How to Apply for the Most Difficult Tourist Visa
As useful as a US passport is for visiting most of the world , it doesn’t give you easy access everywhere. Some countries have strict policies regarding who they let in, and getting a tourist visa to those countries can be nearly impossible – without the right approach.
If you are hoping to travel to countries such as Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, or other countries that are hard to reach for US citizens, you need to get a so-called Letter of Invitation (LOI) or Letter of Visa Support. These letters are provided by a sponsor – a resident, business, or government agency residing in the country you plan to visit. This may include family members who live there, locals you plan to stay with, tour groups, tour guides, the company you work for, the company that works with your company, or volunteer organizations.
The process may differ from country to country, but the basics are pretty simple. You request a letter of intent from a sponsor, they provide it (usually for a fee), you submit your letter of intent and visa application to the embassy, they review your documents; if all goes well, you will be issued a visa. For example, renowned travel writer and host Rick Steve explains the basics of obtaining a tourist visa to Russia :
“Visa invitations are usually issued by the hotel or tour operator … When you book a hotel room, ask the hotel to arrange the invitation as well (they usually charge $ 15-30). If you are visiting more than one city in Russia, ask if it is possible to include your entire trip in one invitation so that you do not have to receive invitations from every hotel. You can find online agencies willing to issue invitations for a fee, but stick to the agency recommended by your hotel. Don’t expect the invitation process to make sense; it seems (and is) bureaucratic. The organization that issues your invitation is legally responsible for you during your stay in Russia, but in practice you will never contact them. “
As a traveler, you are solely responsible for requesting an LOI and applying for a tourist visa through the appropriate channels. This means that if you want to see it all, you have to do your homework and be ready. Always check with the embassy of the country you wish to visit to get your ducks in a row. Failure to do so could seriously complicate your trip, cancel it entirely, or cause serious problems with foreign authorities.
Please be aware that the LOI request and tourist visa application process can take weeks, if not months. If you have plans to travel the world and make a stopover somewhere where US passports are not particularly needed, plan ahead. And even if you manage to get an LOI, there is still no guarantee that you will be granted a tourist visa (especially if you are a journalist or work in any other media field), but you are much more likely to do so. Good luck and happy travel!