Flightster

The 10 Most Difficult Countries to Visit as a U.S. Citizen

Americans are blessed in that they can skirt across most foreign borders without any significant hassle. The U.S. passport is one of the strongest world travel documents out there. For U.S. travelers, many countries don’t require paper visas, and many that do only charge a nominal fee. In Nepal, for example, a one-month multi-entry visa costs $40 and can be obtained on arrival. In Turkey, you can buy a 90-day visa for $20 after waiting in a short line in the Istanbul airport. I was surprised how easy it was. Most countries in Europe, Central and South America don’t even charge a fee for their visas. Of Africa’s fifty three countries, South Africa, Mauritius, Malawi, Namibia and Morocco don’t charge for entry. In total, there are about one hundred countries around the world that are relatively easy for Americans to visit.

And then there are the hard ones. Countries like China and Cuba, Angola and Turkmenistan, Bhutan and Saudi Arabia. While visa requirements can change without notice, the following ten countries are currently some of the most difficult to enter for American citizens.

Democratic Republic of Congo

Like many African countries, the Democratic Republic of Congo, or DRC, requires proof that you have received a yellow fever vaccination. You also need a letter of invitation, notarized from within the Congo. The cheapest visa is $100; it’s single entry valid for one-month.

China

China’s individual visa fee is currently $140, and they require the applicant to arrive in person at one of six regional consulates across the U.S. to submit the forms and fees. Of course, you can pay someone to represent you, but that bumps the price up even more. While the official Chinese Embassy website states that, “Any person suffering from a mental disorder, leprosy, AIDS, venereal diseases, contagious tuberculosis or other such infectious diseases shall not be permitted to enter China,” I’ve heard that they’ve relaxed those rules. In positive news, they have a short turnaround time for processing. Only four days!

Russia

Russia requires a letter of invitation, written in Russian, from either an authorized tourist agency or hotel. On the visa application, you must list all the countries you’ve visited in the last ten years, your last two places of work, as well as a few other questions you wouldn’t normally have to answer on a visa application. Russia is also notorious for not letting small mistakes slide–if you forget to write in block letters, or use a different colored pen, you’re out of luck. You’ll need at least a week (often longer) for processing time, and be prepared to pay a couple hundred dollars, depending on what type of visa you get, and whether you go directly through the Russian Embassy or use an independent visa processing company.

India

India’s visa rules are constantly changing, making it difficult for first-time applicants. There are also a multitude of visa types; tourist, business, research, missionaries, journalist and conference visas are a few of the options. In a quasi-ironic twist, the Indian government outsources their visa operations to Travisa Outsourcing, a private company. Consular fees range between $60 and $150.

Iran

Iran does not currently have diplomatic representation in the United States. If you’re looking for a visa, you need to go through the Pakistan Embassy in Washington D.C., which has an Iranian Interests Section. In order to start the visa process, you must have some kind of representation within Iran that petitions Tehran’s Foreign Ministry. That’s the most difficult step, an often fruitless request. Even after the visa is granted, the traveler can still be detained and imprisoned on “unknown or various charges” when entering or leaving Iran.

North Korea

Like Iran, North Korea does not have diplomatic representation within the U.S., and while the Swedish Embassy helps U.S. travelers with the process, most sources report that a visa is not typically granted to Americans, unless they are coming with an organized delegation. Of the countries on this list, it’s probably the most difficult one to visit!

Saudi Arabia

If you have an Israeli stamp in your passport, forget about visiting Saudi Arabia! While there are special visas for religious pilgrimages, or if you’re visiting family, only a limited amount of tourist visas are alloted each year. They’re given directly to government-approved tour groups. Another point of note; if in transit, a woman needs to be accompanied by a male relative at all times.

Cuba

As an American, the only way to fly to Cuba directly is to apply for a special license, which is only available with just reason; visiting family, educational programs, and religious travel is generally permitted. The other way, of course, is to leave the U.S. and fly to either Canada, Mexico, the Bahamas or any other country that is close. From there, you can inconspicuously book a ticket to Cuba and back. Officially, the U.S. is allowed to invoke civil penalties and criminal prosecution for traveling that way.

