Manchester United fans have had a week of ups and downs. The down was hearing their team had been drawn to play the next round of the Europa League in Rostov, Russia. The up was hearing that, for those fans planning to make the 2,000 mile trip, the club would pay their visa fee.
With a few notable exceptions, football clubs are not known for their generosity, but this seemed to us a positive gesture, especially as the fans will still have to pay to get there and back, plus get into the ground, accommodation and, of course, their food and drink.
Russia charges one of the highest prices of any country for its tourist visa and the huge variations in visa prices, as well as government policies towards them, proves how little uniformity there is around the world.
There is a widespread view that, the poorer the country, the more expensive its entry visa will be (on the basis that the government needs all the cash it can get and fleecing visitors is as good a place to start as anywhere). But Russia certainly dispels that myth; despite its economy being over-reliant on energy, it is still the world’s 12th largest, as measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The world’s 20th largest economy- and one known to be flush with cash – is Saudi Arabia. But that hasn’t stopped it hiking its visa charges by six fold! A single entry visa to the country now costs $533, an increase from the previous fee of $93. Fortunately, the government has agreed to waive this fee for those traveling for the first time to perform the annual Hajj pilgrimage or the lesser, non-mandatory pilgrimage (known as the Umrah).
Egypt seems to have taken a leaf out of the Saudian Government’s book. It’s just announced that it is going to double the price of its visa. The cost of a single-entry visa is to increase from $25 (£20) to $60 (£48) on July 1, 2017, and this at a time when the country’s tourism sector is still struggling to right itself from a series of setbacks, which has led to one million fewer British tourists going there.
Different governments have also adopted different policies when it comes to applying for a visa. Australia is generally thought to have the easiest system as its all done online, which means no sending off of passports and then anxious waits in the lead up to the holiday when it hasn’t come back in time.
That used to be the case when applying for an Indian visa, along with queuing in slightly chaotic conditions at the Embassy building in central London. Thankfully, India has also adopted an e-visa scheme and one that has been a notable success. Nearly 900,000 e-visas have been issued in the last year and, on the scheme’s first anniversary, the UK represented the strongest market globally. Indeed, within the first two months of its use by UK citizens, the UK was number one, ranked first out of 113 countries using the new e-visa scheme.
Perhaps our own government could learn a thing here. HM Government requires Chinese tourists to fill in a ten-page form with biometric registration requirements—in English. Unsurprisingly, they have stayed away in their droves and travel instead to more welcoming countries, such as France.
Or maybe our government is following the lead of the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, instead? Famous for measuring “gross national happiness”, it levies a $250 daily tariff on visitors in an effort to discourage them from spoiling its pristine scenery.