August’s Visa-Free Digest 2018

A comprehensive analysis of last month’s changes to visa-free travel across the globe.

Planning your next trip abroad? You will find this Visa-Free Digest especially helpful if you’re about to travel to or from these countries and territories:

EUROPENamed relevant territories: Greece; Vietnam; Belarus; China; Thailand; Ukraine; Serbia; European Parliament; Turkey; European Commission; Kosovo; Russia; Japan; Romania; United States
CARIBBEAN Named relevant territories: Caribbean Community (CARICOM); Haiti; Jamaica; Russia
MIDDLE EAST Named relevant territories: Israel; Cook Islands; Samoa; Tonga; United Arab Emirates; Russia; Qatar; Pakistan
ASIANamed relevant territories: Uzbekistan; China; Qatar; South Korea; Egypt; Taiwan; Brunei; Philippines; Thailand; Marshall Islands; Myanmar; Japan; South Korea; China; Hong Kong; Macao; Azerbaijan; United Arab Emirates
AFRICANamed relevant territories: Namibia; Jamaica

Check our July’s Visa-Free Digest for more updates.


Europe

On 2 July, Greece and Vietnam signed an agreement abolishing visa requirements for persons travelling on diplomatic passports issued by either of the two nations. Further discussions were held regarding collaboration in the shipping industry, as well as support for each other’s bid to become non-permanent members of the UN Security Council.

In early July, Belarus and China completed steps to ratify an agreement on visa-free travel for ordinary passport holders. The agreement encompasses trips of up to 30 days at a time, and of no more than 90 days in a year. The agreement, which was signed by Belarus and China on 10 June 2018, is due to come into force on 10 August 2018.

On 18 July, Belarus’ Ministry of Foreign affairs said it had sent Thailand a draft visa-free agreement, which was currently under consideration by the Thai Government. At present, there is a visa-free regime in place for holders of diplomatic or service passports from Belarus and Thailand.

On 24 July, Belarus changed its visa-free rules for visitors who enter and leave the country via Minsk National Airport. The rules, which previously allowed stays of up to five days, now allow multiple entries of up to 30 days.

They apply to citizens of more than 80 nations, including the members of the European Union, Canada, and the United States, but exclude anyone who is travelling to or from Russia. Visitors who want to make use of the visa-free regime must show a valid passport, enough money to cover their stay, and medical insurance worth at least €10,000.

Additionally, citizens from the Gambia, Haiti, India, Lebanon, Namibia, Samoa, and Vietnam may only enter visa-free if they have a multi-entry visa to any of the member states of the European Union or the Schengen Area, can demonstrate prior entry in one of these states, and have a return plane ticket showing exit from Belarus visa Minsk National Airport within 30 days of coming to the nation.

In late July, Belarus’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that visa-free travel will be made available to those who obtain tickets to the Minsk 2019 European Games. The visa-free regime will allow stays of up to 30 days, and can be taken advantage of by persons travelling within 10 days of the beginning and end of the Games, which will be held from 21 to 30 June 2019. Qualifying ticket holders travelling to Belarus from Russia will also be able to transit through Russia without having to apply for a visa.

On 3 July, the Ukraine and Serbia agreed to extend their mutual visa-free travel rights, allowing holders of ordinary passports to remain in each other’s territory for a period of up to 90 days. Previously, Ukrainians and Serbians had the right to remain in each other’s territories for 30 days only.

On 4 July, the European Parliament voted in favour of requiring that Turkey establish diplomatic ties with Cyprus, an EU member-state, prior to receiving visa-free travel rights to the Schengen Area. Turkey has refused to acknowledge the sovereignty of the Republic of Cyprus since the island’s de-facto division in 1974.

On 5 July, the European Parliament passed a regulation to implement the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS). Similar to the USA’s ESTA, ETIAS will apply to all those non-EU nationals who hold visa-free travel rights to the Schengen Area. It will require them to complete an online form asking for personal and travel information, and will cost €7 (except for minors and persons over 70).

Successful applicants will only need to reapply at 3-year intervals, or if their travel document expires beforehand. Prior to the coming into force of the regulation, which is expected for 2021, it must be approved by the Council of Ministers and published in the Official Journal.

On 18 July, the European Commission, headed by Jean-Paul Junker, announced that Kosovo had met all requirements for visa-free travel within the Schengen Area. The decision to liberalise travel for Kosovars now rests with the European Parliament and, in the second instance, with the European Council, headed by Donald Tusk.

On 6 July, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Yevgeny Ivanov, said that Russia was ready to discuss the implementation of a visa-free regime with Japan. “We are ready to work on an agreement on visa-free travel for short-term trips from our side,” he noted.

On 26 July, Nikolai Korolyov, Deputy Head of the Russian Federal Agency for Tourism, said that Russia and China were negotiating a visa-free regime for their citizens. “We have reached an understanding with China, and we will hold a few more working meetings on the issue, the more so since this is related to the activities of tourism regulators, and we will soon agree on the final document, which will be signed,” he noted.

On 28 July, the Russian Federation Council passed a bill extending the visa-free travel rights of those who had obtained such rights temporarily as part of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, held in Russia. The bill, which was passed by the Duma on 26 July 2018, must be signed by President Putin prior to becoming law.

