January’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:

Albania Ghana Schengen Area
Armenia India Sierra Leone
Australia Iran Singapore
Azerbaijan Israel Sri Lanka
Bolivia Japan Switzerland
Brazil Maldives Taiwan
Cambodia Malta Thailand
Canada New Zealand Turkey
China North Macedonia Ukraine
Colombia Pakistan United Arab Emirates
EU Member States Russia United Kingdom
Fiji Samoa United States
Georgia Saudi Arabia Uzbekistan

Check our our December’s Visa Free Digest for more updates.


Named relevant territories: Belarus, Russia, Armenia, Mongolia, Canada, Ukraine, South Korea, Georgia, Uruguay, United States, United Kingdom, European Union, Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia, Kosovo

In early December, the Government of Belarus said it expected its mutual recognition of visas agreement with Russia to come into effect on 20 May 2019. The agreement provides for Russia and Belarus to allow entry to persons holding visas issued by the other nation, so long as those visas remain valid. The agreement was penned as a result of the 2nd European Games Minsk 2019, which are anticipated to draw international crowds to both Belarus and Russia.

On 6 December, the Government of Armenia approved a visa-free agreement it had signed on 28 September 2018 with Mongolia. The agreement, penned by Armenia’s Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan, applies to holders of diplomatic and official passports.

On 6 December, the Ambassador to Canada for the Ukraine, Andriy Shevchenko, reported before the Ukrainian Parliament’s Standing Committee that there had been little improvement with respect to travel to Canada. “Unfortunately, I don’t see any progress in visa-free regime question. Moreover, in 2018 we have recorded an increase in the number of denials of visa for Ukrainians. This indicator reached 26%,” he highlighted.

Between 10-14 December, the Speaker of the Ukrainian Parliament, Andriy Patubiy, travelled to Seoul to negotiate visa-free travel for Ukrainians to South Korea. “We are about to make important decisions. I am planning to get to the final stage of the discussion about a visa-free regime between Ukraine and South Korea,” said the Speaker prior to his departure.

On 12 December, the Ukraine’s Cabinet of Ministers approved an agreement, signed between the Ukraine and Georgia on 5 October 2018, to allow visa-free travel for citizens who visit for up to 90 days in a year with electronic ID cards. The agreement builds on a previous visa-free travel agreement dating to 31 March 1999.

On 27 December, the Government of the Ukraine approved a visa waiver agreement signed with Uruguay in September 2018. The agreement envisions visa-free travel for Ukrainians to Uruguay for up to 90 days in a year, renewable after the 90th day for a total of 180 days per year. For Uruguayans, visa-free travel is instead allowed for up to 90 days in a 180-day period. The agreement is due to come into force 30 days after both the Ukrainian and Uruguayan governments complete their approval procedures and inform the other party of the same.

In mid-December, the United States announced that foreigners who need to apply for an ESTA in order to enter the United States must do so at least 72 hours before their scheduled date of travel. US Customs and Border Protection cautioned that “arriving at the airport without a previously approved ESTA will likely result in being denied boarding.” ESTAs are available to nationals of the 38 countries listed in the United States’ Visa Waiver Programme, and enable 90-day visa-free travel.

In mid-December, the European Commission confirmed that, should the United Kingdom leave the European Union without a deal, its citizens would continue to be able to enjoy visa-free travel with EU nations, but would need to pay the €7 ETIAS fee that will begin to apply to all nations benefitting from visa-free travel to the European Union beginning in 2021.

On 19 December, the European Commission published its annual report on the EU’s visa-free regimes with eight Balkan nations: Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Georgia, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia, and the Ukraine. The report indicated that none of the regimes would be lifted, but highlighted areas needing improvement. Moldova, for example, was identified as needing to “take immediate steps to counter money laundering” and to tackle “unfounded asylum applications” to the European Union.

On that same day, the European Commission also released a statement on the matter of visa reciprocity with the United States, which has not included Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland, and Romania on its list of nations that are part of the Visa Waiver Programme. It noted that suspending visa-free travel for US citizens “would be counterproductive at this moment and would not help achieve visa-free travel for all EU citizens.”

