I’m 60+ years old, so for 20+ years of my life I somehow managed to do research for my travels without the benefit of the Internet. To be honest, I really don’t know how I managed. I remember a lot of letter writing, phone calls and in person appearances to organize visas… but 20 years on it’s nothing more than a vague recollection.
Of course when I was a much younger man, when I traveled I just went without much planning at all. I dealt with the visa issues in stride most of the time, or just gave up visiting a country that made it too difficult.
Anyway, nowadays there is the Internet and life is so much easier. Through a combination of Wikipedia, Canadian traveler advice sites, and the official website of various embassies, I now know which countries I need visas for, and if those visas can be gotten at a point of entry or need to be applied for ahead of time… meaning through a foreign consulate or embassy within Canada.
What I learned is that a holder of a Canadian passport can visit 170 countries and territories visa-free, or with a visa that can be arranged on arrival at the port of entry. Canada is currently ranked number 4 in the would in terms of travel freedom.
Another planning issue I have to take into account is that my new passport has 36 pages, but only 29 are for visas and passport control stamps. Most entry visas use an entire page. Additional pages can be added at a Canadian Embassy anywhere, but my personal experience is that to go this route is to invite problems at points of entry. Few travelers need additional pages added to a passport. In my entire life I have met only one other person, a woman, with a passport that had pages added. Her experiences were much the as mine were, delays at best, detention at worst until the matter could be sorted out. So passport control agents can be forgiven for being suspicious when you hand them what may be the first passport they’ve ever seen with added pages.
The other solution is to apply for an additional passport, retaining the old one to have the unexpired visas at hand. This has actually been a common practice because some countries, such as the USA, will issue multi-entry visas with a ten year expiration. In a passport that expires in less than the term of the visa, keeping the old, cancelled passport is common practice. The top corner is cut off the cover and all of the pages to denote it is expired but contains unexpired entry visas. If needed, this is the way to go. However, even this can cause a passport control officer, especially one new to the job or one stationed at a remote entry point, to become suspicious. The best plan it to limit the number of entry visas to no more than 10 to 15, leaving blank pages for entry and exit stamps. Remember, it is at the discretion of a passport control office if you are going to be permitted to enter his or her country. If he or she can not find a place to affix an entry stamp, you may be refused entry.
I now have to make a decision as to whether or not those countries that insist on Canadian passport holders having an entry visa prior to arrival are worth visiting. Also of consideration is if the visa requirements and restrictions are going to work for me. For example, if I have to decide on the exact dates I’ll enter and leave, and it will be months away before I get there, I may have to pass. When travelling for a two week vacation, delays and complications can arise. When travelling for extended periods of time there are constant delays, changes of plans that are either done willingly or forces upon one by circumstance, changes of visa policies or entire government regimes, and so on. Thus it can be impossible to accurately determine when you’ll be entering or leaving a country for a visit, or just in transit. I was detained once with an expired transit visa because of a delay, and once because a delayed flight resulted in me being inside Russia with an expired visa. Such issues are always sorted out, but time is wasted doing so, and not spent in any sort of comfort that would make it worthwhile.
Here is what I learned about those countries that require Canadians to have a visa issued prior to arrival…
Afghanistan: Canadians are required to have a visa to enter Afghanistan. Even though I have always wanted to visit this country, with the political situation dicey and the risk level as high as it is, I’m going to pass this time. At least as things stand now.
Algeria: Canadians are required to have a visa to enter Algeria. I can not see visiting North Africa without visiting Algeria, so this is one I’ll have to get. So, one page of the 29 pages in my new passport for visas and stamps is already accounted for.
Angola: Another country I will pass on unless I can secure a visa at an Angola consulate or embassy abroad… and I have space left in my passport.
