10 of the world's hardest-to-get visas

Nobody likes rejection, but if you're planning on visiting these countries you might have to prepare for the worst...

7 mins

1: China

Chinese Embassies are getting increasingly strict when it comes to visa applications. The Embassy will require a long list of documents including flights in and out of China and a hotel booking confirmation for every night of your stay.

If you're planning to stay for 30 days or less, they'll generally issue your visa without any problems. But for stays longer than that (and/or if you're visiting sensitive areas like Western China), you'll also need to provide a detailed day by day itinerary of your trip.

Guiyang, China (Shutterstock)
Guiyang, China (Shutterstock)

You can only apply for this visa in your country of citizenship or permanent residence. And in many of their application centres (including the UK), applications can only be submitted by appointment. Plan early, as the next available appointment could be a few weeks away.

2: Iran

Iran visas have never been straightforward, but the process is now harder than ever. Before you start thinking about your visa application, you'll need to get an authorisation code. This is really a pre-approval of your visa by Iran's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), but it can take up to a month to get – and has to be applied for by an official Iranian travel agency in Tehran.

Nasir Al-Mulk Mosque in Shiraz, Iran (Shutterstock)
Nasir Al-Mulk Mosque in Shiraz, Iran (Shutterstock)

If you are from the UK, Canada or US, you'll need to hire an MFA-approved guide for your trip and provide their details when you apply for your visa. Once you have your authorisation code, Iran now requires all visa applicants to apply at an Iranian Embassy in person and submit biometric data. With no Iranian Consulate in London for the timebeing, that's quite a challenge if you're living in the UK.

Ladies, don't forget to wear a headcover in your passport photo; if you don't, your application will be rejected.

3: Russia

By introducing biometric applications, Russia made getting a visa a good deal harder. You have to go in person and submit your fingerprints and facial image when you apply – and for obvious reasons no agency can help you to do this! You'll have to first find a visa centre or Embassy that will process your biometric application, and then secondly get yourself there and cross your fingers that the queue isn't too big that day.

Red Square in Moscow, Russia (Shutterstock)
Red Square in Moscow, Russia (Shutterstock)

Before you can start your visa application, you'll need to get a Letter of Invitation for Russia, which must be issued by a travel agency that's registered with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Be very careful filling out their online application form. One mistake – even a small one – can lead to delays or even rejection. Visa agencies like Visa Machine can help you with your invitation and application forms, so check them out if you feel you want a helping hand.

4: Turkmenistan

This country remains one of the most closed in the world. You can only get a tourist visa if you're joining a tour or have hired an individual guide and booked all of your hotels in advance.

Ashgabat, Turkmenistan (Shutterstock)
Ashgabat, Turkmenistan (Shutterstock)

Like Iran and Russia, you'll need your tour agency or guide to arrange a Letter of Invitation with the immigration authorities in Turkmenistan before you can get a visa. This takes two or three weeks and isn't guaranteed. After that, if your application isn't rejected, you can expect your visa application to take another two weeks.

5: Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan has numerous public holidays, especially throughout the summer when Embassies and many of the immigration bodies will be closed for up to a week at a time. This can really slow down the process of getting a visa.

Icheri Sheher in Baku, Azerbaijan (Shutterstock)
Icheri Sheher in Baku, Azerbaijan (Shutterstock)

There are a couple of tourist visa options: the standard tourist visa issued by the Embassy with a processing time of two and a half weeks; or an electronic visa issued by authorised agents of the Azeri Ministry of Foreign Affairs with a processing time of four to six weeks. Although the eVisa takes significantly longer, the application is done online, so there's no need to part with your passport.

Once you've applied for your visa, there's no way of checking the status or influencing the processing times. So expect to hear absolutely nothing for a fairly long time – as if visa applications aren't stressful enough!

6: India

India has recently introduced an electronic E-visa as well as its standard tourist visa. Whichever you choose, the application form needs to be filled out online, and it's a rather long and often frustrating process.

On certain browsers, you won't be able to fill out your employment details, on others you might not be able to pay. And so on. All of the payments are processed by the Bank of India and if their system is down (which happened in January for a week) there's no alternative way of paying for your visa, which means it's impossible to apply for it.

Hawa Mahal, the Palace of Winds, Jaipur (Shutterstock)
Hawa Mahal, the Palace of Winds, Jaipur (Shutterstock)

E-visas are occasionally rejected. If that happens, you'll then need to submit an application for a standard tourist visa at the Embassy. It's significantly more expensive and requires your passport to be submitted to the Embassy along with another application form and a few other documents.

