Now what I do most time of the day when I am not reading is to read about the places of a randomly chosen country that I wish to visit. Wikipedia, wikitravel and tripadvisor has been my companion. I try to sink it all in - the places, geography, interesting things to see, to do, currency, food and along with that the visa process.
Its when I read about the visa procedure that I feel smited. For one, it seems being a wanderlust is an ironical comedy if you are from a third world country as India. Now, if you can travel to a foreign land without having to go through the hassle of obtaining a visa before hand is a big bonus. I have not traveled much, but among the 10+ countries that I've visited, most of them except for 1 or 2 have been countries where I had the privilege of getting Visa on Arrival facility. If I go back to how I chose these countries; I think one of the main criteria was the ease in getting a visa. Thats how Costa Rica replaced Peru; isn't it?
Thinking about it, the ease in getting a visa to a country is a measure to your country's economic and trade alliances with the foreign country. Another parameter is the economic state of the citizens. In general, the citizens of rich countries have more freedom to travel than those of countries that are poor or in war. I was shocked to know that Indians had to obtain prior visa to visit Kenya until recently. The position is elevated to VOA only from this year to improve tourism earnings in Kenya.
I am just talking about Tourist Visa here; lets not get into other types of Visa. Why would anyone who has a family, friends, good job back home try to overstay or get lost in a foreign country? Alas! it has happened isn't it? Why has Malaysia stopped VOA for Indians? :-(
Anyway, I tend to look for as easy options as possible to avoid going through the labyrinth task of getting visa prior. For one; its not easy when I don't have a day-day itinerary or the address of hotel I would stay since I don't book prior. Also, some countries have restrictions to have a mandatory return ticket which should not be any neighboring country (God knows the reason why they should care as long as people leave their country!!) In cases as these; its only possible if you are on a strictly itinerary tour; not for ruffians like me.
There are other problems as well. For those countries in the Caribbean and Central American region where Indians are invited; 98% of the flights have a transit in the USA. :-) Well, it means, you still have to go through the pain of getting a transit visa to the US, go through the painful immigration process. Same is the case if you want to visit Micronesian countries, you need to change flights in OZ or NZ. And then there are few countries which need a letter from your employer. I don't understand the rationale behind this. Another unique kind is cross restrictions that exist between neighboring countries - don't get your passport stamped if your next destination is this particular country and such.
However inviting the official tourism pages of the countries are; visas are frustrating affair. If you are from a 'lowly' country; the experience is not pleasing. The fees are hefty. If there are no visa fees, don't be happy. Airport exit fees might be lurking around the corner; so leave some cash even after your holiday has ended. You may be left stranded at the airport if you can't pay exit feed while leaving the country. Its fine if these countries sustain on tourism. Interestingly Cambodia's visa fees are less than Thailand's; also the process to obtain a Thailand visa(on arrival) is rigid and restricted than Cambodia's. Maybe because Cambodia depends more on tourism than Thailand.
If not this, be prepared to fill in pages and pages of data. Apparently, the Chinese have to fill in a ten page document in English with biometric data to visit Britain. Chinese are the top spenders when it comes to travel and not surprisingly, they have shied away from traveling to Britain. Only as less as 20% of Chinese visiting Europe visit Britain compared to their preference to neighboring France. You should also be aware of tit-for-tat diplomatic policies; thereby placing restrictions on travel. I cannot help but quote SL's policy to stop VOA for those countries that don't offer them VOA. Since Jan 2012, all travel to SL needs a visa prior to arrival for Indians.
With all these and few more I have not mentioned; it seems only the most blessed citizens of US and the big 5 of Europe have freedom to visit at least 166 countries without a visa. Interestingly, again taking the Chinese who are big spenders and big wanderers and who could account for half the world's tourism can sadly access only 41 countries visa free. And what about citizens of war torn countries like Iraq and Afghanistan? They are so damned.
Here is a comparitive chart ( Referred from The Economist article)
Nevertheless, its not too bad for Indians as depicted in the chart. Indians can travel to nearly 60+ countries around the globe without having to get a visa before arrival. Here is the list - Visa requirements for Indians
Here are few visa tips to make life easy if you want to travel.
- Take advantage of VOA - the countries these offer are exotic and have lots to experience. (Surprised to know most Caribbean, Asian and Oceanic countries have VOA for Indians)
- Visa free transit facility - some countries offer these for a period of upto 14 days. Use these when you are bound to another country(US/UK) or a re-entry during the same leg of journey - Singapore and Malaysia offer them
- Limited access - One can visit a part of a country without needing a prior visa either using Transit Visa or VOA facility like Hong Kong, Jeju Island(South Korea)
- Use your US/UK/Aus visa to advantage. Some countries offer exclusive VOA for those holding US/UK visa. Some Central American countries offer this facility. Thats how I managed Costa Rica.
- E-visa : Apply for visa online; get E-visa printout and pass through immigration if the country offers it. Always good to avoid long queues.
I've had breezy experience while getting visas. For one, I have noticed that more stamps on your passport; the easier and quicker its going to be. It seems to assure the officers at the immigration that this person is not here to stay but just to visit as the other countries supported by the stamps. And like it or not; a US/EU or other "developed" country visa surely helps.
A parting note : At the immigration desk in Bangalore after my latest trip; the officer in charge made me list all the countries I've visited. He confirmed with my immigration stamping and only then stamped my passport :-/