One of the most overlooked aspects of travel that people planning out their bucket list forget to consider is visas, particularly the cost of exorbitant fees for visas that many countries charge. Whether you’re planning to visit as a tourist or as a business traveler, there are a few countries or areas that are notoriously difficult or expensive to get into. Thankfully, there are a few hacks around the system that could get you into these places legally without having to pay an arm and a leg. Here are five of those tricky areas, and how to bypass their pricey and complicated immigration laws.
Note: These tips don’t apply to every passport holder. The rules change based on the country your passport is from. These tips mainly apply to those with a United States passport.
1. Use the 144-hour Transit Visa in China.
If you’re a US citizen, visiting China on any type of visa costs at least $140 — more if you need to expedite your application. Other nationalities are still charged tens of dollars and need to make the effort to drop by an embassy or consulate prior to their visit.
However, there’s now an alternative that will allow you to squeeze in a few days in China during a larger trip. While a 24-hour transit visa has been available for some time, this rarely afforded travelers the opportunity to do more than simply sleep in the airport between flights. As of a few years ago, Shanghai started offering international travelers a 144-hour transit visa, good in the city and the surrounding areas. As long as you have proof of ongoing travel, citizens of 53 countries — including the United States — can have a free week in China.
2. Skip Hanoi — go to Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam instead.
Most nationalities need a tourist visa to Vietnam. The government may have made it easier in the last year with the $25 e-visa, but you can still avoid getting one altogether by visiting the island of Phu Quoc instead of mainland Vietnam. As long as you’re flying into the island from an international port and planning to leave within 30 days, all nationalities are eligible to enter Phu Quoc, Vietnam without a visa.
3. Visit Russia via the ferry from Finland.
Russia is a tough nut to crack when it comes to visa-free travel. Like many countries, it offers international travelers a 24-hour transit visa assuming they are, in fact, transiting, but even this doesn’t allow one to leave the airport. Moreover, a proper tourist visa requires going through an official agency. But if you’re interested in only seeing St. Petersburg — one of the most beautiful, and popular, cities in the country — many nationalities can legally enter the country for up to 72 hours if they arrive via ferry from Finland. The clock starts ticking the moment you’re waved through immigration.
4. Take advantage of Saudi Arabia’s newest tourist visa.
For many years, it wasn’t the easiest process in the world for any nationality not from a Muslim country to enter Saudi Arabia. Those who follow Islam in any country qualify for hajj and umrah visas to the country, but these still entail fees and a lengthy application.
It used to be that an uncertain 72-hour transit visa was the best way for non-Muslims interested in visiting the country. You couldn’t apply for them in advance, but visiting an embassy, presenting your flight itinerary, and asking for an official letter explaining the situation to immigration would certainly ease the tension on arrival. However, as of April 1st this year, Saudi Arabia will start issuing tourist visas to many nationalities, including Americans, in the hopes of bringing tourism to its burgeoning luxury resorts. Take advantage of the fact that this isn’t widely known yet to get in on the deal before masses of tourists start applying to its limited number of visas (how expensive the visas are, and how many there actually are, are not yet known). Keep in mind, however, that due to local customs, there are restrictions against solo female travelers; if you are under 25-years-old, you will need to be accompanied by a family member to obtain a 30-day tourist visa.
5. Spend more than 90 days in Europe by bouncing in and out of the Schengen Area.
The important thing to remember when maximizing your time in Europe is that there are, in fact, different areas with different visa regulations. The Schengen Area (the 26-country section of the EU that has abolished passports between its borders and includes countries like France, Denmark, Portugal, and Sweden) allows tourists to stay up to 90 days, while Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania, and the United Kingdom allow anywhere from 60 to 180 days. If one is so inclined, he or she can stay in the Schengen Area for 90 days, visit Ireland for a few months, then just fly right back into Switzerland or another eligible country to obtain a new period of stay without having to fly back to their home country.