What it’s like to be a traveler from a 2nd world country: Visas Issues

posted on June 27th 2014 in Blog & Visa Advice with 30 Comments

Visa Advice

When I was a kid, all I wanted was to grow up faster and travel around the world. I’ve stared at the map hanging over my table for hours and circled cities I’d wanted to see. Eventually, the map was all painted in different colors as there were way too many circles.

I thought all I need to is to become an adult, make money – I wasn’t sure yet if I’d wanted to become a ballerina or a stockbroker – and embark on the RTW trip.

All so simple

Finally growing up and getting a decent-paid job when I was 19 and still in University, I managed to save enough money and learned that traveling the world is a bit more complicated than I’ve imagined when I was 7.

The thing is, I come from Kyiv, Ukraine in case you didn’t know that about me yet –  a 2nd world country, still developing and trying to become part of European Union one day. There are visas and other restrictions that won’t allow me to travel wherever and whenever I want.

Working and holidaying in Australia or New Zealand, roaming for months around Europe and living in whichever city I wish, scoring frequent flyers miles from credit cards sign ups may not be the option for me….but I still manage to live the life I’ve wanted – of travels and endless exploring. I believe you can do it too! 

global passport

Can I have two, please?

Besides, there are a lot of travelers from all over the globe who manage to travel despite their passport curses like DJ from Dream Euro Trip, Savi and Vid from Bruised Passports and Vikram with Ishwinder from Empty Rucksack Travelers who nailed the art of getting visas living abroad long term and feeding the wanderlust passion with new and new destinations. 

I hope this post will inspire travelers like me and pretty much everyone from non-Western countries to finally start living the life you really want – full of travel and wanderlust.

The Visas

If you come from somewhere outside EU, United States, Canada, UK, Australian or New Zelanad, You need to get a visa to pretty much everywhere.

[Check out this infographic for more details – How Powerful Is Your Passport?]

And by getting a visa I mean not just showing up at the passport control at the airport,  paying a visa fee and having a stamp smashed in your passport, but of a twisted, complicated procedure that includes compiling piles of documents, getting them all the Embassy and waiting at least a week  for the results.

There are visa-friendly regions like South East Asia, Middle East, Africa, Island Countries and most of South America who would issue you a monthly visa with no questions asked. Just bring your passport, pay the fee and show some bookings paid or not.

Indonesia – super visa-friendly! 

Schengen States visas are way trickier to get!  Talking of tourists visas for a 90 days max stay each six month.

You need to present quite a bunch of documents including, but not limited to:

– A bank account statement with all the transactions for 3-6 month and balance that will cover your trip of 60 euro min. a day excluding your accommodation costs. Okay that’s 8000 euro for a 3 month trip. Anyone ever spent THAT much?!

– A letterhead from your employer stating that you are allowed to go on vacation and that your workplace will be kept. Plus your monthly salary and preferably yearly income indicated too.

– Booked and often fully prepaid hotel reservations + conformations from hotels, sent by fax and on special blanks that prove your payment + booked/paid air tickets.

– A medical insurance covering the whole period of your stay.

Plus application form filled in correctly and a few copies of some other documents.

You need to read the requirements of the specific country you’re applying to as the may differ slightly from state to state and follow them. Bring each and every document required.

Biggest Visa Issues

Visa rejection rates from some “unfriendly countries” are still high. If you are a single attractive woman in your twenties, without a trust fund or a sugar daddy, your application will get extra attention. You may be considered a potential illegal immigrant or that word starting from letter “W” that I find really offensive to write here.

Nope, you can’t just say that you’re going to Couchsurf or stay at spme friends’ place. House Sitting? There isn’t a special column in your application to explain that either.

In case you’d like to stay with your relatives or friends, one of them has to send you an special invitation stating that you will live at his place and he would take full responsibility of you returning home once your visa ends.

No to open itineraries. Still haven’t decided when are you going to fly back home? Duh, you ODD TO present a return ticket with a fixed date!

In case your visa’s refused, it’s all your problems of how you gonna charge back the bookings. Low cost and cheapest airfare are usually non-refundable. So does the visa fees Loads of money wasted.

