When it comes to visas, some countries are notoriously difficult to obtain entry to. With red-tape, bureaucratic procedures and religion just some of the things that stand in your way it’s no wonder that some places remain off-the-beaten track.
Some of the countries listed below have only recently become too difficult to visit, mostly due to civil war or unrest. The best way to see if you should visit a country is to check your local Government advice, for the UK it’s the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).
Up until the 1970s, Afghanistan was one of the most modern countries in the world, quite a contrast to 2016 with the country still largely battling with extremists, terrorists and foreign fighters.
Aside from many of the places you hear about in the media, surprisingly there are several destinations in Afghanistan that you can visit where the Taliban have never affected. Although you’ll need security wherever you go, make sure you check out the site of the Bamiyan Buddha’s, although sadly destroyed by the terrorists it’s still worth a visit just for its beautiful picturesque scenery.
£140 for a single entry tourist/business visa for 3 months. The Afghanistan embassy in London has just updated its website and a requirement of your visa is that you visit the embassy and meet with an official, however you can now book this online.
Although this Central African country is rich in natural resources it was ravaged by civil war and is one of the poorest countries in the Africa, even though it is also one of the most expensive places to live/work in the world.
Although visa requirements most certainly discourage tourism, Angola has some incredibly beautiful beaches just waiting to be discovered. The economy is one of the fastest growing in the world, currently most foreigner visitors are doing so simply for business purposes, however if the country relaxes the Soviet-style rules I foresee a very bright tourist future for Angola.
£80 or £160 for an urgent request. For more information click here.
Often described as the “last Shangri-La” due to its pristine environment and strict entry rules. Nestled in the Himalayan mountains, it’s no wonder that this tiny country has become a must-see destination.
As one of the most unique countries in the world Bhutan isn’t lacking in natural beauty and it’s not hard to imagine why you would visit this incredible place. Unfortunately as mentioned below in the visa fee section you’ll need to have a substantial budget to visit Bhutan due to its enforced request of having a daily spend.
This is the complicated part, you must be booked on an all-inclusive package tour using a local Bhutanese company. You will be subjected to pay a £180 ($250) fee per day depending on the season, although this fee does include your accommodation, food, transport and a guide. For more information, click here.
Very few people could tell you exactly where Chad is, let alone why you should visit! The country has recently been through several states of emergencies and many places are deemed too dangerous to visit, however for the brave few who make the trip will be rewarded with magnificent views.
If you don’t fancy dodging bullets then don’t go anywhere near the borders with Libya, Niger, Nigeria, Sudan or the Central African Republic. In the heart of Africa, Chad is a paradise for sand explorers with the Sahara on its doorstep.
Trying to obtain a visa yourself will be virtually impossible if you don’t speak French, there’s currently no embassy in London so you’ll need to head to either Brussels or Paris. I’ve been advised that there’s currently no standard processing times meaning you could several weeks and you’ll have to keep checking with the embassy to see if it has been issued. Visa fee is £100 (2016 rates). For more information visit the Brussels embassy website (French only).
Democratic Republic of Congo
When people ask where would you like to visit next, I’ve never ever heard anyone say the DRC. This is incredibly sad as it could be a tourist goldmine, sadly the infrastructure just isn’t there yet but give it at least 10 years and hopefully it will be a much more regular feature on travellers “to-do” lists.
Tourism is very much in its infancy in the DRC, with red tape and unofficial bribes often needed this instantly puts many people off. For the brave few who venture here they’ll be rewarded with incredible sites including seeing mountain and lowland gorillas, climbing to the summit of an active volcano and even seeing a boiling lava lake.
£60 for UK citizens for a single entry visa, you’ll also be charged $50 as an International departure tax upon leaving the DRC. For more information visit the DRC embassy website.
Equatorial Guinea is a small but rather unusual country, divided in two with the largest part being on the mainland whilst the capital city sits on Bloko island. Currently US citizens can quite easily access the country although they do still need to apply for a visa, it was hoped that by easing restrictions for them it would encourage business deals.
You’d automatically presume Equatorial Guinea would be a cheap destination but according to Wikitravel everything is very expensive, so this won’t be backpacker heaven. However if you dig a little deeper you’ll discover the islands tropical paradise beaches, whilst on the mainland you’ll be one of the lucky few to see gorillas. Very few people know about Equatorial Guinea which is such a shame as they are trying to promote themselves as an eco-friendly destination, a rarity in Africa.
£100 for standard or £180 for urgent visa requests, tourists must prove that they have at least £2,000 in their bank account or risk having their visa rejected. For more information, click here.
As one of the few countries to be conquered by Italy, Eritrea has one of most unique cultures in the whole of Africa and some amazing coffee too.
Imagine sitting in a tree-lined street sipping on beautiful Eritrean coffee whilst munching on a traditional Italian pizza? Well you can in Asmara, the capital of Eritrea! Situated in the Horn of Africa it’s one of the driest place on Earth to visit with an environment that’s about as varied as they come. From the incredible Red Sea coast with its amazing diving opportunities to the internal mainland where Eritrea meets the Sahara desert. I was lucky enough to be granted a visa and was able to visit in February 2016, it is seriously one of my favourite countries I’ve ever visited, read more about my trip here.
£25 for a tourist visa. For more information, click here.
Iran receives some seriously bad publicity within the Western media, thankfully the few tourists who do visit often return with incredibly favourable experiences expressing stories of gratitude towards their hosts and the friendly locals. With various political issues surrounding the country, many people are often put off visiting, although when I went in March 2016 I absolutely loved my experience, discover why in my blog article.
Sandwiched between the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf, Iran is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, although this fact isn’t yet widely known so get in there quick before it changes!
