Our Best and Worst Visa Experiences

Thus far, we’ve been to about 35 countries in the past 15 months and of those, seven have required applying for visas. Some have been as simple as getting them at the border and others have been painstaking endeavors that tested the very limits of our sanity. Exaggeration – that is not! Sometimes it was our fault, sometimes it was theirs. Sometimes things went so smoothly there was no fault to be placed on either side. It was completely country dependent – which country we were in and which we were applying to visit. As I mentioned in our post about teaching English abroad, I will be doing so in Madrid soon which means I will be getting a Spanish visa. This is already not so simple as I have to apply in person. So I will be looking for cheap flights to Los Angeles once again to visit the Spanish embassy nearest my U.S. permanent address in Phoenix, much like we did for our French visas.

This seems ridiculous since I’m already in Spain, but having to fly to Los Angeles and then visit family in Phoenix doesn’t sound so bad. Actually, it’s super exciting! Anyway, all this visa talk has me thinking about past visa experiences and praying to the Spanish visa gods (I imagine them to look like the football players of Real Madrid) for a smooth process for Spain.


Visa On Arrival

The smoothest of all our travel experiences were the visas we received upon entry. The circumstances can vary depending on whether you’re arriving by land or by air and we took that into consideration. We arrived by air into Bole International Airport in Addis Abba, Ethiopia to receive our visa on arrival. According to the US Depart of State, it is the only airport in Ethiopia where this can be done and it is also not possible to receive a visa at land borders. However, we arrived by land into Turkey and purchased a sticker visa at the port of entry, but this could have also been done at the airport. We paid in cash for both and had no problems.

Best Visa Experiences

Other great experiences we had when submitting visa applications were for Ghana, Brazil and France. We were in Germany when we had to apply for the Ghana visa. So we just walked right up to the Ghanian embassy in Berlin without an appointment and filled out the necessary paperwork there. We brought our letter from the volunteer organization we were working with that was our official invitation and had passport photos ready. Three hours later our visas were in hand! For Brazil, we just applied at the embassy while we were traveling in Buenos Aires. This was a little more involved paperwork so we had everything prepared ahead of time from the guidelines online. A quick 24 hour turn around time was perfect and we were soon on our way to Iguazu Falls! Our French visa was the most involved, but once again we prepared everything in advance and had to apply in person to our nearest consulate which happened to be in Los Angeles. The turn around time was longer, but we received our visas about two weeks later when our passports were mailed back to us in Phoenix where we were visiting family. What we appreciated most about the French consulate in Los Angeles is that even though we had to provide more unforeseen documentation, they allowed us to email it to them later rather than having to go back in person again. It was pretty painless!


Worst Visa Experiences

It was during our travels to Asia that we encountered our two worst visa experiences. Firstly, we planned (and had flights already booked!) to travel to China. We were intending to spend a week or so in Beijing and at least one more city in China. Now, had we been applying in the States before we left to travel, I believe it would have been straightforward. But we were already backpacking through Europe and didn’t have time to apply back home. So we went to Chinese embassies in London, Berlin, and The Hague (The Netherlands) and failed every time! Mostly it was due to processing times. We just weren’t staying in the city long enough to wait two weeks to get our passports back. The closest we got was in The Hague when the lady helping us had accepted our applications, they were totally complete, and we had enough time to wait for the one week or so processing time. Then she double checked the dates that we would be heading to Beijing and cringed as she told us we were applying too early.


We just about lost it then. How is it too early? Isn’t early a good thing? She said, however, that the visa would be valid right away for 3 months. Our flight to Beijing wasn’t for 4 more months and therefore the visa would expire before we got there. We inquired if they could just post date the validity of the visa for the time we’d be there (which they did for our Ghanian visas so they wouldn’t expire before we arrived), but she insisted it had to be valid right away. That’s when we just gave up on China. We already had our flight to Beijing though so we had to book a flight for the same day from there to Hong Kong (a special administrative region of China not requiring a visa) and never stepped foot on official Chinese soil.


The Absolute Worst

The absolute worst experience was applying for our Indian visas at the Indian consulate in Accra, Ghana. We were there for a month volunteering and had plenty of time to wait for the processing times for our visa to India, where we were heading after Ghana and Ethiopia. We showed up to the Indian embassy on a Monday morning and were given hell for three days. I was even scolded for wearing shorts there the first day. They continually requested extra documents each day we went even though it didn't say anywhere online or in the consulate what they required. So we had to walk through a minimum security prison every time to go to a small print shop to retrieve the appropriate documents. The most ridiculous thing they requested was a letter from the volunteer organization in Ghana explaining why we were in Ghana even though we already had valid Ghanian visas and had worked with the Ghanian embassy on this! So we may or may not have forged the document because we were so irate and desperate to get this done (we did clear it with our organization before we submitted the document – if we did forge it, which again we may not have!).