Azerbaijan: I met a wonderful Azerbaijan family in Russia and promised to visit their expanded family if ever I was in Azerbaijan. I owe them this because of the circumstances of our meeting. I was staying at Beta Hotel in Moscow, which is one tower of 5 constructed during socialist times. It is where I prefer to stay whenever I’m in Moscow, or one of the sister towers. The reason is because there is the most fantastic open air bazaar nearby where you can find literally anything imaginable, and along the river are kiosks with foods from every country that was once part of the CCCP. I was in the company of a couple of young ladies from Uzbekistan who were staying in the same hotel when I stopped to eat. My Russian is limited to greetings, yes, no, thank you, etc., so one of the ladies ordered. Azerbaijan custom is to keep the tea following, and our host’s wife did just that. Finally I wanted to stop the flow of tea and attempted to say “for me, no thank you”. In Russian this is нет, спасибо, both words I know. Unfortunately I placed them in the wrong order and with my poor pronunciation it sounded like Russian slang for “give me oral sex”. I have never been in a restaurant that got so quiet, so fast. I looked from the horrified face of my hostess to the equally horrified faces of my two companions. It was quickly explained to me what I had said and that I had dishonored the wife of my host, and as an Azerbaijani, the dishonor dictated that he kill me. Thank God I was with two very clever ladies who quickly explained what I intended to say, that no disrespect was intended, and that I was very sorry that I can not speak Russian, making the entire incident my fault. Anyway, with a 300 Ruble tip and a replacement, male, server, all was good. I continuously ate at the same kiosk and became friends with the father and his tree sons. Of course I never saw another female member of the family for the rest of my stay. I promised to visit his family if I ever get to Azerbaijan. I would very much like to fulfill that promise, so a second page of my passport as been committed to an Azerbaijan visa.
Belarus: I have never been to Belarus but swore to myself if I ever go back to Russia I will do so. Another page claimed, leaving only 26 to go.
Benin: Canadians need a visa to enter Benin. Going to have to think about this one.
Bhutan: Another destination Canadians need a visa to enter, and another I will have to put aside until the last before I make a decision.
Brazil: Canadians need an entry visa for Brazil, but it it a not somewhere to miss visiting when in South America, so for sure another page of my passport is spoken for.
Cameroon: Canadians need an entry visa, but as beautiful and magical as Cameroon is, I will have to decide later as to whether a visit is in the cards or not.
Central African Republic: At the moment this in a destination I have to pass on because of the current strife and political upheaval. I’ll keep an eye on the situation though.
Chad: If at all possible I would like to visit Chad for the first time. But applying for a visa will have to wait until much closer to the date I would arrive. In Chad too much changes and does so quickly to make a call months in advance.
China: It is possible to make a 72-hours visa free visit to China when in transit at Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Chengdu, Chongqing, Dalian and Shenyang. I have used this visa before when I arranged a stop-over in Shanghai and probably will do the same this time around. But there is no way the entire country of China can be visited without a visa allowing a stay of at least 30 days. It’s just too big a country with too much to see and do to rush through. Another empty page of my passport is gone.
Republic of the Congo: Depending on what I can confirm in the way of things to see and do this is a maybe.
Democratic Republic of the Congo: Again, depending on what I can confirm to see and do this is a maybe.
Côte d’Ivoire: A strong possibility, but another visa application that has to wait until closer to the day I would want to arrive, and then only if I have pages available for another full page visa
Cuba: According to the rules a Tourist Card is required. However, I have been to Cuba twice already and whatever I needed I got at the airport on arrival. I remember being issued a card that was to remain in my passport, so I assume that was the Tourist Card. I’ll have to confirm before I go there again. Cuba entry is only a stamp, exiting too.
Equatorial Guinea: Another maybe that I will decide on later in the game.
Eritrea: If I go to Ethiopia I would want to visit Eritrea too, so another page is gone. This leaves only 23 pages, so I am afraid Eritrea is be a destination on the maybe list.
Gabon: Another maybe that I will decide on later.
Ghana: An interesting destination, but one I’ll decide on later.
Guinea: A maybe as well, but high on the maybe list.
India: No way am I going to travel around the world and not spend time in India. Fortunately India issues visas that are for a period of time, not specific dates of entry and departure. So before departure I will get a visa for 6 months, a year if at all possible. Another page claimed, which puts me at a firm 23 remaining.
Iran: Seriously doubt a visit to Iran is in the cards unless events unfold in such a way as to assure I will not find myself in a war zone. Been there, done that… twice, and have no intention of doing so again.
Iraq: It’s not surprising that one of the hottest zone on the planet requires a visa. However, what is surprising is that a visa for 15 days can be arranged on arrival at Erbil and Sulaymaniyah airports. I have to think about visiting Iraq though. First, just before going for a couple of weeks I need to know what the current situation is. Secondly, what the Hell happens if a Canadian arrives at Erbil and Sulaymaniyah airports and is refused a visa?
North Korea: Not likely to be a destination I’ll add to the list unless things cool off a lot.
Mauritania: Most likely, but I’ll decide later.
