Bureaucracy is a hassle, but it shouldn't stop you from seeing the world. That's why we've compiled a list of places—some more surprising than others—that require serious planning to visit. Read this before you book your next flight.
Why Go: Many a bucket list includes walking on the Great Wall, embracing history at the Forbidden City, gasping at the Terra Cotta Warriors, and exploring glorious Shanghai.
Why It's Complicated: China is not unfamiliar with American visitors, so its visa process is pretty straightforward but makes the list for both the detail required on the application—expanded in January 2011 from two pages to four—and a steep $130 fee.
What to Do: According to Habimana, you need to list where you'll be staying in a time sequence, your nationality and occupation, all your major family members along with their nationality and occupation, and any countries you've visited in the past year (plus the purpose of those visits). Mailing your application is out of the question. Either you or your visa rep (defined as "someone else or a travel/visa agent") need to drop off your application at the embassy or consulate that holds jurisdiction over the state where you live. There are six consulates in the U.S. (you can find them on the embassy's website) and some are more convenient than others (if you live in Wyoming or Montana, for example, you'll need to travel to D.C. to hand over your application). Special permits are also required if you want to go to certain regions, such as Tibet and other remote areas. While the processing time is only four working days, the visa application will be rejected if not filled out correctly online.
Why Go: Rio de Janeiro being named site of the 2016 Olympics and the Christ the Redeemer Statue making the list of New 7 Wonders of the World have helped boost Brazil's status as a must-do tourism destination—as if the giant party that is Carnival in Rio, the rain forests of the Amazon, and the amazing Iguazú Falls weren't enough.
Why It's Complicated: When it comes to visas, Brazil has a process made confusing by the fact that each of its consular and visa-services offices around the U.S. can set their own rules (you have to go to the office that covers the jurisdiction where you live—the list is on the embassy's website). For instance, the Los Angeles office, according Habimana, has been known to ask married travelers making a solo trip to São Paulo to provide a letter from their spouse saying it's OK for them to make the journey. That rule doesn't apply in Atlanta, but the Atlanta office is known as one of the slowest—Habimana has seen visa processing take up to 24 working days there.
What to Do: First, call your consular office to find out what their specific requirements are for procuring a visa. Then give yourself at least a month to go through the process. The Brazilian visa is also among the priciest—$140, plus $20 if you don't present your application in person.
Why Go: Trekking the stunningly beautiful Himalayas in Bhutan might sound like a dream come true—the country's marketing slogan is "Happiness is a place"—but the process for getting there is pretty involved.
Why It's Complicated: You need to go through a licensed tour agency in Bhutan, and among other things you need to prove you can afford to visit—all visitors commit to spending a set daily minimum amount, currently $200. This money goes toward accommodations, food, transportation, the overseas-agent commission, and guide services (a requirement for Bhutan). Note: On January 1, the rates are going up to $250 (for March to May, September to November) and $200 (for January, February, June to August, December). There are additional surcharges if you are traveling solo ($40 per day) or as a couple ($30 per person per day).
What to Do: Find a licensed tour agency that will work with you to organize your trip and obtain your visa—there is a directory at the Tourism Council of Bhutan website. Once approved, you don't get a visa stamp until you arrive in the country and pay $20.
Consider a Visa Service
For some countries, it may be easier to get your visa via a service such as VisaHQ, though of course a fee is involved (prices usually start at around $45). Here are the main reasons to consider professional help:
1. If you don't live in a city with an embassy or a consulate, the service will represent you so that you don't have to travel to the embassy or consulate yourself.
2. Some visa-service professionals provide real-time updates, sending you reassuring messages that your passport is in proper hands and the like.
3. Once your paperwork is ready, they have people who speak the language who can review the documents and make sure everything is in order.
4. Visa services are very knowledgeable about country-specific quirks, such as special holidays when embassies and consulates close (for example, the Indian consulates close for Dussehra), and that some countries including Iran and Saudi Arabia won't admit you if you have an Israeli stamp (requiring you to get a second U.S. passport without a stamp).