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It's ironic, when you think about it. As a traveller, I can enter the nation of Iran, supposedly my country's sworn enemy, by showing up unannounced at Tehran airport, filling out a small form, having my passport stamped, and walking in. Easy.

If, however, I want to enter the USA, my country's most cherished ally, I now have to apply for a full visa well before I travel and visit a US embassy for an in-person interview before I'm even allowed to board a flight.

Entering Iran is far easier than entering America.

That's the new reality after a US congressional law came into effect last Friday, disqualifying anyone previously eligible for the country's visa waiver program, including Australian citizens, if they have entered Iran, Iraq, Syria or Sudan since March 2011.

It's unlikely many travellers will have visited the latter three nations, although this new rule will affect aid workers who have been helping out in those regions. However, as tensions between Iran and the Western world recede, and word gets out that this is a beautiful, friendly and safe place to visit, there are plenty of Australians who could be sporting an Iranian stamp in their passport.

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After all, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade recently eased their warning for travellers to Iran from "reconsider your need to travel" to "exercise a high degree of caution". No tourists have ever been directly targeted in an attack on Iranian soil. This is a genuine option as a tourism destination, and more and more travellers are beginning to realise it.

And yet if you do decide to visit – or, like me, have already been there since 2011 – you'll be making it much harder for yourself to enter the USA. Indefinitely.

The reasoning behind the US decision is supposedly to make it more difficult for anyone with links to IS to enter their country, though it seems highly unlikely that anyone from Shia-dominated Iran would be involved with Sunni-dominated IS. It's also an odd decision given the US's recently improved relationship with Iran.


Still, none of that matters to the average traveller. Now, caught up in the maelstrom of world politics, our rights have changed.

You could rightly point out that this is a classic first-world problem. It's not like I'm being denied the right to visit a terminally ill relative just because of my nationality (well done, Australia). This is more of an annoyance than a serious problem.

But still, the requirement to visit an embassy for a face-to-face interview now puts the USA up there with one of the more difficult countries for people like me to enter. It's up there with Russia. It's more difficult than Bhutan. It's only marginally easier to visit than North Korea.

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Russia remains the most difficult country I've attempted to enter, mostly due to the sheer weight of paperwork required. You still need an official letter of invitation from a recognised agency within Russia to apply for a visa. You need all of your travel plans booked in – or at least appear to be booked in – and you need to fill out a form that includes listing all of the countries you've visited in the past 10 years, and the dates you visited them.

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For some people that might only be a few entries. For others, however, that could be more than 50 or 60 countries and entry/exit dates to list.

If you want to visit Bhutan you have to book your entire visit before applying for a visa – that means all of your expenses, including food and accommodation, are included in the visa fee. There are a few hoops to jump through, and the package thing is weird, but most travellers don't have any problems eventually getting into the country.

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North Korea is actually surprisingly easy to access. Simply fill out the appropriate forms, send off your passport and money, and a visa will eventually either be approved or denied. No in-person interview. You do, however, have to book your travel on an organised tour and submit to being followed around by a minder for your entire stay in the country. Not ideal.

And then there are countries such as Angola, or Chad, or Pakistan, or Nauru, or Kiribati, or Saudi Arabia, that are more than likely to simply reject your visa application for no reasonable grounds whatsoever.

The USA, clearly, still isn't the most difficult country in the world to enter. Even if, like me, you've recently been to the Middle East. But it is harder to enter than Iran – and that seems strange.



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