Mongolia: This is a country I have had on my bucket list for decades, so it’s a destination to be visited for sure. Another page gone.
Myanmar: If you’re someone who believes the media tripe that Myanmar is one of those closed off, secretive nations where visitors are unwelcome I feel sorry for you. Believing propaganda must make the world seem like such a scary place. The fact is, in the country formerly known a Burma, it’s possible to get a visa on arrival that’s good for 28 days, as long you are traveling from Siem Reap, Cambodia, Guangzhou, in the People’s Republic of China, or Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia. You also need to be inbound aboard an International Airline Of Myanmar (MAI) flight. Otherwise a visa can be obtained online. Does that sound like a closed off country, seriously?
Nigeria: Maybe… but a weak maybe.
Pakistan: I can appreciate why Canadians are required to have a visa to enter Pakistan. We require Pakistanis to have a visa to enter Canada, so turn around is far play. However, visa or not, Pakistan is a land of wonders no one should miss visiting. That said, the political situation and religious based violence is going to have to be monitored. The problem being a Canadian is that we look, speak, dress and sometimes act like Americans. Considering the USA has struck the country repeatedly with drone missiles that killed hundreds, some say thousands of innocent men, women and children, a case of mistaken identity could prove dangerous.
Russia: I have been to Russia 3 times already and I love it there. The people, their culture, the sights to see and the fun to be had make it a must see again. In fact, I love Russia so much at one point in my life I was seriously considering living there permanently as an expat. It is possible to get a 72 hour visa on arrival in Kaliningrad if travelling as part of a tour group, organized by an authorized travel agent. “Authorized” means a travel agent approved by Intourist, not a licensed travel agent from another country. I have contacts, people I consider friends, who are travel agents but to be able to properly see all that Russia has to offer a longer term visa is required. I will have to talk to the Russian Embassy in Ottawa Canada, or communicate directly with Intourist in Russia to arrange something workable.
Rwanda: Most likely not.
São Tomé and Príncipe: A visa is required for Canadian passport holders, but one can be obtained online. No problem here!
Saudi Arabia: Canadians needing a visa to visit Saudi Arabia seems weird, but I would like to do so. Another page needed for an entry visa
Sierra Leone: Maybe.
Somalia: Highly unlikely will I waste one of my already dwindling number of passport pages to go to a country that is still a shaky destination at the most kind of descriptions.
South Sudan: Maybe.
Syria: Up until very recently I would have said yes to an opportunity to visit Syria. Now, the chance is minimal to none.
Turkmenistan: I would like to visit Uzbekistan again, and Turkmenistan is next door and just as interesting as any in the region. It’s far poorer though, and of course that means the criminal element is larger. Plus Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are not the best of friends. It sometimes happens with global relationships, having a visa for one country excludes enjoying a friendly welcome at another. I will have to think about this one.
Uzbekistan: I have already been to Uzbekistan but there are people there I would every much like to visit again, so another page of my passport is gone.
Vietnam: Absolutely I will want to visit Vietnam if I’m in Cambodia, Laos and Thailand, which I will be. So another free page in my passport is no more.
Yemen: Maybe, but unlikely unless the political and civil situation becomes more inviting.
With just the confirmed visas here there are only 17 pages left in my passport for stamps. Many countries do not stamp passports, but enough do that 17 pages is not a lot on a worldwide journey. I wouldn’t want to drop below 15 pages for stamps, so I have a couple of pages left but a half dozen countries to make a final decision on. Plus there are the overseas possessions and protectorates below, some of which I would very much want to visit. Most issue documents or use stamps, but a couple issue visas, which means more passport pages gobbled up.
SPECIAL SITUATIONS: Visa requirements for Canadian citizens visiting various territories, disputed areas and restricted zones are entirely separate from visas to enter countries. Do not assume that just because you have a visa for a country that you can roam everywhere within that country’s boarders, or enter any of their overseas possessions and protectorates. Doing so can get you in trouble, I know from personal experience. Ironically, our southern neighbor is one of the most picky when it comes to allowing Canadians the freedom to enter USA overseas possessions. Virtually all require some formal form of permission to visit.