Finally, the European Commission underlined that Kosovo had fulfilled its visa-free travel benchmarks, and that the issue was now in the hands of EU member states. Two days prior, on 17 December, Kosovo’s Prime Minister said that his citizens felt “betrayed and disillusioned with the EU” as a result of Kosovo still being denied visa-free travel to the European Union.

On 31 December, Russia ended its special 2018 FIFA World Cup regime, which had enabled fans to visit the country without having to apply for a visa. Russia’s Ministry of the Interior noted: “In accordance with the legislation of the Russian Federation, foreign citizens who visited the 2018 FIFA World Cup matches as spectators and who have Fan IDs will not be able to enter the Russian Federation after December 31, 2018.”


Named relevant territories: St Vincent and the Grenadines, Ghana

During a five-day trip to Ghana that began in late November, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, penned a Memorandum of Understanding on visa-free travel to Ghana. The Memorandum was also signed by Shirley Ayorkor Botchway, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ghana.


Named relevant territories: Taiwan, Uruguay

On 5 December, Uruguay suspended its visa-free travel regime with Taiwan. Uruguay said the change was due to issues with its electronic immigration systems. Taiwanese citizens were only able to enjoy visa-free travel to Uruguay for a handful of months, as the 90-day visa-free regime was first implemented on 29 October 2018. On 11 December, a Deputy Spokesperson of the Taiwanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Joanne Ou, suggested that Chinese political interference could have prompted the decision.

Middle East

Named relevant territories: Iran, Georgia, Pakistan

On 26 December, Iran and Georgia decided to retain their visa-free regime, first agreed to in November 2010. The decision was made following concerns that too many Iranian citizens were being turned away at the Georgian border, and a call, on 17 December, by Iran’s Ambassador to Georgia to revisit the agreement. According to data released by Georgia’s Ministry for the Interior, in November 2018 alone, 434 Iranians were prevented from entering the country. Iran and Georgia have committed to a strong information campaign to ensure Iranians understand Georgia’s entry requirements.

On 18 December, Pakistan said that the nation was reviewing its visa policies to improve tourism. “We are trying to bring 55 countries into a visa-free region, which includes most of the European countries,” specified Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry.


Named relevant territories: India, Russia, Myanmar, Bahrain, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, China, Niger, Qatar, Botswana, Rwanda, Sierra Leone

In an interview in early December with a Russian news agency, India’s Minister of Tourism, Joseph Alphons Kannanthanam, said that he would support visa-free travel for Russian tourist groups to India if this were reciprocated by Russia. “I think it is a very good idea but as I said earlier it should be on a bilateral basis. If the Russian Government allows Indian tourists to come to Russia on similar terms, we would be happy to allow that,” he noted.

On 10 December, Myanmar announced that citizens of India could enter via a visa-on-arrival system, available at any of its three international airports (located in Mandalay, Nay Pyi Taw, and Yangon). The announcement was originally scheduled for 1 December 2018, the day on which Myanmar’s new travel rules were due to become effective.

On 19 December, an agreement signed between Bahrain and India for visa-free travel for persons holding diplomatic and special passports came into force. The agreement, signed on 15 August 2018, allows stays of up to 90 days.

In late December, Kazakhstan announced the launch of a Silk Visa in February 2019 to ease travel for citizens of nearby nations. The Silk Visa was agreed to with Uzbekistan, but Kazakhstan said it was hopeful to also include Azerbaijan and Turkey.

December was eventful for China, which saw the coming into force of several visa-free agreements, including with: Niger (on 15 December), Qatar (on 21 December following an agreement signed on 9 July 2018), Botswana (on 22 December), and Rwanda (on 23 December). On 24 December, the agreement on the mutual abolition of visa requirements for holders of diplomatic and service passports between China and Sierra Leone also came into effect. The agreement, said China’s Ambassador to Sierra Leone Wu Peng, is for stays of up to 30 days, and does not encompass persons at or above the rank of vice-minister of the central government or persons at or above the rank of major general, for whom additional consent is required.


Named relevant territories: Tanzania, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo

On 10 December, Tanzania clarified that citizens of Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo could enter Tanzania via its visa-on-arrival facilities. The clarification followed incorrect news that Tanzania had listed the two nations, together with Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, and Yemen, as excluded from its visa-on-arrival regime.