Visa-Free Digest: July 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: Belarus, Russia, Japan, Portugal, Iran
AMERICASNamed relevant countries: Bolivia
MIDDLE EASTNamed relevant countries: Zimbabwe, United Arab Emirates, Thailand, Egypt, Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Kuwait
ASIANamed relevant countries: Philippines, Taiwan, Paraguay, Belize, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, St Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, China, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, Yemen, India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, United States, Morocco, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, South Africa, Argentina, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Brunei, Bulgaria, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Luxembourg, Mongolia, Norway, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Timor Leste, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Venezuela
AFRICANamed relevant countries: São Tomé and Príncipe, United Arab Emirates, Rwanda, South Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Named relevant countries:  Samoa, Russia

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


Europe

Earlier on 27 April, Russia and Japan agreed to establish a visa-free flight to the Kuril Islands, four islands under Russian control but over which Japan claims hegemony. The first flight, due to happen in June 2017, was postponed as a result of dangerous weather. A July meeting between Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Igor Shuvalov, and Japan’s Economy, Trade, and Industry Minister, Mr Hiroshige Seko, revealed that a new date for the flight was due to be scheduled shortly.

In late July, Russia also announced that it would likely lift visa requirements for citizens of Iran within two to three months. To date, Iranians can only travel to Russia if they do so in groups between five and 50 individuals, and do not remain for longer than 15 days. The announcement was made by Levan Dzhagaryan, Russia’s Ambassador to Tehran.

On 9 July, the Portuguese Secretary of State for Internationalisation, Mr Jorge Costa Oliveira, and the head of the Iran-Portugal Parliamentary Friendship Group, Mr Mostafa Kavakebian, called for the implementation of an agreement signed in April to allow visa-free travel for holders of diplomatic or service passports from Portugal and Iran.

On 6 July, Mr Mikhail Portnoi, Deputy Sport and Tourism Minister for Belarus, announced the Ministry was proposing an expansion of the visa-free regime inaugurated in Belarus on 12 February 2017 allowing nationals from 80 countries to travel to Belarus visa-free so long as they enter through Minsk National Airport and remain for no more than five days.

The proposal involves expanding visa-free stays to a maximum of ten days – something that would allow visitors to take advantage of Belarus’ famous spa treatments. In mid-July, Vladimir Make, Belarus’ Minister of Foreign Affairs, confirmed that the Government was considering the change.

Americas

In mid-July, Minister Carmen Almendras of Bolivia said her nation was determined to obtain visa-free travel to the Schengen Area, and that the Bolivian Government would “continue to talk until this agreement is reached.” She further noted that Bolivia was “adopting international instruments requested by” the European Union prior to the granting of visa-free travel.

Middle East

Between 11 and 24 July, Emirates, a Dubai-based airline, promised free visas to citizens of Zimbabwe purchasing tickets for travel to the United Arab Emirates between 11 July and 30 November 2017. A similar offer was made to citizens of Thailand with return flights from Bangkok or Phuket to Dubai scheduled between 14 July and 14 August. Both offers were extended to attract tourists, particularly during the low season.

On 20 July, Egypt put an end to its visa-free regime with Qatar. The move is part of the boycott policy adopted by Egypt, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates against Qatar, which recently tightened relationships with Iran, and is accused of supporting militant terrorist organisations. Mr Ahmed Abu Zeid, a spokesman for Egypt’s Foreign Ministry, however noted that citizens of Qatar whose mothers are Egyptian, who are married to Egyptians, or who are studying in Egypt remain free of visa requirements.

On 29 July, Turkey approved visa-free travel for citizens of Kuwait, who were given the right to enter and remain in Turkey for a period of up to 90 days. The approval was published in the Turkish Cabinet’s Official Gazette.

Asia

On 5 July, the Representative for the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in the Philippines, Dr Gary Song-Huann Lin, said Taiwan was readying for a visa-free travel regime for citizens of the Philippines, and that an official announcement on the date of implementation of the regime would be made in September 2017.

On 10 July however, Dr Lin noted that “the crisis in Marawi” was a consideration in the determination of when visa-free travel would commence. The crisis is an armed conflict between the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and the Government of the Philippines, restricted to the island of Mindanao.

On 12 July, Taiwan announced that, in response to Paraguay eliminating visa requirements for its citizens, it would act on the principle of reciprocity and, in turn, waive visas for citizens of Paraguay. Paraguay is the only country in South America to hold diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

On that same day, Taiwan also announced the implementation of visa-free regimes for all those nations who are its diplomatic allies in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. Two visa-free regimes were implemented. One, allowing travel in Taiwan for a maximum of 30 days, applies to citizens of Belize, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, St Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, and St Vincent and the Grenadines.

