Gulf state visa procedures

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I returned a few days ago from Adventures Abroad’s three-week tour of the Gulf States: Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the UAE, and Oman. Based on that experience, here are some tips on visas that may be useful to any of you who plan to visit some or all of the same countries. It’s always wise, however, to double-check this information in case the procedures and requirements change, or I’ve just gotten some things wrong. Kuwait: I tried to get my visa in advance by visiting the embassy in Washington, but I was told to go away and get the visa on arrival instead. Arriving late in the evening after the long flights from the U.S., I found the process unnecessarily tedious and time-consuming, though some of my travel companions, who arrived earlier in the day, had an easier time than I did. After disembarking, I kept to the right instead of going down a ramp in the left “lane.” I first handed my passport to a man at a kiosk who made a photocopy of it. He then returned my passport to me with a visa application which asked for very little information—name, nationality, address in Kuwait, and not much else. He also gave me a little slip of paper with a number on it. By comparing that number against a digital display on the wall, I knew how many people would be taken care of before my turn arrived. At least it was better than having everyone stand in line. There were 20 people ahead of me, so I used the time to walk across the hall to an exchange window and bought some Kuwaiti dinars. As it turned out, I didn’t have to pay anything for my visa, but others (including Canadians) had to buy one or more special stamps from vending machines. The stamps then were affixed either to their applications or their passports. There were five or six men seated at a long table next to the kiosk. When my number finally came up, one of them laboriously typed information from my passport into a computer and then printed it all out on a form. My passport, the photocopy of it, my visa application, and the newly-produced form then were handed down the table to an official in uniform who proceeded to stamp my passport without even glancing at any of these papers. From there I was directed down the ramp to baggage claim where I finally found my bag sitting by itself in a corner, having come off the carousel sometime during the 45-60 minutes it took me to get my visa. Anyone could have walked off with it; there was no one to check baggage claim checks. Bahrain: What a contrast, at least for me! Bahrain has an online visa application system (at ). I filled out a form online and then, about two business days later, received an email approving my application and attaching a form that I printed and carried with me. That proved to be unnecessary because the visa approval was recorded in the computer system that the passport officials use. When I applied online, I paid the 7 Bahraini dinar fee (roughly US$19) by credit card. I strongly recommend using this online application system. I was through passport control almost instantly. But then I sat in the baggage claim area for about 90 minutes while I waited for all the other members of our tour to appear. When they did, I learned that one of them had been refused a visa for reasons that never were explained to her. She remained in the arrivals area until the departure of the first flight to our next destination, Doha, where she spent two days on her own while we were exploring Bahrain. Since we have no idea why she was denied a visa, I don’t know if her application would have been approved if she had applied online before leaving home. But even if her online application had been rejected, at least she would have had the opportunity to decide whether to remain in Kuwait for an extra day or two or to fly directly to Doha when we flew to Bahrain, and to make hotel and flight arrangements accordingly. Qatar: I don’t believe that there was any landing card for us to fill out, either before or after our plane landed in Doha. Instead, when I reached the front of one of the passport control lines, the official asked me if I wanted to buy a visa. (I thought that was a fairly silly question—why else would I be there?—but I suspect he was just being polite.) So I handed him a credit card—you can’t pay with cash—and a moment later I had a Qatari entry stamp in my passport in exchange for a 100 Qatari rial (roughly US$27.50) reduction in my net worth. UAE: Unlike the other four countries we visited, the UAE doesn’t require a visa from American visitors. But take care that you are standing in the correct line at passport control in Dubai; the signs can be confusing or misleading. Or at least they were for me. I waited for what seemed like several years in one slow-moving line before being told that I had to repeat the process in a second line. So my advice is not to assume that you’re standing in the correct line; like everything else in Dubai, the terminal is large, with many lines. So ask someone. Oman: We crossed from the UAE to Oman by road, so I don’t know what the arrival and visa procedures are like at the Muscat airport. At the land border, our AA tour leader collected our passports and the departure tax of 30 UAE dirhams from each of us, and disappeared into a building for what wasn’t an excessive amount of time to process 15 US, Canadian and British passports. Then we drove a bit further into no-man’s land, completed our Omani visa application forms, and the tour leader, now with our new-found Omani guide, disappeared into another building while we waited in our coach. There was a five riyal (equivalent to US$13) visa fee; our guide paid for all of us and we reimbursed him the next day when we had our first chance to change money. From beginning to end, the process probably didn’t take any longer than if all of us had lined up at passport control on flying out of Dubai and then stood in another line on our arrival at the Muscat airport. Summary: -If you know what to expect when arriving in Kuwait, the process is just time-consuming. Otherwise, it can be confusing and frustrating at a time when you may be as tired and grumpy as I was. -Use Bahrain’s online visa application process. -There’s a charge for Bahraini, Qatari, and Omani visas, but not for visas for Kuwait or the UAE (at least for Americans, and at least at this moment). -I never needed to pay in cash (US or local) for any visa on arrival. I could charge (actually, had to charge) the cost of my Qatari visa. I did need 30 UAE dirhams in cash to pay the UAE departure tax, but that may be included in the ticket price of travelers leaving the UAE by air. -I don’t know if any of the visas, other than for Bahrain, can be secured in advance, but even if it can be done, I wouldn’t bother. The only visa I would have wanted to have in advance was from Kuwait, and the embassy informed me that wasn’t possible.

