The Hardest Countries to Get a Visa For (Besides the Obvious Ones, of Course) Part 1

By Michael Jones (michael.jones@tsiglobalconsulting.com)

This weekend, I will be departing for Japan, in the culmination of a trip that I have been planning for roughly the last year.  It’s been a log of work to get to this point: making different payments, securing flights, and packing my things all have put a lot of stress on my shoulders.  However, easily the most difficult part of my preparations was getting my Visa.  Japan has very strong controls over who can and cannot enter the country, and the process of jumping through their hoops got me thinking, “are there any other countries that are worse than this?” Of course, my immediate research turned up the usual suspects: North Korea, Sudan, Somalia, Iran, etc.  However, upon further inspection, I discovered that some unlikely countries have Visa controls that are much harsher than one would think.  This inspired me to write this blog entry; after all, these countries could very well be your next  business partners!

The first name that kept popping up in my research was accompanied by a startling statistic.  The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has only started issuing Tourist Visas in late 2013!  Up until then, only Business and Hajj Visas were distributed to visitors.  While this statistic is irrelevant towards those of us in international business, it does strongly suggest the tone of the Saudi’s less-than-hospitable attitude towards visitors.  The first of many requirements for entering Saudi Arabia is having a sponsor (usually the Saudi company that you are working with, but can be an individual as well) write a letter on your behalf to the Saudi Chamber of Commerce & Industry.  You will then need to make the application from within your home country, and your company will need to write a letter that explains the nature of your business.  All of this can take considerable time, and even then, there are further restrictions.  Women cannot obtain a Visa without being accompanied by a male family member once in the country, and those who have an Israeli passport stamp will be denied entry outright.

Another country with strict controls on Visas has been talked about a lot on this blog lately: Russia.  While doing my research, I found numerous horror stories of traveler’s experiences with the Russian bureaucracy.  One common problem that I saw was the by-the-book perfection required in the application process.  Applications for Visas would frequently be rejected for minor things such as not writing in block capital letters, improper date notation, and using the incorrect pen.  These mistakes would lead to frequent costs, as expensive re-application and re-scheduling trip fees add up fast.  Another frustrating idiosyncrasy of the Russian Visa system is that every Russian Embassy does things slightly different, making by-the-book perfection difficult.  One should find out these differences in advance so as to avoid frustration.  Additionally, Russian Visas are very strict in the time limits that they allow someone to stay.  Overstaying your welcome can lead to being detained once you do decide to leave, and Visa extensions are rarely granted.  Much like Saudi Arabia, you will need to get a letter from your Russian business partner explaining your purpose in Russia before you can begin the application process.  Be sure to apply well in advance so as to have time to correct your mistakes!

This blog series will continue next week as we look into more convoluted Visa systems all around the world.  If you have any further questions about doing business with any of the countries that we have discussed today, please call TSI Global Consulting at 210-757-0618 for a consultation.

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