Then on Wednesday, we headed back for a third time when the actual consular wanted to meet with us. We had planned to spend two weeks in India and two weeks in Nepal, but had to ultimately return to India for our next flight out of New Delhi. This would require a double entry visa for India since we would have to enter the country twice. He immediately denied us that since we didn’t have anything booked yet for Nepal. But we’d been booking on the fly and weren’t prepared to make those plans yet. Plus we were wary of booking flights in and out of Nepal in case we didn’t get the double entry visa. So it was kind of a catch 22 and we quickly let go of our dreams for Nepal. Just as long as we could get into India! Then he proceed to lecture me specifically on not having sufficient funds to travel in India. He literally wagged his finger in my face and said I need to have at least $100/day for India.

“$100 a day?” I thought in shock. I wanted to ask, “Have you ever been to India?”, but refrained because clearly this man was Indian.

Hostels were as low as US$4/night and train travel was totally affordable. How the hell would we blow $100 day in India? We knew we wouldn’t and that our funds were sufficient, but apparently this man did not understand budget travel.


The next thing he disliked about my application was my yellow fever vaccination. He said that although the date that I received it was written on my yellow international certificate of vaccination document, it did not indicate that that date was specifically for my yellow fever vaccination. First I pointed out that I didn't write it. The nurse did. It’s a medical document. I don't edit my medical documents whenever I please. Then I indicated that on this document, the area where the date is written for my vaccination is specifically labeled “International Certificate of Vaccination or Revaccination Against Yellow Fever”. That's probably why the nurse didn’t feel the need to note it a second time. He disagreed but let it slide after another lecture also adding that others would give me problems for this too.

No one else ever has.

In the end, we did get our applications accepted and returned a couple weeks later to pick up our visas. It was the most annoying visa experience EVER. Let’s hope getting my Spanish one will not be!

Have you ever had trouble getting a visa? What are your best and worst visa experiences? Share with us in the comments!

33 Comments on “Our Best and Worst Visa Experiences”

  1. Jeruen says:

    As I am a Philippine citizen, there are less countries that would allow me a visa-free or visa-on-arrival entry. I lived for 7 years in Buffalo, NY so whenever I needed a visa, I had to trek down to New York City (except for my long-term Canadian visa, as they had a consulate right in Buffalo). I always had my papers in order, so I never had any problems. I would just fly down (or bus or train), submit my papers together with a prepaid registered envelope, and they would send my passport back to me in Buffalo. I got my visas to Germany, Chile, Denmark, and the Czech Republic that way.

    One time, however, I had a huge problem. This was more a passport issue than a visa issue. I was applying for a Czech visa in NYC, so when I was at the Czech consulate, the officer was inspecting my passport, and somehow, my passport became defective in the sense that my photo became detached from my passport. I had to run to the Philippine consulate and request for a new passport (they were able to give me one within the day with rush processing) and run back to the Czech consulate that same day to beat the closing time, as I had a bus to take back to Buffalo that same night. Crazy, but I made it!

    1. Wow, so you are definitely familiar with the chaos that is applying for visas Jeruen! I can’t believe you were able to get a new Philippine passport that same day and make it back to the Czech consulate – that is so lucky. It can get frustrating when you really dont have the time to deal with all the complications of applying for a visa because the consulate you are visiting is way out of your way. Still, I wont lie… I am very grateful for an American passport because I do realize I don’t have to worry as much about visas as people of other nationalities do.

  2. jim says:

    I am applying for a tourist visa for Iran currently. Imagine the “fun” and “experiences” I will have on my journey- believe me I will have enough to write about in the blogs! ( wish me luck though!)

    1. I’m sure you’ll have plenty to write about. Just have every document you could possibly need ready on hand! Best of luck to you Jim!

  3. Tilmann says:

    I agree, you are at the mercy of the country you want to visit and at the mercy of the employees of the Consulate/Embassy of that country.
    Things can get a lot messier if you apply from a country other than your home country.
    Your reports on the Spanish and French Visa are a little bit misleading, You applied for a work visa – that is very different from a visitor visa. All the other visas you applied for were visitor (tourist) visas).
    All in all an interesting and well written report.
    I have gone through lots of visa applications!

