abiy Ahmed, the young and progressive Ethiopian Prime Minister, who spoke out with the intent to end the war. Getting a visa can still be a bit challenging, but this situation is expected to be solved soon if the war is over.
Yemen is also one of the countries where to travel is challenging due to political unrest. In general, if you have paid attention, the states, where it is hard to get a visa, are mostly war-torn countries. I would say that this is normal, and it is intended to protect the citizens of other countries when viewed from a different perspective. I do not think that many people will travel to such countries during these difficult times.
Before the war began in 2015, that is, in 2014, Henrik Jeppesen, whose name we have already mentioned a few times, came here with the help of a local airline and two tour operators. Today, it is almost impossible to visit this country.
Iran is also one of the countries that have strict visa procedures. As citizens of Azerbaijan, we are allowed to enter the country without a visa, and for the first 14 days, we do not need a visa. Along with our country, 15 countries (Bolivia, Georgia, Armenia, Malaysia, Syria, etc.) are eligible for free visas as well. However, this is not the case for other countries in the world. While Iran’s visa process may seem confusing and complicated, the country is actively working towards a simplified process. Most travellers are eligible for a visa on arrival, which simplifies their work. However, there are specific terms, as well. In this case, travellers need evidence of a hotel reservation, a host contact, cash to pay for the visa, and travel insurance. It, however, excludes countries such as Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Colombia, India, Iraq, Jordan, Nepal, Pakistan, Somalia, and Sri Lanka. Moreover, travellers who have visited Israel within the last six months will likely not be granted entry.
If you do some research, you may encounter some of the above countries in some sources, and some sources may not even mention the names of those countries. As we have said, to visa process can be quite simple for citizens of any country, which is sometimes just a very difficult and challenging for specific countries. However, Turkmenistan has the most challenging visa process for travellers. The reason is simple: Turkmenistan does not issue visa-free entry to any country. Exceptions here are only people from certain parts of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Kazakhstani residents of the Atyrau and Mangystau region have visa-free access to Balkan Velayat for up to 5 days. Citizens from certain parts of Uzbekistan have the right to travel without a visa for no more than 3 and 7 days. The country is a promising country for tourism, but facilitating visa procedures can allow them to use it.
While many visa applications require a letter of invitation, Turkmenistan takes it one step further – travellers must have a letter of invitation to apply for a visa! The problem is that only the Ministry of Tourism can issue such letters. Unfortunately, 20-30% of tourists do not receive these letters, and neither the travel companies nor the people are informed about the real reason. As a solution, they comment to apply for the next calendar year. It is assumed that there are tourist quotas for each country in the year, and it is not allowed to be exceeded. A Norwegian traveller Gunnar Garfors said his visa request was rejected six times in 2008 but has finally realized his dream. There are strict rules in place for visitors once they arrive in the country. Travellers must fill out an immigration card upon arrival and are required to register with the State Service of Turkmenistan for the Registration of Foreign Nationals within three days of their arrival.