Visa-Free Digest: August 2017

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 countries: United Kingdom, European Union, Ukraine, Russia, Vatican, Iran, Japan, Serbia, India, Armenia, Belarus, Paraguay
CARIBBEANName relevant countries: Saint Lucia, Venezuela, Barbados, China
AMERICASNamed relevant countries: Chile, Vietnam
MIDDLE EASTNamed relevant countries: Qatar, China, Russia, United Kingdom, United States, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Turkey, Russia, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia
ASIANamed relevant countries: Japan, Vietnam, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, Chile, Taiwan, Thailand, Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar (Burma), Uzbekistan
AFRICANamed relevant countries: South Africa, Liberia, Ghana, Equatorial Guinea
OCEANIA Named relevant countries: Fiji, China, Brazil

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


Europe

In mid-August, the Home Office of the United Kingdom revealed it has plans to preserve visa-free entry rights for citizens of the European Union even after Brexit. As travel and settlement rights are expected to be reciprocal following Brexit, the policy is likely to result in the European Union allowing Britons to also enter visa-free.

On 4 August, reports suggested the Ukraine was considering a bill to restrict, or altogether remove, visa-free travel rights from citizens of Russia in the Fall. The revelation come amidst the toughening of border controls with Russia, as Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko announced the implementation of biometric technologies for foreigners, and may be followed by retaliatory measures by Russia.

On 22 August, Russia and the Vatican signed an agreement to allow diplomatic passport holders visa-free travel. Bilateral relations between the two nations were described as having “reached a very high and positive level” by the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

In late August, Russia ended visa requirements for citizens of Iran travelling in tourist groups of between five and 50 people. The change was expected to come into force later this year, and is now due to be followed by visa liberalisation for all citizens of Iran.

On 30 August, after several negotiations between Russia and Japan, a group of Japanese nationals was allowed visa-free entry to the South Kuril Islands, which have been at a heart of an ownership debate since they were taken from Japan by the Soviet Union during the Second World War. The Japanese nationals voiced their intent to visit their families’ graves. They travelled to the South Kuril Islands by boat, as a direct flight intended for visa-free travel is due to commence on 23 September 2017.

On 4 August, Serbia agreed the time was ripe to make way with visa requirements for citizens of Iran and India. The decision comes amidst the strengthening of bilateral relations with these two nations, including Iranian President Hassan Rouhani receiving the credentials of new Serbian Ambassador to Iran, Dragan Todorovic.

On 6 August, Armenia approved visa-free travel for citizens of Japan, to come into force on 6 September. This unilateral visa-free regime allows Japanese nationals to remain in Armenia for a period of at most 180 days.

On 15 August, President Lukashenko of Belarus approved a draft agreement for visa-free travel for holders of diplomatic passports from Paraguay. The draft agreement is mutual, meaning that, if approved following negotiations by the two governments, Belarusian diplomats would be able to enter Paraguay visa-free.

Caribbean

On 14 August, the Prime Minister of Saint Lucia, Allan Chastanet, announced he had “asked the Ministry of Immigration to look at imposing a visa restriction on Venezuelans coming to Saint Lucia.” The announcement follows concern at the current turmoil in Venezuela, which has seen months of protests against President Nicolas Maduro, and what some call steps towards the establishment of a dictatorship.

On 29 August, Barbados and China penned an agreement to allow visa-free travel for their citizens, so long as they remain within each other’s territories for a period not to exceed 30 days. The signatories to the agreement were Barbadian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Senator Maxine McClean, and Chinese Ambassador Wang Ke.

Americas

A mutual visa-free travel agreement, penned between Chile and Vietnam on 17 October 2016, came into force on 11 August 2017. The agreement applies to holders of ordinary passports that are valid for at least six months, and guarantees visa-free rights for a period not to exceed 90 days.

Middle East

On 9 August, Qatar announced the elimination of visa requirements for nationals of 80 countries. Of these 80 countries, 47 were informed that their citizens could remain in Qatar for a maximum of 30 days, while 33 can now offer their citizens travel to Qatar for a maximum of 90 days.

China, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States fall in the first category, while most of Europe falls in the latter. Commenting on the new visa regime, the Acting Chairman of the Qatar Tourism Authority, Mr Hassan Al Ibrahim, said: “With 80 nationalities eligible for a free visa waiver upon arrival, Qatar is now the most open country in the region and we are delighted to invite visitors to discover our renowned hospitality, cultural heritage, and natural treasures.”

