Visas are your responsibility and for expeditions, each handbook outlines the requirements for a given trip. Here is the SCHQ Ops Department’s advice on what visas are currently required for each destination. Always check with the relevant embassy to ensure you are working with the most up-to-date and correct visa information meanwhile; the below is provided as a guide. The advice provided below is correct as at March 2016 and will be updated periodically.
Key points to research
- How far in advance can you apply for your visa?
- How long does the visa last for?
- Do you need a single entry or a multiple entry visa?
- Do you need visas for more than one country?
- What supporting documents do you need to supply with your application form?
- Do you need to supply photographs? If so, what exact size, colour or black and white, and how many?
- How much will your visa cost?
- Do you need to fulfil any medical requirements before applying for a visa?
- Will a Letter of Invitation be required to submit with your application?
- How and where can you apply for a visa…Must you apply in person?
- Are there any restrictions e.g. no-one with an Israeli stamp may apply?
- If on the road when you need to apply, how will you manage this?
- Must you apply in person to supply biometric data?
- Have you read the visa section of the relevant Secret Compass Expedition Handbook?
- Has Secret Compass already provided an additional Visa Advice Document?
Visas assistance companies
If you find it easier to use a visa processing company, Secret Compass teammates have successfully used visa assistance companies to procure visas. Companies like this charge their fee on top of visa fees and are useful if you’re busy. They often send a courier to collect your passport from you, deliver it to and collect it from the embassy in question, then return it to you via courier complete with visa. Not all visas can be acquired this way so check everything in advance.
US Visa Waiver Program restrictions
Please note that recent changes to US entry requirements mean that if you live in a country which is part of the US Visa Waiver Program but have recently (since 2011) travelled to one of a number of specific countries (see below) then you will not be able to use the Visa Waiver Program and must instead apply for a full visa to travel to the US. Currently (9 Oct 2017) the list of countries affected are Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, or Yemen, but please see here for more details and current inclusions.
Secret Compass will supply each expedition teammate with a Letter of Invitation, to support your visa application. You may also need to provide utility bills, flight confirmation and draft itineraries. You will also require a Tajikistan visa (multiple-entry tourist visa – see below) with a GBAO permit attached. We advise allowing at least two months to arrange both visas. Secret Compass will request details such as a passport scan in advance to help us process your Letter of Invitation.
Citizens of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam do not require a visa. Most other nationalities who enter through Yangon, Nay Pyi Taw or Mandalay airports can apply in advance for an e-visa. This is only issued within three months of travel but applications are usually processed quickly. You will need a digital copy of a recent passport photograph that exactly matches their required dimensions (this may take some editing).
For our DRC: Virunga expedition, Secret Compass will provide detailed instructions on how to submit your visa application directly to Virunga National Park national park. You will also require a multiple-entry Rwandan visa, see below, and a single-entry Ugandan visa.
In 2015, the Egyptian government announced that all tourists will require a visa in advance, regardless of their nationality. They later reversed this decision until they put an e-visa system in place. Presently, visas are available on arrival for some nationalities but we advise everyone who is able to apply in advance to do so in case new restrictions are brought in again.
Citizens of all countries except Morocco, Mauritania and Tunisia require a visa. Gabon recently introduced e-visas or apply through your local embassy. You will need proof of a hotel reservation which will be provided by Secret Compass.
For British citizens, the Iranian visa application is a two-stage process. Initially you must fill in a Visa Reference Number Request, stating your intended itinerary and trip dates and nominating an embassy or consulate to collect your visa at. Occasionally you may be asked to provide a CV or links to social media profiles in addition. If you are travelling on the Secret Compass Lut Desert Traverse expedition, we will then submit this request to the MFA in Tehran on your behalf. Women should provide passport photos with a suitable hair covering. Once your Visa Reference Number Request is approved, you need to go to your nominated embassy or consulate to collect the visa in your passport.