I’m a freelancer. I do odd seasonal jobs. I’m an artist and sell artwork. How could I get a letter from an employer?

Full Proof Tips That Worked Out For Me

Passport

Try getting a visa from the friendliest/easiest country

For Ukrainians: that’s Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Spain. I believe a quick Google search will return a list for your country too.

These guys are often okay with non-paid bookings (that you can cancel afterwards) and non-paid plane tickets and are likely to issue you a visa for a longer period of time then you requested in the application form.

– Build up your visa karma.

Get an easy country short term visa, then get the next one, most probably it would be longer one. Apply to the same country Embassy a few times and you’re likely to get the max visa 180/360 days.

In case you already have visas from UK/USA/CA in your passport – your passport karma multiplies in ten times.

– Register as a private entrepreneur.

It solves the problem with working freelance and asking papers from your employer all the time. The bad thing – yeah you’ll have to fill in the tax declarations and pay taxes by yourself. (Total nightmare in Ukraine!)

– Try getting a visa in the neighboring country.

So, France issues longer visas valid for 1-5 years (though, you are still not allowed to stay longer than 90 days in half a year, but your visa is valid for 1-5 years. No need to make visa runs each other month) for Moscow and St. Petersburg applicants.

I came across news the other day where the Italy Embassy officials claim they don’t issue year-long visas (180/360) to anyone. They just don’t have this type of visa! And then one of the journalists shows a Russian passport with a yearlong visa issued by Moscow Embassy. F*chen double standards.

No one prohibits you from getting a visa in another country and there’s no need to be a citizen or resident.

– Provide extra documents that prove your intentions of returning home.

It could be something like providing documents on owning a car or an apartment.

I’ve read of some people who indicated that they are leaving one child at home and bring another one to the trip, just to prove the officials of their solid intentions to return.

How can you explain it to a kid that he has to stay with the granny when his sis is taken to eat gelato in Italy?

In 00s some EU embassies required you to check in when you return. In case you failed doing that in 3 days upon your return, you get to the blacklist a.k.a forbidden to enter any Schengen state for 5 years.

Some travelers were to leave cash deposit (a.k.a the deportation money) at the Embassy. It would have been returned back to you upon your arrival to Ukraine when you come to check in.

I’m happy it’s no longer true these days…

– Fight for your rights!

In case you got your visa refused, but you are 100% sure you did EVERYTHING correct and your intentions are crystal clear, be the angry traveler! 

Make a scene, demand to meet the council directly, issue an appellation request, write letters and make angry calls. Do whatever needed to get all the possible attention to your case.

My friend had a two-year work contract in Poland with a local University. She needed to renew her visa for the 2nd year and was denied for no apparent reason.

After making a huge scene and meeting the Polish Consul directly, she got her apology and a visa glued over the denial stamp.

It turned out she came on the wrong day, when a particular embassy employee had bad mood or whatever.

My documents (one copy of plane tickets for the 1st trip and hotel booking for the 2nd) didn’t make it to the Embassy and were lost by someone from the visa center where I applied. (And I pay these people 25 euros to pile up my papers!)

Unless, by some lucky chance, I’ve gotten a call directly from the Embassy official, I would be refused in my visa.

It is the people who make the final decision. Everyone can be wrong. Be persistent and take the courage to prove that!

Bad-ass visa advice*

*I don’t encourage anyone doing this. Use your common sense.

Try getting a journalist id card. 

No one likes bad publicity. Mention that somewhere in your application or try applying for a journalist visa directly. On a personal interview that may be held in some cases, mention that you are freelance writer, have a popular blog, appeared in New York Times, whatever. Oh and don’t forget to say how you love your home country!

You can write for a local mag or paper and jet ID from them or purchase a fake one.

– Enhance your credit card statement a bit.

The more money you have – the wider the doors will open in front of you. Yeah, everyone love rich holiday makers who leave a lot of cash and invest into the country’s economy. But what about young adults, twenty-something travelers and backpackers? I think 8000 euro for 3 month in Europe is a ridiculous amount of money!

So, lend cash, put it into your bank account, print the check, withdraw it and present the grand total to the officials.

Or transfer your savings to your primary account. Just try not to over-do that. As Polly’s and The Russky experience proved – a very large amount of money can draw unwanted attention and suspicions resulting into visa denial.