The other, allowing travel for a maximum of 90 says, applies to citizens of El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Taiwan is however liked to apply the new visa regime with some restrictions, particularly with respect to those born in China but holding citizenship of Honduras, Belize, Saint Lucia, and St Kitts and Nevis. Others who may be barred from entry include citizens of these four countries born in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, and Yemen.

On 14 July, an official in the Taiwanese Foreign Ministry, who was interviewed by Focus Taiwan on condition of anonymity, said India, Indonesia, Vietnam, and other Southeast Asian countries were also being considered for visa-free privileges to Taiwan.

In early July, Ms Kamala Shirin Lakhdhir, the United States’ Ambassador to Malaysia, announced that the country was approaching the standard required to qualify under the United States’ Visa Waiver Programme (VWP). This is because 96.7% of applications for business and tourist visas from Malaysians are currently being approved – and a 97% approval rate is required under the VWP. Malaysians must also ensure their country strengthens its border security, a condition it must fulfil prior to them receiving full approval to enter the United States visa-free.

In mid-July, Malaysia announced the implementation, by 2021, of a centralised National Immigration Control System (known as ‘Skin’). Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said this would further assist Malaysia in its bid to obtain visa-free travel to the United States because it would qualify it as a nation that is working to prevent and combat serious crime.

On 19 July, Malaysia and Morocco penned an agreement to eliminate visa requirements for their citizens. Signed by the Secretary General of Malaysia’s Foreign Ministry, Mr Datuk Ramlan Ibrahim, and Morocco’s Ambassador to Malaysia, Mr Mohammed Reda Benkhaldoun, the agreement applies to both ordinary and diplomatic passport holders, and covers diplomatic travel, leisure travel, and transits for a period of up to 90 days.

On 12 July, Thailand officially announced that citizens from Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam seeking to obtain treatment from one of 160 hospitals in Thailand could travel to the country visa-free for a period of up to 90 days.

The announcement, which reflects a rule that has already been in force since March 2017, formally altered a previous policy that only allowed travel for up to 30 days. The policy extends to three relatives of the ill traveller, and is only applicable if the relevant hospital informs all applicable agencies, such as the Immigration Division, prior to the traveller reaching Thailand’s border.

From 13 to 15 July President Maithripala of Sri Lanka visited Bangladesh to sign agreements on a number of areas of cooperation, including Bangladesh’s first-ever free trade agreement. Among these was a Memorandum of Understanding to waive visas for those holding diplomatic and official passports.

Starting 17 July, India established a biometric requirement for citizens of South Africa. The requirement applies both to those who are travelling to India on an e-visa, and to those who are applying for long-stay visas, with the former having to provide their biometrics upon arrival in India.

In late July, Vietnam implemented its e-visa policy for foreign citizens from 40 countries. The e-visa allows foreigners to enter Vietnam once and remain in the country for up to 30 days.

Applications for the e-visa require a copy of the applicant’s passport, a passport photograph, and the payment of the prescribed fee. The 40 countries include: Argentina, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Brunei, Bulgaria, Chile, China, Colombia, Cuba, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Luxembourg, Mongolia, Myanmar, Norway, Panama, Peru, the Philippines, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Timor Leste, the United Kingdom, the United States, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

On 27 July, China announced that, by the end of 2017, certain tourists and businesspersons would be able to visit Beijing, Tianjin, and Hebei for six days (144 hours). The new policy is a significant improvement on current visa-free provisions, which allow some foreigners to stay in Beijing and Tianjin for up to 72 hours. Shanghai, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang implemented the same regime in January 2016, applying it to nationals of 53 countries including most of Europe, Canada, Japan, and the United States.

Africa

Beginning on 6 July, São Tomé and Príncipe opened its borders to citizens of the United Arab Emirates travelling to the African island-nation for a period of no more than 15 days. The UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs celebrated the result, noting that it marks one more success story in the “UAE Passport Force” initiative, whose goal is to see the UAE rank among the world’s best passports by 2021.

The President of Rwanda, Mr Paul Kagame, noted the importance of pan-African visa-free travel at the first-ever YouthConnekt Africa Summit, which took place in Kigali until 21 July. “We must take advantage of the things we can do quickly that require only political will. For instance, none of the Africans in this room should have to go through the hustle of visa application to live, learn or do business with fellow Africans,” said Mr Kagame.

On 30 July, South Africa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo inaugurated visa-free travel for their officials and diplomats, in a move that foreshadows visa-free travel for ordinary citizens. The relevant visa agreement was penned by South Africa’s Minister of Home Affairs, Professor Hlengiwe Mkhize, and by the Congolese Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Emmanuel Ramazani Shadari.

Oceania

On 17 July, the visa-free agreement signed between Samoa and Russia in April 2017 came into force.  The agreement allows citizens of the two nations to visit each other’s territories for no more than 60 days.