I’m back in London at the moment planning my next round of data collection trips to Africa to the likes of Togo, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo so I thought I’d give an insight into how frustrating the visa application process can be.
Booking a trip taking in the countries mentioned is not a straightforward task and requires much pre-planning. Visiting visa-free countries makes trip planning a whole lot simpler but more often than not it is the ‘less simple’ countries I have to travel to. This is because on-the-ground research is invaluable in less-developed locations. It’s also an essential part of gaining an insight into what life is like for expatriates on assignment. Often there are very little up-to-date or accurate sources of information available for these developing nations and so going through the time-consuming visa application process is a necessary evil but also a key part of my role.
It’s not a case of booking a flight and hotel and then turning up at the airport. For some countries the planning process has to begin weeks in advance. My colleague, Rachel, is currently in the process of acquiring a visa for Angola and it’s proving to be a bit of a headache. Along with the standard application forms and photographs, various other documents are often required, from bank statements and letters from your employer to detailed itineraries and invitation letters from sponsoring companies in the destination country signed and approved by various ministries.
Fortunately, though, Rachel and I are both British passport holders and procurement of visas could be a whole lot worse if we weren’t. The global consulting firm Henley & Partners (www.henleyglobal.com) has recently compiled its Henley Visa Restrictions Index which ranks countries according to the travel freedom their citizens enjoy. Top of the list is Denmark, whose citizens can visit 169 out of 199 countries visa-free or with visa on arrival. Those with British passports can visit 167, with only Finland, Germany and Sweden ranked above, with 168. In fact, 15 of the top 20 are European nations, with the USA, Japan, New Zealand, Australia and Canada making up the other five. Bottom of the list is Afghanistan with only 26 countries accepting their citizens without a visa. Somalia, Iraq, Pakistan and Eritrea complete the bottom five on the list.
In South America it is Brazilians who enjoy the most freedom of travel, closely followed by Argentina, and in Africa top honours belong to the Seychelles, with Mauritius a close second. On mainland Africa it is unsurprisingly South Africans who fare best, followed by those native to The Gambia. Other notable mentions are Russia in 74th place, India in 145th and China in a lowly 172nd place, with only 41 countries welcoming Chinese nationals without a pre-arrival visa.
So I count myself lucky that I hold a British passport otherwise I’d be spending half of my time embassy hopping around London with reams of application forms and invitation letters in hand. Coincidentally I’m off next week to Togo in West Africa which, as you can see on this world map showing visa requirements for British nationals (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/aa/BritishVisaFree.png), is sitting all on its own on the southern coast of West Africa as one of very few African nations which accepts Brits without a pre-arrival visa. I will be reporting back from my visit next week and also, my colleague Rachel will be writing a guest blog for wanderingmark in the coming weeks reporting on her recent data collection trip to St Petersburg in Russia.