The Difficult Countries

I’d love to visit the United Kingdom so much!

London via Flickr 

– London?
– Yes, London. You know: fish, chips, cup ‘o tea, bad food, worse weather, Mary fucking Poppins… LONDON.
But you know what?
That’s not gonna happen any time soon!  The UK Embassy is one of the toughest and issue most visa denials for UA citizens.

My boyfriend even has one. An ugly stamp at the end of your passport, drawing attention of other embassies. He wanted to visit his relatives in Scotland; yet the Brits didn’t think it could be possible.

I’m planning to hit on Spain in July and I’d love to visit Gibraltar too:
– The only colony in Europe,
– The only place with monkeys in Europe
– And the only piece of land on the continent belonging to the Great Britain

11819137845_cb17d950e2_k

via Flickr

Even for a day trip I have to go to the British Embassy back in Ukraine, pay around 100 pounds visa fee and wonder if I’m getting a visa or not. Again, that’s a huge sum that I’m not ready to give it out for less than a 24 hour stay!

My advice for getting a UK visa

– Try enrolling for a conference and ask them for business invitation.

Au pair is popular in GB. So in case you love kids….

– Enroll to a summer school, language course; try landing an internship or search for other educational opportunities. But be ready to work your ass hard to prove how cool are you and write tons of motivational letters if you want to get a funded.

United States of A.

public-domain-images-free-stock-photos-high-quality-resolution-downloads-unsplash0068

These guys are really hardcore. Their application form is an endless list of  questions with some extremely weird screening questions like:

– Have you ever sold drugs?

– Do you belong to any terrorist organization?

(Yeah…sure. I’d be telling you all of this in case I ever did)

You are requested to present all sort of documents from birth certificate to college diploma, your yearly income, all taxes reports and so on. Get a personal appointment and go through an interview. That’s the most important as usually the person you talk to makes the final decision.

Do not be nervous, be ready to answer all sort of questions.

A fun (sort of) story happened with my Dad.  On the interview he was asked if he has a PhD.

– Yes, in Nuclear Physics, but I haven’t been working in the sphere for decades already.

– Please, provide us with full list of your academic papers published with proper references, a brief annotation of your thesis, all the people and projects you’ve worked with and so on….

His application has been scrutinized for a month, but he got his business visa eventually, yet for a shorter term that he originally requested.

My Advice for getting US visa

– Work and Travel Program.

Work as a waitress, on the assembly line, sorting fish in Alaska or selling ice-cream in LA for 3-4 month. Make enough money to pay off the ticket price, program fees, evening beers and a brand new IPhone. Probably, you’ll even have some money left to travel around the country a bit.

A lot of my friends did that back in college. It was fun and they did bring some cash home. Most of them didn’t travel a lot. Two-three days in New York and a few weekend trips around the city they’ve been working in.

Get an invitation from a US citizen (friend or relative) who will claim that he’s taking whole responsibilities for you to return home and will fund all your travel.

Or land a job within an American company back in your country. Work your ass hard up the corporate ladder and become a big boss who would be invited for business trips to the main office.  You could try becoming a programming ninja and your American customer may offer you a position in the States eventually. Some of my friends got job offers and moved to the Silicon Valley and Palo Alto. (But that’s actually more like advice on how to move to the United States).

– and there are plenty of grants and scholarships available for non-EU citizens, covering your tuition fees with minimal money left for living.

But again, it’s more work than play, but a great option to consider if you’re either interested in an academic career or simply would love to do the college thing one more time :)

And there countries left like Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Ireland who have their quirks too and won’t be eager to issue you a visa.

New Zealand, I'll get to you one day!

New Zealand, I’ll get to you one day!

Yet, there’s nothing impossible!

You can get a visa anywhere you want. 

Seriously, absolutely anywhere!

Just pick the right strategy, be persistent and follow the rules, no matter how unfair they may seem.

Did I skip any opportunities? Do you have something to add? Or would like to ask anything concerning visa application process? I’d be happy to help!