Qatar also has plans to introduce an e-card for travellers from these 80 nations such that, after their first entry into Qatar, they could subscribe for the card and use it pass through e-gates rather than the slower, traditional border controls.

In late August, following a meeting between Qatar’s Director of Consular Affairs Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Kyrgyzstan’s Ambassador to Qatar, it was announced that Qatar is considering a visa liberalisation regime for citizens of Kyrgyzstan.

On 30 August, Qatar also announced the availability of visas-on-arrival for citizens of Pakistan travelling to the Gulf state for at most 30 days. The option is only available to those with a passport that is valid for six months from entry, and with evidence of a return ticket. The announcement was made by Qatar Airways, which is fully owned by the Government.

On 6 August, at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum held in Manila, the Foreign Ministers of Turkey and Russia came together to discuss the possibility of visa-free travel for citizens of Tukey into Russia. Turks lost their right to visit Russia without a visa in 2015, when Turkey claimed responsibility for shooting down a Russian fighter jet.

On 17 August, it was reported that Turkey’s Minister of the Economy, Mr Nihat Zeybekci, proposed a mutual visa-free regime for migrant workers from Turkey and Kazakhstan. The proposal follows years of collaboration and investment, currently amounting to US$2 billion in the economy of Kazakhstan.

On 1 August, Saudi Arabia announced its intent to finance a “semi-autonomous” visa-free enclave on 200km of Red Sea coastline, consisting of diving spots and a natural reserve. Funding is expected from the nation’s Public Investment Fund.

Asia

In early August, it was revealed that Japan was considering the implementation of an ‘exit tax’ on Japanese citizens and visitors alike. Profits from the tax would be used to promote Japan as a tourist destination. It is unclear whether the tax would be applied to those travelling by plane only, or whether it would also be extended to those travelling by boat.

In mid-August, Ho Chi Minh city’s Department of Tourism called for the Government of Vietnam to extend the maximum visa-free stay requirements of citizens from Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Currently, citizens from these nine countries can enter Vietnam visa-free for a period of 15 days, but it is argued that the period should be extended to 30 days.

On 29 August, Vietnam’s Prime Minister, Nguyen Xuan Phuc, approved visa-free travel for citizens of Chile coming to Vietnam for a maximum of 90 days. The policy applies to all Chileans with an ordinary passport that is valid for at least six months after entering Vietnam, so long as they do not perform activities for remunerative gain.

On 15 August, Taiwan announced it would ease visa-free travel requirements on Japanese visitors, enabling them to enter the country so long as their passport is valid for their intended period of stay.

Prior to the announcement, citizens of Japan had to show that their passports would remain valid for at least three months from the time of entry into Taiwan. “We made the decision based on the friendly relations between Taiwan and Japan and the principle of reciprocity,” commented Taiwan’s Deputy Director-General of the Bureau of Consular Affairs, Mr Winston Chung.

On 17 August, Thailand announced visa waivers for medical tourists travelling from Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar (Burma), and Vietnam. The visa waiver allows travel for 90 days for a medical tourist and up to four travelling companions, and entry is dependent on the medical tourist being able to provide the appropriate documentation from an accredited hospital.

On 8 August, Uzbekistan announced it would soon end its ‘exit-visa’ regime, which required citizens of Uzbekistan to receive Government approval prior to leaving the country. A remnant of the Soviet Era, the regime made it difficult for Uzbeks to work and travel abroad. The announcement also outlined plans for opening Uzbekistan to visa-free travel from 15 developed nations in 2021.

Africa

In a meeting held on 11 August, the Presidents of South Africa and Liberia, Mr Jacob Zuma and Ms Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, agreed the time had come for establishing visa-free travels for citizens holding diplomatic and official passports. The formalisation of the visa-free regime is expected to take place shortly, especially as the two nations have committed to developing stronger business relations.

On 23 August, Ghana and Equatorial Guinea agreed to waive visas for those holding diplomatic, official, and service passports. The agreement follows perceived tension in Africa and the rise of terrorism, which the two nations wish to counter together.

Oceania

In late August, the opposition in Fiji argued that visa-free travel for citizens of China should be halted, after 77 Chinese individuals were deported for online fraud. Chinese citizens may currently travel to Fiji for 30 days visa-free.

On 28 August, Fiji and Brazil announced the implementation of a new visa-free travel regime for nationals travelling on ordinary passports. “Brazil and Latin America have enormous potential – as a destination for Fijians to visit and conduct business in,” commented Fijian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Acting Permanent Secretary Yogesh Karan.