Surely you know how important it is to always check the visa entry requirements before you travel, right? If not, we’re here to tell you that this is an essential, must-do, non-negotiable step in planning for your next adventure. Simple as that. Otherwise, you might find yourself in hot water at the border crossing.
While many countries allow for you to waltz through border control without any excessive paperwork or questioning, you might be surprised to read that these are the most difficult countries to get a visa for. If you’re planning a visit to these five countries, get ready for the most gruelling visa application of your life.
Hardest countries to get a visa
Many Western nations boast some of the most powerful passports in the world (ranked by the number of their visa-free score), meaning their citizens can travel across the world and will be granted visa-free entry on arrival. Some of the top ranking passports include Singapore, Greece, Germany, The United Kingdom, Sweden and more.
On the other hand, even German and Swedish citizens are required to submit an application to visit China and Russia, otherwise known as two of the most difficult countries to obtain a visa. Keep reading to discover the hardest countries to get a visa in 2019.
It’s hard to deny the appeal of the notoriously veiled North Korea. Naturally, curious travellers from across the world are eager to learn more about this fascinating country.
Getting into North Korea, however, is difficult. The only way to gain access to North Korea is through an organised tour crossing from China. While on these tours, interactions with locals are limited and strict rules must be adhered to. Also, you must not speak ill of their leader (just don’t even think about it).
Smuggling your way to North Korea through any illegal secret channels is highly dangerous, and independent travel is a massive no! Furthermore, citizens from the US and the UK might have a harder time obtaining entry so keep this in mind when planning your trip. As these entry requirements are subject to change, make sure you check with your local embassy before you go.
See Also: Do You Need a Visa to Go There?
You might be surprised to find that a trip to China involves such a lengthy visa process. While many passport holders can travel to China visa-free for a period of 72-hours, a longer stay requires a proper visa. This can be incredibly tedious to obtain.
You can only apply for a visa in your country of residence or citizenship, and you must schedule a face-to-face appointment in order to submit your application. Make sure you come prepared, as there’s also a long list of documents you need to gather for your application. This includes documents such as hotel vouchers or a flight itinerary to prove that your intentions match your travel plans. You will also need to show a daily itinerary if you’re staying longer than 30 days. Most importantly, this visa can take a while to be processed and we suggest you apply at least 2-3 months before your trip.
Travel to: China
Even the world’s most powerful passports are no match for Russian visa requirements. Russia doesn’t give away visa-free travel that easily – even the top ten most powerful passports in the world still need a visa to enter. Plus, the process itself is incredibly long. Be prepared to list the starting and finishing dates for every trip taken in the last ten years (and that’s just the beginning).
All visa applications for Russia have to be made in person, thanks to the nation’s biometric system. You will have to get your fingerprints scanned and have your photo taken. This means you will have to visit the closest visa processing centre to you. 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.
My Russian visa was the most expensive visa I have ever applied for, costing me $386 CAD. The form was long, and the most difficult part about the application was acquiring the invitation from the hotel I was booked into. The language barrier made this a challenge. The regular 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 10 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 10 years. You must apply in person, and be prepared to have your fingerprints taken. – Mariska, Mariska Richters
Travel to: Russia
The hardest part of applying for the Russian visa was having to book all my travel and accommodation before leaving. I love being flexible with my travels, so having to lock in my plans beforehand was a new experience! I needed to research and book all my hotels/hostels and trains in order to obtain the visa. My top tip would be to start researching where you want to go well in advance so you can book the best possible accommodation and travel to help you get the visa! – Alys, The Wild Life
The hardest part of obtaining a Russian visa was getting an invitation letter. Sometimes your accommodation can provide this but if not you need to find a company online who will provide one. We spent some time finding a reliable and affordable option. We would recommend that people give themselves enough time to gather all the documents and fill in the forms. There are a lot of questions! Don’t do it in a rush at the last minute. If your application gets declined for a small mistake you won’t get your money back. Also, bear in mind that if you are staying in Russia for more than 7 days you’ll need to register your visa when you get there. – Rohan and Max, Travels of a Bookpacker
The hardest part of getting a Russian visa was filling out a specific page where they asked for details of each of my trips over the past 10 years in addition to previous passport information. Having been to over 40 countries in the last 36 months alone, I knew that it was going to be a chore typing out each country and the exact dates of departure and return from those trips. So I started filling out each form, but after I completed out 10 of them, I had reached the limit. There weren’t any definitive answers online when it came to answering this part of the application process, so I ended up taking a risk, trusting my instinct and only listing the countries that had stamped my passport.
