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’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 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’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 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.
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!
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.
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.
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).”
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
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