The embassy in London in March 2016 started issuing visas for British nationals. You have to attend the embassy in person. Citizens of the USA and Canada may have more barriers to applying for an Iranian visa but it is by no means impossible although they should be accompanied at all times in Iran by a government approved guide. Israeli citizens are banned from entering Iran and any traveller with an Israeli immigration stamp may be refused a visa. Some nationalities are eligible for a visa on arrival, however this is never guaranteed and we recommend team members apply for visas in advance for peace of mind.
14-day visas are available on arrival at Erbil airport for UK, EU and Australian citizens. These are valid for visitors staying within Kurdistan only and are not valid in other parts of Iraq.
Most nationalities require a visa. A 30-day tourist visa is available on arrival at Antananarivo airport.
Tourist visas are required in advance and are applied for in two stages. Initially, an application is sent to Pyongyang in North Korea. Secret Compass will have to submit your application and will request the relevant documents from you when the time comes. This process can only start within four months of your proposed travel date. Once approved, a confirmation number will be sent to your nominated embassy or consulate. You will then be required to submit your passport and application forms to the embassy to have your visa affixed.
Journalists or professional photographers will not be granted this visa. Our North Korea: Into the Secret State expedition starts and ends in Beijing so you may also need a Chinese visa, see above.
British nationals do not require a visa for stays of less than 90 days but must have a return or onward ticket and the equivalent of US$500 or a credit card.
Russia: Far East (for Kamchatka expedition)
Most nationalities require a tourist visa. Our local partners will arrange a tourist/hotel voucher which you can then use to apply for your Russian visa. We will need to know your dates and location of entry into/ exit from Russia and any other cities you are visiting outside of our Kamchatka expedition itinerary. British nationals must submit biometric data on application so you will need to go in person to the visa processing centre ((Russian visa services are outsourced to VFS Global and aren’t dealt with by the embassies themselves). During busy periods, the application centre may refuse to issue visas more than three months in advance of travel.
Russia: Siberia (for Nenets expedition)
Most nationalities require a tourist visa. This is a two-stage process. First you apply online for what is called a tourist/ hotel voucher. You then use this document to apply for your Russian visa. British nationals must submit biometric data on application so you will need to go in person to the visa processing centre. During busy periods, the application centre may refuse to issue visas more than three months in advance of travel. Russian visa services are outsourced to VFS Global and aren’t dealt with by the embassies themselves.
For the Yamal Peninsula permit, Secret Compass will issue separate instructions alongside your Travel Instructions and will apply for this additional permit on your behalf.
For our DRC: The Volcanoes of Virunga expedition (see above), you will also need a multiple-entry Rwandan visa for the expedition begins and ends in Rwanda. This visa is obtainable on arrival for British, Australian, German, Israeli, New Zealand, South African, Swedish and US citizens.
Tajikistan (for Afghanistan expedition)
A Tajik visa is needed for our Wakhan Corridor expedition. You should apply for a 30-day double-entry tourist visa with GBAO permit. Secret Compass will supply a covering letter and outline itinerary to support your application. If required, you can use visa assistance agencies to apply for your Tajikistan and Afghanistan visas consecutively.
Check your visa stamps or papers
Always check the dates and specifics on visas stamped into your passport or permits provided in written form to ensure you get what you wanted and what you paid for. Secret Compass has had teammates on its Wakhan Corridor trek who had requested and paid for a double-entry Tajik visa but whose passports were returned from the embassy with a single entry visa, meaning they would not be able to exit Afghanistan back into Tajikistan at the end of the expedition. Embassies make mistakes: it is your responsibility to ensure that your visas are correct prior to joining the team in country.
Visa issues at borders
While Secret Compass will do all it can prior to departure to help get you the correct visa information in a clear and timely manner (letting you know of any changes as we become aware of them) any visa-related issues which prevent you from joining the expedition team on which you are booked are your responsibility. If you know you are going to a challenging destination then keep an eye on embassy and FCO websites to keep ahead of the game and, where possible, give yourself enough time to factor in unexpected changes. This information was correct at the time of writing (see top of page) and will be updated periodically.