Angola

I just got back from Angola! Even with my company’s support for a business visa (and an in-country client that sponsored the entire process), I barely got the visa in time. It took over a month of pestering. For tourists, time is also an issue. It can take up to three months to get a visa! (Or as little as three days, depending on how lucky you’re feeling.) Like the DRC, you must provide proof of yellow fever immunization. You also need two letters of invitation and a copy of a bank statement that demonstrating “proof of sufficient funds (at least $100 per day).”

Brazil

Like some of the other countries mentioned here, Brazil’s visa process is not very consistent. Different U.S. consulates have their own methods of application, and depending on the season, your visa can take several weeks to arrive. The good news; once you have a tourist visa, it’s good for five years! As long as you aren’t staying in Brazil for more than ninety days at a time, you can enter and exit as much as you’d like in that five year period.

This list is based on an article I read through AOL.com. What do you think? I’ve been fortunate enough to visit three of the countries mentioned–Russia, India and Angola. Russia was definitely tough, and so was Angola. I’d probably add Turkmenistan to this list. Maybe Somalia?

photo credit to LucasTheExperience

PG

Alan Perlman

Alan Perlman travels the world as an international cost-of-living surveyor. When he's not hunting for the price of female undergarments in places like Syria, Rwanda and Turkmenistan, he's hanging out in Boston, MA, staying active, meeting people and brainstorming business models. You can read more about Alan and his plans to conquer life at his blog, The 9 to 5 Alternative.

26 Comments

  1. 4 years ago
    Srinivas Rao

    Alan,

    I have to say this article is quite interesting. My dad was just complaining the other day about India’s policies and how annoyed he was about it because he’s an Indian born Citizen even though he now has an American Passport. I think he likes to just point out all the flaws in the Indian government :) . I have to say I really love this article because it’s truly useful to anybody planning a vacation who might know where they are planning to go.

  2. 4 years ago
    Alan

    Thanks! I had a fun time putting this together. Iran and North Korea are certainly the most elusive right now. Had no idea how difficult it was to get into either country. Any readers out there who have visited either?

  3. 4 years ago
    Anthony Feint

    Im not sure if these are the most difficult – but then again I’m Australian and its generally fairly easy to get into most countries (including India).

    Countries like Libya won’t even grant visas to Americans (aussies have no problems). Which I would consider a little more difficult to enter

    • 4 years ago
      Alan

      This list is definitely arbitrary. Interestingly enough, Libya lifted the ban on tourist visas in June 2010. From the U.S. site travel.state.gov:

      “After halting the issuance of tourist visas to U.S. citizens for several years, in June 2010 the Libyan government again began issuing visas to U.S. tourists. Like European tourists, U.S. citizens must apply for tourist visas through tour operators licensed in Libya, who will file the necessary paperwork for the visa with the Libyan authorities. Through licensed tour agencies, tourist visas can be obtained for U.S. tourists within 4-15 days. Fees for obtaining the visas vary between tour companies…”

  4. 4 years ago
    Audrey

    My husband and I have been traveling for the last three and a half years with American passports and have taken care of all our tourist visas on our own from the road (we’ve yet to apply for a visa in the United States). Occasionally, EU citizens like to rub it in that we have to pay more for visas than they do (e.g., Bolivia, China, etc.), but I can’t complain when I think of all the countries around the world we can get into easily.

    As for this list, I’d add Turkmenistan (supposedly getting even more difficult), Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Azerbaijan. I thought the visa process for India was actually rather straightforward, but perhaps that is because we applied in Malaysia – not a lot of questions were asked.

    • 4 years ago
      Alan

      Hi Audrey! Very impressive that you’ve applied for most of your tourist visas on the road. I imagine that most of the time, getting into a new country isn’t particularly difficult. I definitely agree with Turkmenistan. I traveled there on a a business visa last year and barely got in! I’ve also been to Azerbaijan and Tajikistan, both of which were a little more difficult to get into than some of the countries on this list. Generally, I’ve found, persistence is the most important element when applying for visas. Keep pestering them until they give in!