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  • Yeah. It is even harder for indonesian like me.
    Cuni Candrika recently posted…Pulau Harapan (Palsu)My Profile

  • OMG this is so true. I’m Filipino and will go to Spain. It’s harder for us belonging to the third world but hey ho, it’s nice to be able to realise that it’s hard for most people! LOL

    • Yep, all things visas are pretty complicated for people outside the EU/US, but it doesn’t mean we can’t travel or shouldn’t! Everything’s still possible and I bet you’ll have awesome times in Spain :)

  • Great post. Better visa options are another benefit citizens of the rich countries get. Japan and Singapore are also countries where citizens have great visa options.

    Malaysia is very high on the list, likely the highest non-rich country (unless maybe you consider Greece, non-rich) http://news.visato.com/visit-visa-2/henley-visa-restriction-index-top-100-countries-2013/20140103/
    John recently posted…Going Nomad in SE AsiaMy Profile

  • Oh yeah, this sounds all too familiar to me! I’ve been dealing with visas/work permits/study permits for the past 11 years. The good news is there seem to be many more countries now that let Russians travel visa-free. I imagine same for Ukrainians? The funny thing is that now that I have finally gotten my Canadian passport after 8 years of living in the country, I am not really using it. We went to Russia – I didn’t touch it. We are going to Argentina in December and again I will be traveling with my Russian passport because the entrance is visa-free and no fees applied. Canadians have to pay $90 as a reciprocity fee because the Canadian government is charging Argentinians when they come to visit… For Brazil Canadians need a visa, Russians don’t…. Basically, it sucks to have certain passports when it comes to traveling to Europe/UK/US/Canada/Australia/NZ. But there are so many more countries out there where we are good to go, maybe just stick to those for now? :)))

    • yeah, I’ve been thinking towards South America lately as a visa-free travel region as I can hang out in most countries for quite a while without a visa :)

      And dealing with long-term visas – yep, that kind of a hell here in France. The local bureaucracy is huge even comparing to Russia and Ukraine.

  • Thanks for sharing this, Elena! It’s important that those who get visa on arrival everywhere learn how to appreciate that privilege and understand how this doesn’t happen to everyone. But it also important (perhaps even more) to inspire other travelers in the same situation to understand that, despite the difficulties, it is indeed possible to travel and have a great time around the world… no matter where you come from! :)

    • Currently on a mission to do that :) I kind of hate that fact that a lot of people get discouraged be all these twisted visa procedures and endless requirements (that are actually not that scary and just a formal procedure you have to take) and opt for packaged tours and visa agencies who make 100% guarantees of getting your visa and rip you off for money eventually as they are not any sort of

  • Hey Elena,

    We couldn’t have said it better :) Good to see that you are not letting these limitations get in the way of your travelling. I wish things were easier for all of us, but well, I guess we just have to make the best of what we have.

    You have included some great (and some bad-ass ;-)) advice which is going to help a lot of people. Savi and I could write a thesis on this subject for this (applying for visas) is what we have been doing the last 6 years. We are both on our third passport booklet now :)

    Cheers and keep up the good work

    • Thanks guys! :) Yes, I do believe that one day the world would become a way more easier place to travel around for all of us! Visa issues are complicated and no one likes paper work, but that’s definitely shouldn’t be an excuse for not traveling at all!

      Third booklet – whoa! I’m just on my 2nd one for now :)

  • This is really great advice, I’m a US citizen, so I don’t come across many visa issues. Living in Brazil, many people are envious of how easy it is for me to travel! It’s nice to see you’re positive about the whole process, and at least there are countries you can visit visa free!

    • Thank you, Hannah. Trying to make a point that you can travel no matter which country issued your passport :)

  • Elena – you really opened my eyes here. As a US citizen, I knew I was pretty lucky to be able to just walk into most countries and get a visa on arrival – but I had no idea how difficult it was for others! Especially to get into the US. Great tips and advice! :)

    • Thank you, Katie! But hey, I still manage to travel a lot and probably will find my way to US and Canada somehow :)

  • Elena,This is a great article. And there is one thing we realised, that tourist visa rejections are no big deal. These visa rules make travelling difficult for us but that cannot be an excuse for not travelling, we have lost lots of money in visa applications but that hasn’t changed anything. We should travel the world and keep dying these myths. Sharing your article on our

    • Thank you, guys! I believe that you’ll get your visas for New Zealand and Australia soon, even despite the whole paper work. Would look forward to the posts at your blog about new adventures!

