The world's most hard-to-get visas

Have you got tales of visa woes? By the age of 35, Chris Guillebeau had visited every country in the world. Here, he reveals the visas that proved the most frustrating to secure

8 mins

1. Most frustrating: Nauru

After going to dozens of islands, many of which are small independent nations, I had no clue that I’d need a visa for the tiny republic of Nauru. When I showed up for the weekly (!) flight at Brisbane airport in Australia, my request for the boarding pass was firmly denied. I had to regroup and plan another trip to Australia two months later.

2. Worst for logistics: Saudi Arabia

Saudi was tough. After weeks of back and forth with the embassy in New York, they finally approved the visa. I was heading out of town from my home in Portland, Oregon and left specific instructions to hand over the passport to a friend of mine. Alas, the passport was dutifully stamped… and then mailed to my home, where I’d left two days prior.

I eventually went to Saudi anyway and took my chances upon arrival. Fortunately I wasn’t a woman – their official policy is that women must be accompanied by their spouse or father!

3. Silliest security: Pakistan

In Hong Kong I boarded a flight for Karachi, but not before printing out a bunch of useless documents – the website of the Pakistani-American friendship association among them. I presented all of these papers upon arrival. The clerk was confused, and a supervisor was summoned. It took 40 minutes, but finally he said, “Well, you’re here… you might as well stay.”

4. Most expensive: Belarus

In Minsk, Belarus I paid the most amount of money I’ve ever spent for a visa – more than $400 USD! None of the cash machines worked, so I dutifully followed a handler around the airport for several hours in a quest for a money-changer.

5. Most haphazard: South Sudan

The world’s newest country began accepting visitors within a month of independence, but wasn’t issuing visas on arrival. I had to work with a special office in Washington, DC. They finally sent back an A4-size piece of paper with a big 'VISA' stamp on the front. I guess they hadn’t learned that most visas should fit inside a passport.

6. Jail time required: Eritrea

I had fooled Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, but I finally met my diplomatic match one night in Asmara, Eritrea. No matter how many times I tried, I couldn’t get the visa from their embassy in Washington. I finally went anyway, but this time ran into trouble: after being kept through the night in a small office / jail cell, I was finally sent on an Egypt Air flight to Cairo. My adventures in Eritrea would need to continue another day.

Don't fancy going to that much trouble to get a visa? Then you need the Visa Machine, an easy-to-use service that does all the legwork for you. Better still, Wanderlust readers get £5 off, simply by entering the code WLU5. 

Chris Guillebeau is a writer, entrepreneur and traveller. His new book, The Happiness of Pursuit, is designed to help people find the quest that will bring purpose to their lives, and can be ordered on Amazon now.


Main image: Applying for a US visa (Shutterstock)

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