Abkhazia, Republic of: This is a disputed territory on the eastern coast of the Black Sea and the south-western flank of the Caucasus. Abkhazia considers itself to be an independent state, the Republic of Abkhazia. However, this self proclaimed status is only recognised by Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Nauru, Tuvalu and a few non recognized states. The Georgian government and the governments of over 190 other countries consider Abkhazia to be part of Georgia, even though Georgia is not in control of it. Canadians do not need a visa to visit Georgia for a stay of as long as 360 days, so if I’m going to visit the Republic of Abkhazia if would be after leaving Georgia. I doubt having a Republic of Abkhazia visa in my passport would sit well with a Georgian passport control officer considering the political environment.
American Samoa: A visa, actually more of an entry permit, is required. Not going to bother, at least not on this trek.
Antarctica: Special permits are required regardless of which of the many territories and islands are to be visited on the continent. This is mostly to protect the unique environment and wildlife, not to monitor who visits this frozen wasteland. However, being a Canadian I have little interest in visiting a place that’s frozen over. That is what I’m trying to get away from, so I’ll not bother applying for permits.
Ascension Island: An Entry Permit is required, and it has to be obtained minimum 28 days in advance of arrival.
Ashmore and Cartier Islands: A special authorisation for Canadians is required. I will look into this while in Australia.
Asmara: This is one of those quirky visa situations that once caused me some problems. To visit Asmara, which is within Eritrea, a country which Canadians need a visa to enter, a separate visa is required to transit through Eritrea. This places a question mark on Asmara. Seems like more trouble than it will be worth, at least for this world trek.
British Indian Ocean Territory: You’d think a Canadian, being a member of the British Commonwealth nation, would have free entry. Nope, a special permit is required by Canadians to enter the British Indian Ocean Territory. I would be pointless to plan to hop around the Indian Ocean without visiting any country within the British Indian Ocean Territory, so complying is going to be necessary.
Clipperton Island: A special permit is required to enter this French territory. However, since it is a tiny, uninhabited island I doubt I’ll bother.
Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Province: An autonomous, mountainous province in the east of Tajikistan, which Canadians need a visa to enter. However, an OIVR permit is required to enter Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Province, as is another special permit to visit Lake Sarez.
Jan Mayen: A permit issued by the local police is required for stays less than 24 hours. No problem there. But for longer stays a permit issued by the Norwegian police is required. To the best of my knowledge, the longer stay permit is not issued on arrival. It has to be applied for in advance. Jan Mayen is obviously going to be an in and out visit, probably via ferry or cruise ship… if at all.
Mount Athos: A special permit is required to visit this Greek World Heritage Site, that is also an autonomous polity in the Hellenic Republic. There’s a quota placed on the number and origin of visitors. The quota is a maximum of 100 Orthodox and 10 non-Orthodox persons per day, and women are not allowed. Any place with daily visitor quotas is too iffy to bother with.
Nagorno-Karabakh Republic: A visa is required, and are issued for single entry and good for 21 days, or 1,2 or 3 months, or multiple entry visa for 1, 2 or 3 months. However, there is a serious catch. Travelers with an expired or valid Nagorno-Karabakhor visa in their passport, or even Nagorno-Karabakh stamps will be permanently denied entry to Azerbaijan. So, if I want to visit Azerbaijan I will not be able to visit the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. Both are interesting places, so I will first try to get a visa to Azerbaijan. If that fails, which I doubt it will, then, and only then, would I apply for a visa to enter Nagorno-Karabakh Republic,
South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands: A permit from the Commissioner is required to say 72 hours or for a month. It is not clear if that is from 72 hours up to a month, or if there is a 72 hour permit and a one month permit. Regardless, a permit must be applied for pre-arrival. Another island hop that has to be weighed against time and logistics as to whether a visit is even possible.
Tristan da Cunha: Permission to land required. I am assuming this is for yachts and ships but that was how I would arrive. So I will have to look into what is entailed before boarding. Another destination that I may have to pass on simply because it’s logistically too difficult to visit.
United States Minor Outlying Islands: Typical of USA protectorates, special permits are required by all non US citizens to visit Baker Island, Howland Island, Jarvis Island, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef, Midway Atoll, Palmyra Atoll and Wake Island. The hoops to jump though hardly make the effort worthwhile since there is little to see or do on any of these islands.
It’s pretty much a given that an entry visa that is affixed to a passport will occupy and entire page. I double check though by referring to websites like servisum.de just to make sure. Plus it is vital to have each line of a visa explained in English, which these types of websites do. There’s nothing more inconvenient than showing up at a point of entry and presenting your passport to an office who’s having a bad day, and your visa has incorrect information included. Catch it when issued and you save yourself a lot of grief.