December’s Visa-Free Digest 2019

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:

Andorra Guam Philippines
Argentina Hong Kong Poland
Armenia Hungary Qatar
Bangladesh India Romania
Belarus Iran San Marino
Bhutan Kazakhstan Sao Tome and Principe
Bulgaria Latvia Saudi Arabia
China Lithuania Serbia
Colombia Maldives Singapore
Cuba Malta South Africa
Cyprus Marshall Islands Taiwan
Estonia Mauritius Thailand
Ethiopia Morocco Ukraine
Equatorial Guinea Mongolia United Arab Emirates
Fiji New Zealand United States
Gambia Pakistan Uzbekistan
Ghana Papua New Guinea Vietnam


Named relevant countries: Estonia, Ukraine, Belarus, Armenia, Serbia, Mongolia, Russia, and Argentina.

On 3 November, Serbia’s new regime waiving visa requirements for citizens of Armenia came into force. The regime is unreciprocated, and only allows Armenians to travel to Serbia for a maximum of 90 days within a 180-day period. The regime was first announced by spokeswoman for Serbia’s Foreign Ministry, Anna Naghdalyan.


On 8 November, Ukraine and Mongolia signed a visa-free travel agreement. The signatories were Mongolia’s Ambassador to Poland and Ukraine, Bataa Nemekh, and Ukraine’s Ambassador to Poland, Andriy Deshchytsia, who said: “We have signed an agreement allowing Ukrainian citizens to travel without visas to Mongolia. This agreement provides that Ukrainian citizens can enter Mongolia without visas for 90 days within 180 days.”


On 10 November, a decree issued by the President of Belarus and establishing visa-free access to the ‘Brest–Grodno’ territory for citizens of 73 jurisdictions entered into force. These citizens are permitted to stay in the Brest–Grodno territory without a visa for up to 15 days, as well as in districts of the Brest–Grodno regions that are not part of the visa-free territory, provided they are following a tourist route as part of an organised travel group.


On 26 November, at the plenary session of the Belarusian-Swiss Business Council, Belarusian Economy Minister, Dmitry Krutoi, announced plans to expand visa-free zones for foreign visitors. He also expressed hope that a “mutual visa recognition agreement” would be signed between Belarus and Russia in the near future.


On 21 November, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Vadym Prystaiko, and the Ambassador of Argentina, Elena Mikusinski, signed a protocol on amending the current agreement between Ukraine and Argentina governing the suppression of visas. The protocol extended the visa-free stay of citizens of both countries from 90 days every one year to 90 days every 180 days.


Named relevant countries: United States and Poland.

On 11 November, the United States officially entered Poland into its Visa Waiver Programme. This made Poland the 39th country to be part of the VWP and confirmed it as a close partner of the United States. For Polish nationals, this means being able to remain in the United States for up to 90 days without needing to apply for a visa. As with all nationals of VWP member states, they will however still need to comply with the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA).

Middle East

Named relevant countries: United Arab Emirates and Ghana.

On 18 November, a Memorandum of Understanding facilitating a mutual exemption of visa requirements was signed by Minister of State of the United Arab Emirates, Ahmed Ali Al Sayegh, and Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration of Ghana. The proposed visa waiver is one of many ways in which the two countries are working to enhance cooperation with each other.


Named relevant countries: Pakistan, India, Thailand, Andorra, Bulgaria, Bhutan, China, Cyprus, Ethiopia, Fiji, Lithuania, Maldives, Malta, Mauritius, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Romania, San Marino, Papua New Guinea, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, United Arab Emirates, Singapore, Hong Kong, Bangladesh, Qatar, Armenia, and Vietnam.

On 1 November, President of Pakistan Imran Khan announced that Indian Sikh pilgrims travelling though the Kartarpur corridor from 9 to 12 November 2019 would be able to do so without needing to pay an entry fee. Other nationals from India taking advantage of the visa-free travel corridor were however responsible for payment of a US$20 service charge. Khan also said that “For Sikhs coming for a pilgrimage to Kartarpur from India, I have waived 2 requirements: i) they won’t need a passport – just a valid ID; ii) they no longer have to register 10 days in advance.” This statement was later contradicted by Pakistan’s Director-General of the Inter-Services Public Relations (DG ISPR) wing, Asif Ghafoor, who tweeted that passports would still be a “must.” The opening of the Kartapur corridor has led to calls by Isphanyar Bhandara, former Member of the National Assembly of Pakistan, for the Indian Government to offer visa-free travel to the Parsi community of Pakistan so that they may undertake similar religious duties at Indian places of worship.


On 1 November, Thailand extended the waiver of fees for persons entering the country on its temporary visa-on-arrival regime affecting citizens of around 20 nations. The extension is scheduled to last from 1 November 2019 to 30 April 2020, and applies to citizens of Andorra, Bulgaria, Bhutan, China, Cyprus, Ethiopia, Fiji, India, Lithuania, Maldives, Malta, Mauritius, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Romania, San Marino, Papua New Guinea, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan. On 30 November, however, the Thailand Trade and Economic Office introduced e-visa and financial conditions for Taiwanese passport holders.


