Difficult places for visitors to get into

Budget Travel published a list of the 8 Most Complicated Countries to Visit

For anyone who pays attention to international travel, the list is no big surprise:

  • India
  • Russia
  • China
  • Brazil
  • Bhutan
  • Iran
  • Kazakhstan
  • Saudi Arabia

From my view, some cause problems just because the governments are bureaucratic nightmares (India and Brazil). Others are problems because the governments want to limit the influences of outside thinking (Saudi Arabia, China, Iran, and Bhutan).

It should be no surprise that six of the eight countries on this list are either partly free or not free according to the 2011 Freedom House Survey of Freedom. Only Brazil and India are free.

From a free press perspective the countries listed are either partly free or not free.

From a perspective of the “not-free” countries such as Iran and China, making it difficult to get in is understandable. They don’t want their people getting any “strange” ideas from foreign visitors. And tourism is a far better way to export “dangerous” ideas about freedom and free speech than any other form of activity.

Tourists from democracies just can’t help acting differently from tourists from less free places. A tourist ministry person in Brazil once told me he could tell the difference between the Chinese-American tourists in Brazil from the Chinese tourists just by looking at them. He said the walk and demeanor of the Americans was more confident while the Chinese tourists were more hesitant and cautious.

And we see the same with journalists. Those who are used to working in an atmosphere of freedom tend to be a bit more confident and willing to challenge assumptions and beliefs so as to better understand the situation.

And to be fair, let’s look at the U.S. visa situation.

Here is the official US government line: (Emphasis mine)

International visitors add greatly to our nation’s cultural, education and economic life. We continue the proud tradition of welcoming visitors to the United States, with secure borders and open doors.

Visa Processing Time Inforation

Recent changes in U.S. laws governing visa policy and procedures have increased the amount of time it can take to obtain a visa. Apply early! Even with the visa processing improvements that have been made and will continue to be made, it is inevitable that delays will sometimes occur. Processing times will vary.

The State Department’s goal is visa delivery no more than 30 days from the time of application in most cases, although cases that require administrative processing could take longer. Most administrative processing is resolved within 60 days of application. When administrative processing is required, the timing will vary based on individual circumstances of each case. Therefore, before making inquiries about status of administrative processing, applicants or their representatives will need to wait at least 90 days from the date of interview or submission of supplemental documents, whichever is later.

If you want to visit the U.S. and require a visa, plan to schedule your visa interview well in advance of your departure date. Learn more by reviewing this website information and contact the U.S. embassy or consulate where you will apply for detailed “how-to” instructions.

At least there is the visa waiver program that allows citizens of about 30 countries to get in without a visa:

Most Canadian citizens and many citizens from Visa Waiver Program countries can come to the United States (U.S.) without a visa if they meet certain requirements. All Visa Waiver Program travelers must present a machine-readable passport at the U.S. port of entry to enter the U.S. without a visa; otherwise a U.S. visa is required. See important information about additional digital photograph and e-passport requirements for VWP travelers. Other foreign citizens will need a nonimmigrant visa.

To hear it from people not in waiver countries, the US is just as restrictive as any of the difficult eight listed in Budget Travel. And the process may seem unfair to many who are rejected. But by and large, the US process is transparent and consistent. (Yes, there are the odd times when a visa adjudicating officer has a bad day, but those are becoming less common than in the past.) The biggest problem for many is this whole “plan ahead” idea. (But we see that issue with a lot of Americans trying to go to Brazil and China as well.)

Lastly, the US government — along with state and local governments — have finally woken up to the major economic benefit  foreign tourists bring. (This is replacing the old idea that all visitors want to stay illegally in the States.) A while back a study showed that for every 82 visas issued in Brazil, one job in Florida (mostly in the tourism trade) was created. And the US issues hundreds (if not thousands) of visas a week.



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