After several years of frosty relations, the Iranian embassy has finally reopened in London for consular services, this means Brits no longer have to travel to Dublin, Paris or Berlin. A tourist visa costs £180 for UK tourists and £80 for European nationals.
For more information, click here.
When I think of Libya I imagine images of desert oasis’ or vast swathes of sand due to its location in North Africa and the Sahara desert. Tourism was very much in its infancy before the civil war but is unlikely to recover for a very long time due to the lack of a cohesive Government.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all travel to Libya at present. During calmer times the most famous tourist attraction was Leptis Magna, one of the best preserved Roman amphitheatres, although unfortunately at present its status is unknown due to the ongoing conflict.
£65 for a single-entry tourist visa. For more information, click here (not updated since 2012).
This country certainly needs no introduction, the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) is one of the toughest places to get a visa for. If you’re from South Korea you will not be granted a visa, however you’ll also have troubles if you are from the U.S, Israel and even Japan.
Let’s just say your visit probably won’t be a relaxing one, you are constantly chaperoned by a Government ‘guide’ and you won’t be allowed to go off alone either. I’m personally fascinated by North Korea, being closed off for such a long time means they have a unique culture, one you’ll find nowhere else on earth. Many places are still off-limits to tourists and it is likely you’ll either fly direct to Pyongyang or take the train from China.
I’m lucky enough to have visited the North Korean embassy in London, a very unique place that’s a detached house in Ealing, with a huge flagpole out front. A random experience, but the Koreans that I met were very warm and welcoming. To get a visa for North Korea you’ll need to book onto a tour, I recommend Lupine Travel tours.
So Osama Bin Laden lived here in his final years, well Pakistan is now trying to move forward from that and boost tourism to the region by increasing security and opening up.
Many people only hear the news and that’s their opinion of Pakistan, those in the know are fully aware that it is a beautiful country with incredible mountains and scenery. It’s definitely not an easy country to travel around, many conflict-factors still make it a tricky one but one that’s well worth making the effort for.
Single entry costs £104 plus processing fee of £30. For further information click here.
Russia is predominantly in the news for negative reasons, however that doesn’t put tourists off, it in fact encourages them to visit due to being intrigued. I visited Moscow in 2013 with work so although I obtained a business visa the process for a tourist visa is almost the same. Let’s just say the Russian hospitality starts as soon as you enter the processing centre, don’t expect a smile!
As the biggest country in the world it’s unlikely you’ll see everything. Although as a gay traveller I don’t advise you to visit the country, I did however discover a hidden gay scene which was one of the busiest I’ve seen in the world. What a Government says isn’t necessarily always what its people think. From the megalopolis of Moscow to the wilderness of Siberia there’s something for everyone to see, if you can stomach long train journeys you can take the longest one in the world by doing the Trans-Siberian.
Tourist visa; £38.40 (within 5 days), £45.60 (next working day). If like me, you’ve visited lots of countries you’ll have a panic attack just writing the form and trying to remember all the countries you’ve been to in the last 10 years. For more information, click here.
Saudi Arabia represents one of the last frontiers in tourism, there are so many rules and very few tourism visas available. This is simply because the country is rich from its oil and has no reason for additional revenue from tourism, although potentially in the future this may change.
When I think of the Kingdom of Arabia you are automatically taken back to your childhood when you think of Aladdin, although these days it wouldn’t be quite as romantic, especially if you’re a woman. For me personally I have no reason why I’d want to visit Saudi, however there’s many religious sites to see including Madain Saleh and the remnants of the Hejaz Railway which echoes back to the days of TE Lawrence.
Visas are available for business, work, visiting family or religious visits. Tourist visas will require you to travel with a Saudi-specific agency but these are notoriously difficult to find and acquire. For more information, click here.
Whilst planning my visit to Syria in 2010 I realised I needed a visa to enter the country, thankfully at the time it was relatively simple process of completing several forms and collecting your visa from the embassy. These days due to the civil war you simply cannot visit as a tourist and unfortunately this doesn’t look like changing any time soon.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all travel to Syria at present.
Not currently available. For more information, please click here.
Turkmenistan. Where I hear you ask?! Well it’s a secretive Central Asian state that was previously part of the Soviet Union and is now one of the most mysterious and unexplored countries in the world.
You’ll truly feel like a traveling pioneer, whilst visiting the country I saw the grand total of about three other tourists! There’s very few countries in the world where this will happen, thankfully though it’s their loss. There’s so much to see including a Caspian Sea resort which cost more than a billion dollars called Awaza and also a gas crater dubbed the Door to Hell. Why on earth wouldn’t you want to visit?
Almost everyone needs a visa to enter Turkmenistan, the British embassy is based in London but have strict times that you can apply and collect your visa, so be sure to check them out before visiting. When I purchased my visa from the embassy in 2015 I was charged £33, this can fluctuate due to currency exchange rates and how much the officer wants to charge you on the day (seriously, they make the rules up!). For more information, click here.
Sadly now described as one of the most dangerous countries in the world, Yemen was previously accessible although often with Government warnings. The Guardian newspaper recently reported that Sana’a may become the first city in the world to run out of water, things are pretty dire on the ground with constant bombings from the Saudis.
One of the most unique countries in the Middle East, Yemen has several UNESCO World Heritage sites to visit including the Old Walled City of Shibam a.k.a the “Manhattan of the desert”. There’s also the beautiful Old City of Sana’a and the isolated island of Socotra where trees and animals are like nowhere else on earth. When things calm down I will be one of the first people on the reinstated flights to visit Yemen, it has been on my hit list for many many years.
Right now it is virtually impossible to get a visa for Yemen, the FCO advise against all travel to the country (including Socotra archipelago). I found one website selling visas for £135, however for more official information visit the Yemeni London embassy website.
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