Effective from 16 November, the Indian Embassy granted visa-on-arrival access to United Arab Emirates nationals who previously obtained an e-visa or paper visa to India, for periods of up to 60 days, including double entry for business travel, tourism, and conference and medical purposes. Visa-on-arrival facilities are offered at Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata, and Mumbai International Airports.


On 17 November, in response to false claims circulating on WhatsApp, the Singapore Consulate-General in Hong Kong released a statement clarifying that there had been no changes to existing visa policies and emphasised that Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) passport holders do not require a visa to enter Singapore. According to the Consulate, only those holding a HKSAR Identity Document (and not a passport) are required to apply for a visa.


On 18 November, Foreign Minister of Bhutan, Tandi Dorji, visited Delhi, India, where he discussed possible changes to Bhutan’s visa waiver policy with India’s External Affairs Minister, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar. In a draft tourism policy set to be finalised by the Bhutanese Cabinet in December 2019, Bhutan reportedly plans to levy a Sustainable Development Fee and a Permit Processing Fee on tourists from India, Bangladesh, and the Maldives. Nationals from such countries are not currently subject to any charges.


On 19 November, Qatar announced that it will waive visa requirements for citizens of Armenia. The visa waiver was welcomed by President Armen Sarkissian of Armenia, who reportedly expressed his gratitude to the Emir of the State of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al Than, and emphasised his belief that a new visa-free agreement will strengthen relations between the two countries and provide a foundation for greater cooperation.


On 25 November, the National Assembly of Vietnam voted to ratify amendments to the Law on Entry, Exit, Transit, and Residence of Foreigners in Vietnam providing a 30-day visa exemption for foreigners travelling to coastal economic zones. Such a visa waiver has been trialled on Phu Quoc Island, but not on the mainland. To assuage concerns voiced by the National Assembly Committee of National Defence and Security, chosen coastal economic zones must be deemed to comply with Vietnam’s socio-economic development policy and entry to them must not compromise national security. The amended law will come into effect on 1 July 2020.


Named relevant countries: Ghana, Colombia, Equatorial Guinea, Hungary, India, Iran, Morocco, Gambia, Maldives, South Africa, Cuba, New Zealand, Qatar, Sao Tome and Principe, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

On 1 November, Ghana clarified that its Parliament had ratified six visa waiver agreements for persons holding diplomatic and service passport issued by Colombia, Equatorial Guinea, Hungary, India, Iran, and Morocco. This dispelled erroneous news that visa waiver agreements had been signed for holders of ordinary passports.


In early November, unconfirmed reports indicated that the Gambia had established a visa-free regime for persons coming on chartered and scheduled flights, as well as all citizens from Commonwealth nations, the European Union, Africa, and the Baltic countries. The announcement was reportedly made by the Gambia Tourism Board.


On 11 November, the African Union Commission and African Development Bank released the 2019 Africa Visa Openness Index. The release, which took place on the side-lines of the Africa Investment Forum in Johannesburg, indicates that 47 African countries either improved or maintained their visa openness levels, with the Seychelles and Benin being the continent’s most open nations. In general, an African passport holder can travel without a visa to around ¼ of Africa.


On 15 November, in a meeting held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Morocco, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, African Cooperation, and Moroccan Expatriates, Nasser Bourita, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Maldives, Abdulla Shahid, signed an agreement allowing visa-free access for citizens of both countries. The visa exemption is set to take effect in February 2020.


On 25 November, South Africa’s Tourism Minister, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, confirmed to media representatives and tourism industry stakeholders at the Kempinski Hotel in Accra that Cuba, New Zealand, Qatar, Sao Tome and Principe, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, could benefit from visa-free access to South Africa from 1 November. The policy, plans for which were initially revealed in August 2019 by Minister for Home Affairs, Aaron Motsoaledi, allows for 90 days of visa-free access.


Named relevant countries: Guam, Philippines, Marshall Islands, and Ukraine.

In early November, the Governor of Guam, Lou Leon Guerrero, passed Executive Order 2019-22 to commence the process of including the Philippines in the Guam-CNMI Visa Waiver Programme. The Programme allows entry into Guam without foreign nationals holding a visa to the United States or being approved under the H-2A and H-2B Worker Programmes. The Order requires recommendations on the inclusion of the Philippines into the Guam-CNMI Visa Waiver Programme to be submitted by 1 March 2020.


On 27 November, the Marshall Islands agreed to open its doors to citizens of Ukraine after the signing of a visa waiver agreement at the Ukrainian Embassy in the United States. The agreement, which provides for visa-free travel to the Marshall Islands for Ukrainians for up to 90 days in any 180-day period, was signed by Andrii Yanevskyi, Charge d’Affaires, a.i. of the United States Ukrainian Embassy, and Gerald Zackios, Ambassador of the Republic of the Marshall Islands to the United States. According to a statement posted on Facebook by the Embassy, the visa waiver will take effect when both countries fulfil domestic procedures.