The contents of the bill were first announced by President Putin on 15 July 2018, after the football final between France and Croatia, when he said: “I think we will do the following: for foreign fans who currently have fan IDs, we will give them multi-entry visa-free travel until the end of the year.”

On 19 July, Romania’s Finance Minister, Eugen Teodorovici, publicly asked the United States’ Ambassador to Romania, Hans Klemm, to support the cause of visa-free travel for Romanians. Although Romania is part of the European Union, unlike most EU nationals, Romanians are not included in the Visa Waiver Programme launched by the United States to streamline visits of up to 90 days.

Caribbean

A legal opinion by the Office of the General Counsel of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) stating that citizens of Haiti have the right to remain in the territories of other CARICOM member states for up to six months, together with Barbados’ June 2018 announcement that Haitians would no longer need a visa to enter the country, has caused debate in early July on whether visa-free entry should be granted to Haitians travelling across the CARICOM.

On 7 July, Jamaica announced the removal of visa requirements for citizens of Haiti transiting through Jamaica and holding visas to Canada, the Schengen Area, the United Kingdom, or the United States.

On 10 July, Jamaica and Russia published a draft agreement to extend Russian citizens’ rights to remain in Jamaica without a visa for up to 90 days in a year. The agreement has yet to be signed. Since 2013, Russians have been able to remain in Jamaica visa-free for up to 30 days in a year.

Middle East

In early July, Israel announced visa-free travel regimes for citizens of three island-nations in Oceania: the Cook Islands, Samoa, and Tonga. The Prime Minister of Samoa, Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi, said “As a God-fearing nation, it is also most fitting that every opportunity is afforded to our people to visit Israel which is the birth place and the roots of Christianity.”

On 6 July, the United Arab Emirates and Russia signed an agreement to eliminate visa requirements for their citizens. Russia’s Minister of Industry and Trade, Denis Manturov, said that Russia had already contributed to the UAE’s tourism sector, having doubled the number of visits to the United Arab Emirates from the previous year.

In late July, Qatar made changes to its travel policy for citizens of Pakistan. Under the new policy, Pakistanis can receive visas-on-arrival for up to 30 days of travel, so long as they show a passport with at least 6-months validity, a valid credit card, a return ticket, a hotel reservation, and a certificate evidencing vaccination against polio.

Asia

Beginning on 15 July, Uzbekistan implemented a five-day visa-free transit regime for citizens of 101 countries. The regime allows travellers who enter Uzbekistan via one of its airports to remain in the country so long as they can show an air ticket to a third country. Furthermore, the traveller’s air carrier must furnish the traveller’s passenger information to Uzbek authorities.

On 9 July, China and Qatar signed an agreement on the mutual exemption of visa requirements. The agreement follows a 2017 decision by Qatar to grant visa-free entry rights to citizens of 80 countries, including China.

In mid-July, a South Korean official announced that, beginning in October 2018, South Korea would put an end to visa-free travel rights for citizens of Egypt. Egyptians, who can currently travel to South Korea for a period of up to 90 days, have accounted for around half of the refugee applications lodged with South Korea for 2018.

A press release issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Taiwan on 12 July announced that the country had decided to extend its temporary visa-free travel regime for citizens of Brunei, the Philippines, and Thailand until 31 July 2019.

Persons taking advantage of the regime must hold ordinary passports with at least a 6-month validity, a return or onward ticket, hotel bookings or an address in Taiwan, proof of financial capability, and a clean criminal record. The regime allows visits of up to 14 days, and is part of Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy.

On 27 July, Taiwan and the Marshall Islands signed an agreement for visa-free short-term travel for holders of ordinary passports. The agreement was made together with a maritime patrol agreement, and is expected to deepen ties and increase maritime security. The Marshall Islands is one of six allies Taiwan holds in the Pacific.

In late July, Myanmar announced that, beginning 1 October 2018, it would implement a visa-free regime for citizens of Japan and South Korea, and a 30-day visa-on-arrival regime for citizens of China, including those living in Hong Kong and in Macao.

Visas-on-arrival will be issued at a cost of US$50 at Mandalay International Airport, Nay Pyi Taw International Airport, and Yangon International Airport. Additionally, all travellers, whether from Japan, South Korea, China, Hong Kong, or Macao, will need to show US$1,000 prior to entry. The two regimes are intended as a trial, and, unless extended, will expire after one year.

Beginning on 26 July, Azerbaijan launched a visa-on-arrival scheme for persons holding a valid residence ID from the United Arab Emirates. The scheme enables UAE residents, and not merely citizens, to remain in Azerbaijan for a period of up to one month, but those who choose to remain for more than 15 days must register with the State Migration Service. This Azerbaijani policy is similar to one adopted by Georgia, which allows UAE residents to remain in the country for 90 days.

Africa

On 5 July, the Cabinet of Namibia authorised visa-free travel for holders of ordinary, diplomatic, and official passports from Jamaica. Both Namibia and Jamaica approved the terms of the travel agreement on 23 July 2018. Thereunder, Jamaicans can travel to Namibia for a period of up to 90 days in a calendar year. Jamaica had already unilaterally lifted visa requirements for citizens of Namibia travelling to the island for a period of up to six months.