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 The Brancatelli File

joe THE BOOK ON VISAS

BY JOE BRANCATELLI

November 15, 1989 -- Travelers searching for dependable information about foreign visa requirements need look no further than Uncle Sam. The State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs publishes a comprehensive guide to the rules and regulations each nation imposes on American visitors.

Prosaically titled “Foreign Visa Requirements” or, bureaucratically speaking, “Publication 9517,” the pamphlet provides detailed entry information on more than 200 nations, including passport rules, types of visas offered, how and where to apply for entry documents, applicable currency regulations and some immunization requirements.

The guide can also make for an engrossing evening of reading. Here are some fascinating quirks in a recent edition.

Political Tap Dancing: The Baltic states—Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia—are each listed as an independent nation, but travelers are advised to obtain visas through the USSR. “This information does not imply U.S. government recognition of [their] forcible annexation by the Soviet Union,” the guide explains.

Closed Borders: At least four Arab states—Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia—are not issuing tourist visas “at this time.” Travelers can obtain a three-day “transit visa” at Bahrain International Airport, but the Saudis won’t even issue a business visa without an “invitation from the Foreign Ministry in Saudi Arabia.” African Fastidiousness: Rwanda requires all visa applications to state “the exact date of entry.” Malawi demands that travelers heed “specific regulations regarding women’s dress and men’s hair length.” And Niger allows travelers to enter by road only if they produce two copies of a bank letter “showing at least $500 in savings.”

Baksheesh Spoken Here: Adults entering Suriname must change at least $283 into local currency, but children under 12 only have to exchange $140. Other not-so-subtle exchange extortions: Burma ($100), Nicaragua ($60), Sierra Leone ($100) and Uganda ($150).

For a copy of “Foreign Visa Requirements” (Publication 9517), send 50 cents to: Consumer Information Center, Pueblo, Colo. 81909.

This column originally appeared in Travel & Leisure magazine.

Copyright © 1989-2013 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.