As a nation of travelers, Americans are used to being able to go just about anywhere in the world.
But a few countries are off-limits or difficult to visit for U.S. citizens. Sounds a bit off right? But yeah, that's true as steel.
In this post, we will cover ten countries that Americans can't travel to easily and some reasons behind it.
Iran, a country steeped in history and known for its warm hospitality, presents diplomatic challenges for American travelers. The strained relations between the U.S. and Iran, dating back to the 1979 revolution, have led to heavy sanctions on Iran over nuclear disputes.
While it's not impossible for Americans to visit Iran, it does require booking guided tours and undergoing a lengthy visa process.
Independent travel is not allowed, and all visits must be part of an organized tour led by a government-approved guide.
Whether exploring the bustling bazaars of Tehran or the ancient ruins of Persepolis, visiting Iran offers a glimpse into a rich cultural heritage.
Venezuela, renowned for its natural beauty from the Andes Mountains to the Caribbean coastline, has been grappling with a deep political and economic crisis in recent years.
The U.S. Department of State strongly advises against all travel to Venezuela due to crime, civil unrest, and poor healthcare infrastructure, among other safety concerns. For American travelers, obtaining a visa to enter Venezuela can be complex.
With the absence of Venezuelan embassies in the U.S. since the breakdown of diplomatic relations in 2019, applications must be made through embassies in third countries.
The ongoing crisis has severely affected tourism, but Angel Falls and Los Roques Archipelago remain captivating attractions for the daring souls willing to visit.
Syria, once a land of historical and cultural wonders like the ancient cities of Damascus, Aleppo, and Palmyra, has been torn apart by the devastating Syrian Civil War since 2011.
The conflict has strained relations between Syria and the U.S., and the U.S. Department of State advises against all travel to Syria due to terrorism, civil unrest, kidnapping, and armed conflict.
While obtaining a visa through a lengthy application process is technically possible, the risks outweigh any potential benefits.
A Syrian stamp on one's passport could result in being denied entry to other countries. The tragic destruction of Syria's historical sites and the ongoing humanitarian crisis make it a dangerous destination for travelers.
4. North Korea
North Korea, officially known as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), remains one of the world's most enigmatic and isolated countries. While it's not entirely impossible for Americans to visit, the political doctrine of Juche and ongoing tensions with the U.S. have led to severe travel restrictions.
Prior to 2017, a few brave souls could visit North Korea through guided tours from China or over the Yalu River by train from the border city of Dandong. However, the travel ban for American citizens was put into effect in July 2017 after the heartbreaking case of Otto Warmbier.
Obtaining a Special Validation Passport from the U.S. Department of State under specific circumstances is now the only way for Americans to travel to North Korea. The hermit kingdom's unique time zone and fascinating culture make it an alluring yet challenging destination.
Cuba, with its vibrant culture, stunning beaches, and historic architecture, remains a place of fascination for travelers worldwide.
However, the U.S. embargo against Cuba, known locally as ‘el bloqueo,' restricts American tourists from visiting purely for tourism.
Despite this, Americans can still visit under one of the 12 authorized categories, including family visits, journalistic activity, professional research, religious activities, and more.
The most commonly used category, “Support for the Cuban People,” allows travelers to support Cuban civil society by engaging in various activities.
While the process of obtaining a Cuban Tourist Card or visa can be straightforward, travelers should remain mindful of the restrictions and cultural sensitivities during their stay.
Eritrea, located in the Horn of Africa, is often referred to as the ‘North Korea of Africa' due to its reclusive policies and autocratic governance.
The strained relationship between the U.S. and Eritrea, coupled with the nation's human rights record and detention of U.S. embassy local employees, makes it challenging for American tourists to obtain a visa.
The application process can be notoriously difficult and lengthy, often taking several months, with no approval guarantee.
Travel outside the capital, Asmara, requires a travel permit from the Eritrean government, which can be an uncertain and bureaucratic process.
However, those who have ventured there speak of its unique appeal, from the art-deco architecture of Asmara to the breathtaking landscapes of the Dahlak Archipelago.
7. Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia, governed under strict Islamic law, used to have restrictive visa policies limited to business travelers, Hajj pilgrims, and residents' families.
However, in 2019, the country launched a new tourist visa as part of its Vision 2030 program to diversify its economy beyond oil. This new e-Visa allows Americans to apply online, streamlining the application process significantly.
While women travelers still face some restrictions, such as requiring an accompanying family member if, under 25, the new visa represents a significant step towards promoting tourism in the kingdom. From exploring the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Diriyah to experiencing the vastness of the Arabian Desert, Saudi Arabia offers a mix of tradition and modernity.
Turkmenistan, known for its eccentric former president and the flaming “Door to Hell” crater, presents a unique set of challenges for American tourists. The country's Soviet past and present-day autocratic rule have contributed to its stringent visa process.
Unlike many countries with online visa applications, Turkmenistan requires travelers to apply through an embassy or consulate, such as the Embassy of Turkmenistan in Washington D.C. A letter of invitation from a Turkmen travel agency is often required, making the visa process complex and time-consuming.
Independent travel is almost nonexistent, and tourists typically need to book guided tours for the duration of their stay. Despite these hurdles, Turkmenistan's surreal landscapes and cultural wonders are a reward for the intrepid traveler.
Bhutan, the serene Himalayan kingdom, maintains a unique tourism policy to protect its environment and culture.
Known as “High Value, Low Impact,” the country allows only a limited number of tourists each year, and Americans are required to pay a daily fee that covers accommodation, meals, a licensed tour guide, transportation, camping equipment for trekkers, and sustainable tourism royalties.
This fee contributes directly to the country's welfare, funding education, healthcare, and infrastructure development.
Libya, another country affected by ongoing conflict, remains off-limits for American tourists. The U.S. Department of State strongly warns against all travel to Libya due to crime, terrorism, kidnapping, and armed conflict.
While business visas were available as of 2023, tourist visas are not being issued due to the country's political instability. Under normal circumstances, the visa application process would require various documents and an official letter of invitation from a Libyan-based company.
The vast desert town of Ghadames and the ruins of Leptis Magna stand as testimony to Libya's rich historical heritage. Still, the dire security situation and humanitarian crisis make it an unsafe destination for travelers.
High Risk Countries Can Be Difficult
These 10 countries, each with its own set of difficulties and mysteries, serve as a reminder that travel is about more than seeing the sights; it's also about learning about the world and the people in it.
When visiting these high-risk areas, being aware of and abiding by local customs, regulations, and travel recommendations is critical.
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I’m Steve. I’m an English Teacher, traveler, and an avid outdoorsman. If you’d like to comment, ask a question, or simply say hi, leave me a message here, on Twitter (@thefrugalexpat1). Many of my posts have been written to help those in their journey to financial independence. I am on my journey, and as I learn more I hope to share more. And as always, thanks for reading The Frugal Expat.