  5. 4 years ago
    Paul

    I can’t speak for the others but I’ve experienced both China and Brazil and once you get over the money issue, they really aren’t that bad.

    China – Very easy, but I suppose that’s because I live in San Francisco. I’ve gone back 5 times since 2000 and each time there’s been no issues. The whole disease thing is complete BS, never ever heard of it. Do you think they’ll actually check each person entering the country to see if they have VD?

    Brazil – No experience with getting it in the US but the process was painless in Ecuador. They asked me a few questions, several forms of ID, proof of exit flight and some proof of money. Turnaround was 3 days. Granted, it wasn’t the 5 year tourist visa but it was good enough for my visit there.

  6. 4 years ago
    TymB

    You forgot another destination – returning to the USA…

    • 4 years ago
      Alan

      Touche. You’re absolutely right. And for many non-U.S. citizens around the world, getting to the U.S. is incredibly difficult.

  7. 4 years ago
    RenegadePilgrim

    I had no trouble getting my Indian visa while I was in Rome. It took a full week, cost a wee bit more and was for less time than if I had gotten it in the US, but it was so EASY, it covered the time I was going to be there and I didn’t have to provide a copy of my birth certificate like they wanted at the Indian Embassy in SFO.

    Also, I discovered that the difficulty factor and pricing of Visas for some countries is in direct correlation for people from those countries trying to get a US Visa. It’s a reciprocity thing. You make it difficult for us, so we make it difficult for you…I thought that was interesting.

    • 4 years ago
      Alan Perlman

      Reciprocity is a huge factor when it comes to visas. That’s a great point.

      So interesting to hear all these stories about people applying for visas from outside the U.S. and having no significant hurdles to jump. A U.S. citizen, in Italy, applying for an Indian visa. Too cool!

    • 3 years ago
      J.T. Wenting

      In fact, it’s often more difficult (and more dangerously random) for people from foreign countries to visit to US than it is for US citizens to visit those same countries.

      For the EU for example there are no travel restrictions for US citizens, but EU citizens have to apply for permission to enter even if there’s no visa requirements up to a month in advance.
      Permission can be granted or denied without any explanation as to why, and even if granted there’s no guarantee you won’t be denied entry by the TSA and possibly detained without any charges or access to legal representation for as long as the TSA wants to do so.
      And that’s after you’ve already been vetted and interviewed by TSA representatives at the departure airport.

      Because of that I’ve cancelled plans to visit the US for the foreseeable future, and so have many others.
      It’s just too risky, and we don’t want to visit a country where we’re clearly not welcome.

  8. 4 years ago
    Matt

    An interesting follow up to this post would be difficult places for U.S. citizens to get work visas. As I’ve done much of my traveling on working holidays, this has always been a challenge for me. I was lucky enough to start immediately after graduating from college and was able to get an exchange work visa for four months in Ireland and six months in the UK.

    I’m not sure either one of these are now available – and it’s certainly difficult (or impossible) to work in either one of those countries unless you have a very specific skill set.

    I’m in New Zealand now where U.S. citizens under 30 can easily get a one year working holiday visa. The same holds true for Australia.

    Europe? Basically a no – go area for U.S. citizens to work.

    • 4 years ago
      Alan

      I don’t have much experience with the world of work/holiday visas. You should write the post! Interestingly enough, a good friend of mine moved to New Zealand last year on a working holiday visa, but couldn’t find employment when he got there and came back 3-4 weeks later. What’s the job market like over there?

    • 3 years ago
      J.T. Wenting

      The reverse is true as well. As a European it’s next to impossible to get a work permit for the USA.
      While there are some programs like H1b, those are so overloaded with mass applications from low wage countries (often through agencies that pay the actual worker a local salary while themselves getting the US salary, fraudulent but nothing is done about it) that they’re impossible to get into for Europeans.

      And the numbers are extremely limited (a few tens of thousands a year).

