You wouldn’t be wrong to assume the hardest part of traveling the world is saving up to cover the costs of flights. However, have you ever considered whether you can even get a visa or how time-consuming it will be? Some of the most epic journeys you can take, such as the Trans-Siberian Railway or walking the Great Wall of China, will mean navigating countries that have strict visa laws. If you are looking to take a longer trip or move or study abroad, then you will also have to pay extra attention to visa requirements. In this article, My Baggage covers the ten hardest visas to obtain and how you can get your hands on them!
10 Hardest Visas Around the World
We’ll start off with the elephant in the room – the hermit kingdom of North Korea. It might not surprise you to learn that there are harder countries to get a visa for. You cannot apply for a visa independently and can only get a tourist visa through the tour operator you are traveling with – and the tour operator must be registered with the State General Bureau of Tourist Guidance. Spend some time researching tour operators online to find one that is registered and has great reviews. Make sure you get in touch with them well ahead of when you are planning on traveling to ensure you have given yourself enough time to obtain the visa.
As a country with such a complicated history, North Korea is worth visiting for a number of reasons. First off, there’s the capital city Pyongyang, with sites such as the Juche Tower, Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, and Kim Il-Sung Square. There’s Heaven Lake, a crater lake on the border between North Korea and China. There’s Kaesong, a city near the border of South Korea where you can find Manwoldae Palace. Certain areas of North Korea, however, tourists aren’t allowed access to even with a visa and require prior approval from the North or United Nations command, such as the Demilitarized Zone.
Getting a visa to Russia has always been notoriously hard. If you are traveling via a tour, they will be able to assist with this. However, if you are traveling independently expect to deal with Russian bureaucracy at its finest. Russia has also recently introduced biometric applications, meaning you must give your fingerprints and facial image when applying so will need to apply at the embassy in person.
Before you even get to this stage it is essential that you have a letter of invitation which has been issued by a Russian travel agency that is registered with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. If this sounds like a nightmare, you can get help from a private visa agency, as even one mistake on your application will result in it being denied.
Although it’s a long and difficult process, obtaining a visa to Russia will allow you to see many of the great cities and sights it has to offer. No trip to Russia is complete without visiting St Petersburg, the former capital, with the Mariinsky Theatre and the State Russian Museum. The current capital, Moscow, is also worth visiting, if anything just for the beautiful architecture, such as the impressive Saint Basil’s Cathedral. If you prefer nature to cities, then take a trip to the beautiful Lake Baikal, or head to the Kola Peninsula between August and April to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights.
If you are considering moving to Russia to study, there are some brilliant universities with exchange programs for English speakers – although it’s always a good idea to try to learn the language, even if it is just the basics.
Getting a visa for Iran depends on your nationality and the current political situation. If you are from the UK, Canada or the USA, you can only visit Iran on an Iranian Ministry of Affairs approved guided tour and cannot travel the country freely. You will not be able to qualify for a visa on arrival. Before you start applying for your visa you will need an authorization code from the Iranian Ministry of Affairs. This pre-approval visa can take up to a month to process so be prepared to allow yourself plenty of time.
Once you finally get this code you will then have to submit biometric data such as facial imaging and fingerprints at your nearest embassy in person. You are also required to submit a passport photo for processing the application. For women you will need to adhere to the head covering rule in this photo, otherwise, your application will be rejected outright.
Also, if you have visited Israel and have evidence of this in your passports, such as an exit/entry stamp at the Jordanian border, then your visa will automatically be denied.
However, it is certainly worth attempting to visit Iran for the chance to marvel at the beautiful sights it has to offer, such as the Naqsh-e Jahan Square, Golestan Palace, and Eram Garden.
Turkmenistan is a nation that is slowly starting to open to tourists, however, it still has strict restrictions on accessing a tourist visa. You can only get a visa to visit Turkmenistan if you are going on an official tour or with a registered tour guide. You will require a letter of invitation from your tour agency to submit before you are considered for a visa. This is something your tour guide or travel agency can help you with, but it won’t always guarantee a visa.
Consider applying for a visa a year ahead of when you would like to travel and keep your travel arrangements flexible in case things don’t work out and you are denied the visa.
If you are lucky enough to get a visa, then be sure to check out the enormous Darvaza gas crater, also known as the ‘Door to Hell’. You should also spend some time in the capital city Ashgabat, with sights such as the Monument of Neutrality and the Independence Monument.