    1. Tilmann, I’ve never qualified to apply for a work visa. Thus far, they have all been tourists visas – including the French visa. The Spanish visa I am about to apply for will be a student visa which is different than a tourist visa of course, but still not a work visa since I am not allowed to work in Spain other than teaching English. Nonetheless, the visa application process is relatively similar to previous ones I’ve done. We call it the “chicken dance” because like you say, we are at the mercy of the country we want to visit. They can request anything and it can get so exhausting!

  4. Jimmy Chong says:

    Best has to be Fiji… no visa, no worries, just come on in, we all make mistakes.. worst is the British, ask too many questions and speak to us as if it was rude of us to enter their country… the nerve!!!

    1. I totally know that feeling Jimmy. I hate when consulates act like they’re doing you this huge favor by letting you in to their glorious country. Just give me the visa so I can spend a few hundred dollars in your country – it’s a win win situation.

  5. I totally understand where you’re coming from but playing devil’s advocate, I must say that the consulates’ job is to ensure that their country doesn’t get swarmed by illegal immigrants or/and people who might be a threat to their economic/political stability. Visa-requirements are only abolished when there’s a clear economical interest for foreign currency (example: Belize just waived the visa requirement for Russia) or for creating political alliances (example: Argentinians can travel to Russia without a visa).

    Listen, if you think it was though for you to get an India visa…can you imagine the hell (and the money) an Indian citizen has to endure in order to get the CHANCE to obtain an US visa? Trust me, 8 out of 10 times they are refused AND they still have to pay the 140 USD of the application fee whether they get it or not.

    1. Auston Matta says:

      We realize they need to keep out illegal immigrants and questionable people. But we’ve had consulates who are just complete assholes, which is inexcusable. And yes, of course the US had a strict policy and I’m sure people have tough times getting a visitors visa from certain countries. I’m fine with the application process, but being a dick and completely unhelpful doesn’t do anyone any good except for creating ill feelings and hostility.

    2. Anna Jane says:

      Respect this suggestion to consider the consulate’s function, but I agree with Auston – one does not have to be a jerk about it. Some are better or worse than others. Some of the worse seem like they are on a power trip and just abusing authority.
      I’ve personally had a good experience with the US embassies, as they work professionally, so I can appreciate their strict requests and even sometimes harsh questioning as part of their screening process. I see and hear people getting denied visas from there, but when I listen closely, it is justified since they didn’t meet all requirements.
      Not saying that all embassies work well though – you may have encountered a terrible one.

  6. Zealdoc Cotton Mills says:

    i need a visa to the USA since am limited by law to operate gay activity in my country

    1. Auston Matta says:

      Ya that’s terrible. Which country are you from?

  7. What I can’t get over is that you needed to ‘walk through a minimum security prison to get to the print shop.’ Whaaaa? Surely that’s a post on its own! Great post.

    1. Auston Matta says:

      Yes it was nuts. The whole process was a nightmare! And the prison situation was just really confusing.

  8. Toploader says:

    It would seem that everywhere you go the Indian consulates are bad. It is truly shameful

    1. Auston Matta says:

      The truth is most consulates are quite difficult. But yes, some are worse than others!

  9. Haanim says:

    My husband and I are applying for Indian visas. It’s easy for me, I’m a Malaysian applying from Malaysia. But for him, it’s completely frustrating with already 4 visits to the ‘outsourced’ office for visas. The ‘travel agent’ next door charges RM50 extra so you don’t have to wait in mad lines. Plus my husband can only enter once even though he has 2 events to attend there next month. Also, all hotels and flights have to be confirmed before applying, when we don’t know if we’ll get the visa. And the ego-trips at the ‘outsource office’, jeez!!

    1. Haanim says:

      My point was, sorry, that I love visiting India and they have some great festivals. But I’m wondering if it’s worth it to go through this visa process, or even to send others there to visit festivals…

      1. Auston Matta says:

        Yes it’s definitely a trade off you need to consider. It’s a unique travel experience for sure but the cost and hassle of the visa is something to really think about.

  10. Emiley Carey says:

    My husband and I are in the process of getting our Italian Visas in place.
    If we have long term (360 days) tourist visas for Italy, do we also need a Schengen in order to roam about the Med coast? We are going to be traveling to France, Spain, and possibly Greece in a sailboat.