7: Thailand

If you're from certain countries such as the UK, US, Canada, Australia, you can stay in Thailand for up to 30 days without a visa. But if you're planning to stay longer you'll need to apply for one. The application process isn't complicated if you are applying for a single entry visa.

Sukhothai Historical Park, Thailand (Shutterstock)
Sukhothai Historical Park, Thailand (Shutterstock)

However, if you want to travel in South East Asia and go in and out of Thailand more than once, the list of documents you require to submit with your application becomes endless. Amongst other documents, you'll need to provide flight tickets, an employment letter and bank statements for the last six months showing at least £5,000 in your account continuously.

Waiting times at the Embassy should also be noted. It can take a couple of hours to submit your application as the Embassy is exceptionally busy. It can then take the same amount of time to collect the passport once your visa's been issued. So you'll need to take a couple of days off work.

8: Chad

Though not necessarily a top destination, this is up there with the hardest-to-get-visas. For UK applicants, Chad's nearest Embassy is in Paris. Although they do accept postal applications, they have no standard processing times and you'll need to call them regularly to check if the application has been processed.

Camels in Chad (Dreamstime)
Camels in Chad (Dreamstime)

However, they don't speak English at all, so you'll need to speak good French or know someone who does. The application form itself is also only available in French. You'll then need to arrange a courier to collect the passport from the Embassy, which can be tricky to coordinate. Allow at least 3 weeks for this application to be processed.

9: Nigeria

This visa requires a lot of paperwork. In addition to your hotel booking confirmation, you'll need to provide bank statements and a letter of employment. You'll also have to make three separate payments: the first to the Nigerian government (which is done online when you fill out your application form); the second to the Nigerian High Commission (which can be done only at the post office as a postal order); and the third to the visa application centre when your application is submitted.

Nigerian folk dancers (Shutterstock)
Nigerian folk dancers (Shutterstock)

However, you can't do this yourself because the Embassy doesn't deal with applicants directly. You'll have to use a visa company instead – but at least that takes the hassle off your hands!

10: Sudan

Although the visa process itself isn't very complicated, yet again, you'll be required to provide a Letter of Invitation approved by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sudan. This letter can take a month to get, so you need to plan well in advance.

Meroe pyramids in Sudan (Shutterstock)
Meroe pyramids in Sudan (Shutterstock)

You'll need to apply for the letter via an authorised travel agent, but the majority of travel agencies in Sudan are very relaxed, so getting hold of them can be difficult. Prepare for quite a wait when it comes to your Sudanese visa application.

How to cope with visa rejection

Whether you get a visa or not is entirely at the discretion of the Embassy, so submitting and paying for your application isn't a guarantee that you'll get the visa. And if your application is rejected, an Embassy has no obligation to tell you why.

Rejection brings with it a looming sense of panic when in the context of travel visas. It's gutting and expensive. Embassies don't really care about your flights, your accommodation, the friends you planned to see, the sights you're now going to miss. They also won't refund your money.

So what can you do to avoid it?

Use a visa agency. Though this doesn't eliminate the risk of rejection altogether, it does reduce the likelihood. Usually their admin fees are similar or less to the cost of a train to go to the Embassy if you're planning to hand your application in, in person. Plus, you can get 5% off Visa Machine services with discount code WLU5. They'll check your paperwork and present the application on your behalf meaning the likelihood of rejection is less. They can also do things quicker than you can, and often have special access to Embassies that you won't have.

Apply for your visa in plenty of time. Unless you have to wait because of visa regulations (some countries like Ethiopia start your visa time from the visa issue date, meaning the later you apply the better), never leave your visa application until the few weeks before you travel. If things go wrong, you'll be stuck, and not even a visa agency will be able to help because you'll simply have run out of time.

Only book in advance if you have to.
If you can avoid it, don't pay for your flights or accommodation until the visa is issued, and have comprehensive travel insurance. Insurance is important because even once the visa has been issued, it doesn't guarantee entry into the country.

And if your application is rejected?

In most cases you can re-apply. However, you'll need to apply again in full including paying a second time. Embassies don't issue refunds. They might also ask for additional documentation now that you've been rejected on one occasion. Some Embassies advise not to re-apply for a visa unless your circumstances change.

Re-apply quickly. Remember the second application will take the same amount of time or longer to process, so advance planning is essential.

Don't despair. In a lot of cases, the second application is successful.

Main image: Boats in Thailand (Shutterstock)

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