August 14, 2008

Tatiana's Eastern European Entry Restrictions
Chmeľová, Slovakia

We've almost been three weeks up here in the northeastern tip of Slovakia. And as lovely as it is, I'm starting to get itch to get back on the road.

I've been looking at the map of Eastern Europe for going on two weeks now, trying to figure out some sort of path for us. It's hard, when all I see are dollar signs and question marks.

How far west do we go, and into what countries?

I thought I'd finally developed us a little loop earlier this morning. It took us across Hungary, into Croatia, Bosnia, and Serbia, and up into Romania, with my sights set on Moldova (a country I'm particularly keen on seeing).

From some research done a few weeks prior, I knew that Moldova would require a visa for Tatiana. The saving grace for her is usually her Chilean passport, which allows for entry into almost as many countries as my U.S. passport (though some require more paperwork hoop jumping, such as visas). Her Peruvian passport is pretty much only good for getting into and out of Peru, with the extra booklet pages useful as toilet paper in a pinch.

Normally the visa fee for Moldova is a hefty $60 for a mere 30 days (recently relaxed restrictions allow me to get a full 90 without the paperwork), but I'd read about a wine festival in October that would allow her to enter (for a handful of days) without having to pay the fee:

Due to the National Wine's Day, a privileged visa regime for foreign citizens is established, annually, for a 15-day period (7 days before and 7 days after the holiday), the entry-exit visas being provided free of charge.

I've e-mailed a pair of Lonely Planet authors in the region for clarification on the procedurals—I don't think it's as easy as just showing up at the border. 'Visa fee-free' probably doesn't me 'visa-free'.

But all this got me to thinking: I wonder what other countries she's going to have problems entering the region? After a few hours of research, I had my answers—and they weren't good. My brainstormed path was shot down almost as quickly as I'd dreamed it up.

This is what I learned of her travel limitations in the region:

  • No visa is needed for the member states of the European Union (in blue, with our current location in gold). We can still travel within the borderless Schengen zone for about 60 more days. Bulgaria and Romania aren't part of the zone, and will each grant us a 90-day stint in their country.
  • No visa is needed for the countries in green (Croatia, Albania, Macedonia, Kosovo, and Turkey). To enter Macedonia, Tatiana would have to use her Peruvian passport. The recently declared independent nation of Kosovo is currently under United Nations interim administration, and has no visa regime in place.
  • A visa is required for the countries in red (Ukraine, Moldova, Serbia, Bosnia & Hercegovina, and Montenegro). No 'visa on arrival' policy is in place, with stipulations of a formal letter of invitation (sent from inside the country) to accompany the paperwork that must be submitted at a consulate.

I actually really wanted to see Croatia, Bosnia, and Serbia—and possibly the others in that southwestern corner of the region—but it looks like that isn't going to happen with the family in tow. The visa restrictions in place for Tatiana are just too much for me to bother organizing at this point.

I've decided that I'm going to return to this particular region alone or with a friend, and have at it with a bicycle and some camping gear. I really think that's going to be the only decent way to see and explore these countries on a shoestring budget.

As for our path, I'm not going to spend the money to head west, and then backtrack through Hungary. Bus and rail travel are very expensive here, and simply wouldn't be worth the expense to transit back through the same country just to visit Croatia and Slovenia. I think we'll be sticking with NE Hungary, and then moving over into Romania—the path of least resistance.

Aside from Sarajevo and Vienna, I have little interest in seeing a capital city in this region outside of Moldova (which is so small it's almost unavoidable). Budapest sounds exotic by name and stigma only, and does little to attract me within its expensive expanse. There will be no more big cities for a while.

Comments:

The United States

Tom Heimburger

August 15th, 2008

I heard that Bulgaria is still pretty inexpensive, plans to visit there?

Slovakia

Craig | travelvice.com

August 16th, 2008

Yeah, absolutely (as we work our way towards Turkey).

Slovakia

Craig | travelvice.com

August 16th, 2008

Update

Insights from the knowledgeable Marisha, of marisha.net:

Hello Craig,

The problem with this so called "free" visa time during the wine festival period is that your girlfriend will still need visa and to obtain it for her may be a challenge. Citizens of South American countries need an invitation letter to get there visa. The invitation letter may be issued by a travel agency provided you book accommodation and tours with them or by a friend/relative from Moldova. It takes about 1,5 months to get it and will cost you 100-200 Euro including the delivery depending on the agency you will be using. As soon as she gets the original of the invitation letter she may apply for her Moldovan visa. And this visa will be free.

Check out my forum on http://www.englishmoldova.com for more information about the invitation letter,

Regards,
Marisha

….shit.

The United States

Karen David

August 19th, 2008

Hi Craig: Congratulations on your life and new son! Happy memories of your mom and kids together on the "hill" of 174th! Croatia is drop-dead gorgeous along coastline. Ken's family is from there and we have visited twice now in last 4 years. Kuna exchange rate is quite favorable compared to other European countries and this is a great time to visit. Off the bus in Dubrovnik you will be met by ladies competing to rent you a room in their homes inside the walled city. We have also traveled north to islands of Hvar and Veli Lusinj. Hvar is fancy, Veli Lusinj was like going back in time 100 years. They still remembered Ken's grandfather. Off season rates were quite good and most rooms available are in folk's homes. Enjoy following your travels!

Hungary

Craig | travelvice.com

August 19th, 2008

Thanks for dropping me a note! Those were indeed some days…

Croatia sounds like an amazing place for you two to visit — I think Americans, as a continuing county of blended backgrounds, always have a sort of Godfather envy regarding family ties to an old country. Perhaps strong heritages never go out of fashion.

Hungary

Craig | travelvice.com

August 19th, 2008

Update

Entertaining insights from the helpful Leif Pettersen of killingbatteries.com (LP author for Moldova and Romania):

The short answer is that it's typical Moldova. In that they say one thing ("We want to promote tourism!") but then enforce the opposite ("Whoa, whoa, who said we want to promote tourism?").

Kind of like their wine industry failure. One minute they're moaning how the Russian ban is driving them all to ruin. Then when someone comes along and offers to export everything they've got to America for double what the Russians pay, suddenly they don't have time to close the deal.

Some days I just wanna throttle people who are too stupid to allow people to spoon-feed them success and riches.

Marisha is in the UK at the moment, so that's a dead end. Try this guy to see if he can finesse a invite letter for you: http://www.moldova-travel.com/ Otherwise your girlfriend may be out of luck.

Leif

Mexico

Wade | Vagabondjourney.com

September 18th, 2010

Ahh, the parameters of world travel. Sometimes I feel like I am in a maze, dodging the dead ends of visa fees and other hassles just searching for a way through.

Have you looked at how many countries in South America now charge over 100 USD for a US citizen to enter. This is turning into a different world for travel, in such a short period of time.

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