Sal Lavallo made headlines in January 2018 as one of the youngest people to successfully visit all 193 UN-recognised countries in the world. Starting in China and Japan in 2004 and ending in Malta 13 years later, the traveller’s quest stemmed from his desire to “see the nuanced diversity in societies around the world” and build global connections.
Lavallo’s achievement is all the more astonishing when you consider how difficult it can be to visit certain countries. Many are very particular about who they offer visas to, while others will outright ban specific nationalities from entering. Even the rich and famous face travel restrictions. Joss Stone, for example, failed to complete her famous “total world tour” after being refused entry into Iran—her last stop—in July 2019. A police statement claimed that she didn’t carry the correct documentation upon arrival, and was deported “in line with travel regulations”.
It’s not just Iran that is difficult to enter. There are a few countries around the world that have more stringent entry requirements than others, which you should bear in mind when planning any trips of your own.
Even accredited visa agents acknowledge that it’s “notoriously difficult” to obtain the correct travel documentation required to visit Libya. It’s possible to apply for a tourist visa on arrival, but the UK government warns that any documents issued overseas might not be recognised in all areas of the country. This is due to the ongoing civil war which has divided Libya into competing political and military factions. Furthermore, you’ll be banned from entering the country if your passport displays that you’ve previously travelled to Israel. This is one of many Arab countries to exercise this policy on account of its poor diplomatic relations with Israel.
The notoriously secretive country of North Korea is unsurprisingly difficult to enter. Only an estimated 5,000 westerners travel there through tourism agencies every year, and it’s highly unlikely you’d get into the country directly from the UK. Most visitors gain access through organised tours via China. While these tours aren’t particularly hard to book, there are strict rules. For example, you can’t go anywhere without a guide or engage with the locals. Of course, you’ll need to obtain a visa before arrival, and it’s recommended you ensure all your tour details are confirmed at least a month before your travel.
It can be tricky travelling to China if you plan to stay for a significant period of time. The visa application process is lengthy, involving a number of different forms and other documentation with very little room for mistakes. In line with the nation’s laws and regulations, you’ll need to provide fingerprints at a Chinese visa application service centre in either London, Manchester, or Edinburgh. You’ll also have to provide confirmations about your flight and hotel and, in some cases, you may be asked for a detailed itinerary outlining everything you plan to do each day you’re there.
Aside from Turkey, Russia is the only country in Europe that British travellers need a visa for. Similarly to China, acquiring one is harder than it once was, because you now need to visit a visa application centre to submit your fingerprints. In addition to your biometric data, you’ll need to provide a Russian Visa Invitation Letter from a government-certified travel agency. However, if you’re a cruise or ferry passenger, you have the option of staying in the country for up to 72 hours visa-free, provided your tour is booked through an officially licensed company.
Gaining entry to the African nation requires a bit more paperwork than a typical visa application. As well as flight and hotel confirmations, potential travellers must also provide bank statements to prove they have sufficient funds to travel, as well as a letter of invitation if they’re visiting family or friends. Once again, you’ll need to submit biometrics prior to approval, but as Nigeria only has one visa application centre in the UK, this means you’ll have to take a trip to London no matter how far away you live.