    1. Auston Matta says:

      Most likely your Italian visa allows you 90 days out of every 180 days to travel out of Italy. This is at least the case with French visa we had a year back. The best thing to do is email your consulate and ask them for the exact rules.

  11. krishna says:

    Hi, I am from India i have travelled lot of countries and trust me, I am yet to see any bad experience . But i know Indian foreign matters are very worst n they have not been changed since 1980’s. Even for us they treat bad at our own embassies or at airport immigration. The problem is we have a system where bureaucracy is above logic and common sense. For all you guys in India nay Govt. work officials will be giving u tips, lecturing u, ignoring you. We are used to this ….

    1. Auston Matta says:

      Yep…bureaucracy is a bitch. It’s pretty bad here in spain too.

  12. Hazel says:

    Indian visaS are the WORSTTTT EXPERIENCE !!!!

    1. dean says:


      1. Auston Matta says:

        Ya that sounds like a terrible experience. Luckily we were able to FINALLY get our Indian visa, though they only allowed single entry so totally ruined our plans to visit Nepal.

  13. Anna Jane says:

    Well, if that’s your “worst” visa experience, then I personally think you got it lucky. The “absolute worse” visa experience sounds more like the typical nonsense that I have to put up with as an Indonesian passport holder.
    – Note: this is often still after providing above and beyond documentation for all of the listed requirements.
    I had at least one case of when I was so put off by the embassies rude and unprofessional work – as well as threats the visa won’t be ready despite applying months in advance – that I seriously considered not going at all and withdrawing the application despite the hefty application fee. I was to be there only a few days, but the effort for the visa took months.
    It’s like some of these embassies think that our full time job is applying for visas – cause that’s the amount of time they expect applicants to waste.
    Anyway, appreciate the article you wrote – very relatable stuff – wish there was more.

  14. Zainab says:

    How were you able to get a visa appointment at the Indian Embassy in Ghana? Or did you just show up? There doesn’t seem to be any information on their website on how to book an appointment.
    The Indians were nice to ask you for additional documents and give you an opportunity (3 days) to provide it. The absolute worst visa experience is the Turkish Embassy in Ghana, they don’t tell you everything you need to know, they don’t give you a chance to provide additional documents, they don’t tell you how long the visa process will take (and on top of that, their visa process can take up to 2 or 3 months). If your ticket booking or travel insurance expires before their visa process is completed, you get an outward rejection, with no opportunity to rebook your ticket & hotel or reissue your travel insurance. Plus, they don’t give anyone an explanation or a note stating why your visa was not approved. Furthermore, after waiting for over a month to have your passport returned with no visa approval, you have to wait another 6 months before you are allowed to reapply. It was the absolute most traumatic experience. It certainly doesn’t make sense to reapply when one has no explanation as to why his/her visa wasn’t approved. I’m told that most people who want to travel to Turkey first get a visa to Spain or a Shengen visa and then use it to travel to Turkey, it’s much easier that way than directly applying for a Turkish visa.

  15. André F. says:

    Visiting 70+ countries I also found some difficulties, as a Brazilian I never really had issues with the US and Canada, but trust and believe me? I was refused entry into Barbados in 2009 due to “arriving from Jamaica”…. for them anyone arriving from Jamaica is already somehow guilty… so I was taken to a room, had ALLLLLL my things extra super hyper searched! and even body scan and stomach scan… but I was so stressed that I started arguing with the officer … because you know Brazilians don’t take sh**t home man…. so they refused me into the country and sent me to Guyana in south America! but in 2014 Barbados and Grenada were the last countries to be visited in my list in that region, and they let me in…. but it was scary they had my name in the system but could not tell what happened… obviously…. they were also very homophonic because I can be campy and flamboyant sometimes…. so the comments were obnoxious LOL. Refused visa? I would Pakistan and I can’t officialy tell the reason, but I assume they saw Indian stamps on my passport because I was turned down immediately, even didn’t pay the visa fee… and they just told me “you’re not ready for Pakistan, you can try in the future”. In the overall travelling with a brazilian passport is good, the caribbean gave me a hard tome, but the middle eastern countries always welcomed as a kiiiiinnnng… people claim that Brazil has one the bigest arab diasporas so we have a “good fame” over there….

    1. Pardeep says:

      Which is the best way to go for USA and get pr overther

  16. Pardeep says:

    I wanna to go usa

Leave a Reply