Eritrea often referred to as the North Korea of Africa is one of the hardest countries to get a visa for. Getting a visa will hopefully be made easier by ending the war with the neighboring country, Ethiopia. However, you will still have to apply at your nearest embassy in person. For a tourist visa, you will need to provide information such as a copy of your flights, bank statements proving you can cover all costs of your trip, a visa application cover letter outlining the purpose of your trip and a bank statement cover letter.
You will most likely be traveling to Eritrea on a tour, so your travel agency will be able to help you throughout this process – just prepare for it to be a long one. It will be worth it as you’ll get to see sights such as the Asmara Cathedral, Medemar Market and the Tank Graveyard. Be aware that you may need a tourist permit to visit some sights, so be sure to bring your passport and check out any tourist offices.
If you plan on visiting Bhutan, you can only be granted a visa if you are visiting on an official tour and pay the $250 USD daily tourist tax. This might seem steep, but it covers a guide, accommodation, and transport throughout your trip. Have a read into reliable and well-rated tour operators to see which one would suit your desired itinerary best.
You’ll likely visit places such as Tiger’s Nest Monastery in Paro, the capital city Thimphu with the Buddha Dordenma, and the Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chöten in Punakha.
Getting a visa for under 30 days in China is straightforward, however, you will need to include a lot of documentation such as your flight details and hotel booking confirmations for every night of your stay. If you want to move abroad or travel in the country for longer than 30 days, then you will need to provide extra information such as a detailed day by day itinerary of your trip. You can only apply at the embassy in the country of your nationality and visa applications must be submitted by appointment only, so this is something to be aware of so you can plan ahead.
If you are planning on studying in China, then you’ll need a separate visa – the X Visa. These are issued to those who apply to Chinese colleges, and there are a number of variations of the X Visa depending on how long you are studying for – an X1 if you will be studying in China for longer than 6 months, and an X2 if you will be studying in China for less than 6 months. You can apply for an X Visa online.
Due to the civil unrest in the country, Libya currently does not offer visas for tourists. There are a few travel agencies that offer tours to the country, but in order to visit you need to have a business visa. To get a business visa, you must receive one through an invite from a company or sponsorship within Libya, which is difficult to do, and the process can take months.
Although hard to access, if you do manage to visit Libya you will be able to see the wonders of the Roman ruins of Leptis Magna without any other tourists in sight. However, at the moment it is not advised to travel to Libya due to the conflict.
Nauru is a Pacific island unfortunately known for being home to one of Australia’s refugee detention centers. In the past, many journalists were visiting the island to report on the human rights issues that the government decided to make accessing a visa nearly impossible. For any media visa, they now charge an $8,000 AUD processing fee which doesn’t even guarantee a visa. This led to journalists trying an alternative route and applying as tourists. As a result of this, the country now only issues around 100 tourist visas a year and the process of accessing one is long.
If you are desperate to visit Nauru, then consider planning a trip to the surrounding areas such as Australia, Hawaii, or Indonesia, and applying for a visa to Nauru for the same time. Then, if you manage to get one, you will be able to add Nauru to your trip itinerary. And if not, you’ll have plenty of other sights still to see so as not to be too disappointed!
If you do visit Nauru then you should check out Anibare Bay, a long and beautiful sandy volcanic beach, Buadu Lagoon, the only freshwater lake in Nauru, and Command Ridge, the highest point at 65m where World War 2 artifacts can be found.
This isn’t a popular destination but there is much to see in Chad, such as the highest volcano in the Sahara Desert and the Zakouma National Park, famous for its elephants and lions – that is if you can get a visa. Applications need to be done in person at your nearest embassy and for anyone from the UK or USA or beyond – that’s in Paris. The visa applications are only available in French, so Google translate will be your best friend during this process. They do not accept postal applications and there are no set processing times. It’s all a matter of wait and see and hope that you get approved.
To make sure your visa is being processed, brush up on your French and give the embassy a call. If you are traveling with a tour operator, they will be able to support you during the process. Believe me, you’ll need it!
Whether you are looking to holiday, study abroad or relocate semi-permanently, it is always worth checking out what the visa restrictions even if it is not one of the countries listed above. For most countries, it is easy to travel to with or without a tourist visa. If you are hoping to study or move abroad, or simply taking a very long holiday, be sure to research all the different types of visa and what is most suited for your trip. Make sure you do all of this well in advance, as most visas take several months to sort out – the last thing you want is to have the rest of your trip booked in and paid for, only to be denied your visa at the last moment.