There was also the matter of providing the details from previous passports. I actually own a spoiled, old passport of mine, so I listed that. My girlfriend, however, isn’t in possession of hers, so she had to lie and said her current passport is her first. As it turned out, all of our answers were acceptable as we were both granted our tourist visas, but it was definitely the most difficult part of the process thanks to the uncertainty.
The biggest tip I have for those applying for a Russian visa, or any visa for that matter is to read the application information thoroughly and to make sure all spelling, dates and other information you input is correct and, where possible, proper. A simple typo can be the difference between a successful application and rejection, so always make sure to double or triple check your information before hitting the submit button. – Tom, Travelling Tom
Despite its glorious shopping experiences, modern cities and sparkling beaches, Saudi Arabia is still incredibly strict with its visa entry processes. Women travelling solo, for example, must have a sponsor who will be responsible for meeting them upon arrival. The sponsor is also required to hold their passport while in Saudi Arabia. Couples travelling together are expected to be married.
Without a sponsor or a marriage certificate, applications might be denied. You should also know that if you have an Israeli stamp on your passport, you might be refused entry. As long as you abide by these rules, the visa application itself isn’t too bad.
Bhutan is one of the most interesting, and most coveted destinations to visit. The world’s first carbon-negative country champions its national happiness index above anything else, so it stands to reason that visiting the country wouldn’t be as easy as visiting its neighbours.
Travel to: Bhutan
The only way to visit Bhutan is through an all-inclusive package booked through a Bhutanese travel agent, and getting a visa is not as easy as applying for it online and going there independently. At the same time, you’re supporting highly sustainable tourism and you won’t have to do much to plan your trip as each package costs about $200-$300 USD per day, which includes accommodations, transport, guides and meals.
See Also: The Hardest Countries to Travel to Solo
In order to qualify for a visa to Pakistan, travellers must first find a sponsor. While this can be a person the traveller knows in the country, it can also be a tour company – great news for travellers looking to explore on a group tour. The sponsor must provide an official letter of invitation, explaining their relationship to you and the purpose of travel. You’ll also need copies of all your ID, proof of travel arrangements, and a completed visa application.
Nigeria 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! In order to apply for a tourist visa, travellers need a letter of invitation from their hose, a confirmed hotel reservation, a valid return airline ticket, evidence of funds to cover their stay in Nigeria, and proof of legal residency.
While many visa applications require a letter of invitation, Turkmenistan takes it one step further – travellers must have a letter of invitation in order to apply for a visa! While the application process isn’t especially taxing beyond that, 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.
While Iran’s visa process may seem confusing and complicated to visitors, the country is actively working towards a simplified process. Travellers from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bolivia, Georgia, Malaysia, Syria, Turkey, and Venezuela are eligible for free visas, as are travellers of any nationality who plan on entering from and remaining in Kish Island.
Most travellers are eligible for a VOA, or Visa on Arrival. This, however, excludes Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Colombia, India, Iraq, Jordan, Nepal, Pakistan, Somalia, and Sri Lanka, and travellers who have visited Israel within the last six months will likely not be granted entry. For a VOA, travellers need evidence of a hotel reservation, a host contact, cash to pay for the visa, and travel insurance.
In order to apply for an Iranian visa in advance, travellers will need to obtain a “visa code” from a tour operator. This code is only valid for one month, and travellers will need to work quickly in order to secure their visa.