My thanks to Skunkman for raising an issue I should have discussed in my first posting on visas to the Gulf states. Can an American get visas with an Israeli stamp in his or her passport?

It’s a question that deserves attention but, for better or worse, the answer doesn’t seem to be entirely clear.

The woman whom I mentioned in my first posting because she was denied a visa on arrival in Bahrain did not have an Israeli stamp in her passport, so that could not have been the reason for the problem she encountered. On the other hand, another member of our group did have an Israeli stamp in her passport and she received all five visas on arrival (for Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the UAE, and Oman) without any problems or questions being raised.

I don’t know if the various passport officials didn’t care or if they didn’t examine the second woman’s passport closely enough. It does seem reasonable to infer, though, that they don’t search every passport meticulously, looking for Israeli stamps.

More generally, and for what it’s worth, the 2010 Lonely Planet guide to the region states that “[i]n the Arabian Peninsula, all countries refuse to admit anyone whose passport has been tainted by evidence of a visit to the Jewish state—even though, from time to time, rumours abound of a relaxation of this rule in some Gulf countries.”

Yet in the same guidebook, the sections on visas for the individual countries tell a somewhat different tale. According to these sections, you may be refused a visa in Kuwait or Oman if your passport has an Israeli stamp, but “there’s no problem entering the UAE with an Israeli stamp in a non-Israeli passport.” The sections on visas for Bahrain and Qatar are silent on the subject. So even this one source (and I don’t claim it to be authoritative) is inconsistent.

The best conclusions I can draw are that (1) you may or may not be denied a visa in at least some of the Gulf states if your American passport contains an Israeli stamp, but even if it doesn’t, (2) you may be denied a visa, at least for Bahrain, for some other unknown reason and without explanation. I think the wisest course of action is to anticipate the worst instead of hoping for the best. If I were planning to return to the Gulf and now had an Israeli stamp in my passport, I’d apply for a new one.

Perhaps the woman did not have sufficient blank pages in her passport.

1Passport Requirements:
Original, signed passport valid for 6 months beyond stay, with at least one blank visa page available for visa stamp(s). Amendment pages in the back of the passport are not suitable for visa stamps.

Good thought, Jack. But, nope, that wasn't the problem. And even if it were, why would the Bahrainis refuse to tell her?

Have no idea why she was not told the reason. Did a google search "why bahrain refuses
visa requests and a number of responses came up, but it seems in all cases you are told the reason. Odd she wasnt told why.