  • ~K

    I know visas can be difficult for people but I did not know it was that difficult. The UK, well I just think we are a bit crazy. Everytime I want to travel somewhere I’m always grateful and appreciate my UK passport more and more.

    Great post and I hope you can sneak your way into the UK at some point, us and our negativity!

    • Thank you, Kerri! I do understand why the UK is harsh with visas – a lot of people don’t follow the rules and try to stay illegally for years… Same with the French. Their policy of open doors failed a few years ago and they feel pretty concerned about any new people coming to stay long-term.

      But hey, I do think I’ll make it to UK at some point for sure! I can always try getting to a student exchange program :)

  • I didn’t realize how difficult it was for people to get visas. That must be crazy frustrating! But good for you for writing this post – I’m sure it’s going to be REALLY popular and helpful for others in a similar situation!

    • Thank you, Grace! Yeah, I really wish more people from all over the world could see it and finally realize that you still can travel and get visas wherever you want :)

  • I didn’t realise how hard it was to get a visa for some people! It must be frustrating when you just want to jump on a plane and travel!

    • Yes, some days that’s frustrating. But it;s pretty manageable :)

  • It’s so crazy for me to imagine this, as I have a Canadian passport that allows me to go pretty much anywhere without questions. My best friend is south african however and I knew she couldn’t visit Schengen countries while we were in the UK, but I never expected it to be that bad! Very interesting and I will for sure share it!

    • Thank you for sharing, Camila! Yeah, though I wish I could hope to the next Eurostar train and take a tour around London these weekends….but having a 2nd world country passport is a lame excuse for not traveling at all 😀 There are difficulties and loads of papers needed, but as I said, it all can be solved. Just make that effort.

  • This is so helpful! I’ll share this around!

    We have fingers crossed that now the Russky has an American visa that he’ll be able to get into Europe more easily. Plus, we do plan to go to a “Russian-friendly”; European country.

    • Thank you, Polly!
      Yep, I’m pretty sure he’ll get a visa this time. France has been super friendly lately and there are a lot of visa talks going on here http://forum.awd.ru/ :)

  • Uhm, wow, I didn’t know that Schengen requires so many papers and documents and that amount of money in your bank account. It’s crrrazy. Lithuania is a 2nd world country as well, but since we are a part of Schengen, we experience no problems travelling in Schengen territory or UK. And it explains why there are so many Belarusian people flying to other European countries from Lithuania – we are a “visa-friendly” country (which is not necessarily a good thing). I remember when I was younger (or a kid), it was pain in you-know-what to travel and stopping at every border, waiting in lines. Nowadays we also have e-visas for US but four or five years ago we didn’t and I had to go to an interview in the US embassy. Gosh, it was scary. But all went well. Thailand is pretty laid back with its visas too, as long as you pay for it :)
    I heard that China and the surrounding microscopic countries (also some African countries) are quite strict with their visas… mainly because the border officers want to be seen as tough and powerful (bribes are welcome though).
    Also, Gibraltar? Uhm, it’s a lovely place (and tiny), but so not worthy of 100 pounds. Wait couple of years, maybe the visa options and requirements for UA citizens will change.
    To finish this: have you been to Lithuania yet? Is it in your list somewhere? :)

    • Nope, not yet been to Lithuania, but I’d surely love to :) I’ve heard a lot of good things about Vilnius from my friends and my Mom been to Kaunas a few years ago. Liked the town a lot too.

      Most of the South East Asian countries don’t care much about your passport. Just pay the fee and spend your cash there. It gets tricky if you want to extend your visa and stay over 3 month. There are certain loops in their laws and yes, bribes are all so common, unfortunately.

      As for Africa, I guess the main point here is to have a medical insurance and vaccination list – some countries may refuse entering in case you don’t have that.

      I hope they will. The official in Kyiv are negotiating visa-free travel to EU till the end of 2014, but as you may heard, things are pretty complicated in Ukraine today, due to political problems…I really hope things will get better and will become part of EU in a few years, though there are so many things we need to fix before that.