      Australia and New Zealand are easier IF English is your mother tongue. If not the process is excruciating, requiring certified language instruction by a firm approved by the respective governments and a government issued exam before being even allowed to apply.

      That’s for work permits though, for the business traveller to most countries restrictions are less severe as they’re expected to be there for only a few days or weeks and not hold a job there.

  9. 4 years ago
    Cornelius Aesop

    When I was working in Brazil we had to go to the embassy to renew our visa for our last 15 days there even though when we put in our original paperwork we put the correct amount of days. In fact, the school I was working at said we were staying longer in hopes that even though they knew Brazil was going to undercut our visa length they hoped we would make it in time. Alas, from what I was told this was a regular routine that Brazil used to get extra money from travelers.

    • 4 years ago
      Alan

      Hmm, I’ve never heard of visa undercutting before! In Russia, I paid for a 72 hours transit visa, but they only issued me a 24 hours visa. I think that’s because the Embassy official in Kazakhstan didn’t like me, but that’s another story.

      Thanks for sharing!

  10. 3 years ago
    Vivek Mayasandra

    Such a relevant post! I’ve had experience with China and India on the list above. China was no problem, I had an agency in Chicago “represent” me for my month-long study there and you’re absolutely right about quick turn-around.
    Gotta say though, EU citizens have it made when it comes to ease/types of diplomatic issues dealt with when traveling. Though sometimes it’s harder for US citizens to get in certain places, I’m a strong supporter of existing reciprocity systems (like Brazil’s) as it just makes sense. With a deep interest of traveling to 5 of the countries you’ve listed above, I better get ready for some pricey and time-consuming visa runs!

    • 3 years ago
      Alan

      I’m also a fan of reciprocity systems. Makes the most sense to me!

  11. 3 years ago
    Alessandro

    Hi Alan,
    Thanks for your work.
    I’m from Brazil and travel the world all the time. I’ve lived in Uzbekistan and have been in Afghanistan the past 11 years as NGO worker. Been to Turkmenistan as well. I understand the inconsistency issue with Brazilian consulates, however, it takes +100 days for one to book an appointment at any of the 4 US consulates in Brazil, then pay $140 for a 7% chance to get a no. You have no idea the amount of stress Brazilians go through to get a US visa; it’s nerve-wrecking! Considering that matter, I would take my country off of your list if I were you.
    But again, thanks for your work!
    Alessandro

    • 3 years ago
      Alan Perlman

      100+ days?! I had no idea that it was that difficult for Brazilians to visit the U.S.

      Maybe I should change the title of this post and put the U.S. as one of the most difficult countries to visit.

      Thanks for sharing your experiences!

  12. 3 years ago
    Peace is my rule

    Guys when i become the king of Saudi Arabia i promise to allow you Americans getting in Saudi Arabia with no any visas requirments .Once you support me to be a king i will make for you Another Las vegas on the empty-quarter desert and sure forget the expense of oil,it will cost you only less than 7 cent per liter to fill your cars up. But the surprise here is ,you can take how much you want of cheap oil back to US without any taxes .ok what about nude beachies along the red sea?you gonna get attractive shiny bronze skin during two weeks.I promise you guys if you support me in my campaign against those reactionaries I will let both of you friends Americans And israelis to have your right to stay whenever and wherever you like even if it’s called occupation you welcome guys ..don’t forget to bring your Jim beam bottles then…Welcome!

  13. 3 years ago
    Ana | Traffic Generation Cafe

    I’ve been to Russia many times along with my entire family and never had any problems. Getting a visa was a breeze.

    Not sure why you had problems with it.

    Ana

  14. 3 years ago
    Arjun paudel

    hi,guys if i become the emperor of the world,i will make easy process for immigration from one country to another country. THANKS,HOPE, I WILL BE SOON.WELCOME FOR SUPPORT ME.

  15. 3 years ago
    STaT

    if you want to see how Bhutan really is and if you want to visit then
    visit
    http://www.sophuntravels.com.bt

Leave a Comment

*

*