How to get a visa for Iraq
Do you have the cradle of civilization high on your travel list? Always wanted to set foot in legendary Babylon? Or are you curious on how the country is doing after IS has been ousted? Then we have good news, you can just go there and see it all for yourself! It has recently become a lot easier to travel to Iraq. We tell you all about the new visa process in this article.
Iraq is divided into two parts for travellers
Present day Iraq is roughly divided into two main areas. You have the Kurdish part (Northeast Iraq) and Central-South Iraq (from Mosul to Baghdad to Basra). Both regions are part of the country of Iraq but actually function independently of each other. Kurdistan has an advanced state of independence.
Kurdistan: autonomous region of Iraq
The Kurdish part of Iraq is an autonomous province in Iraq. The Kurdish authority as such has many powers of its own. In Kurdistan you’ll find large cities such as Erbil and Sulaymaniyah. The region has a turbulent history: the pursuit of independence is noticeable everywhere. During Saddam Hussein’s regime, the Kurds were severely oppressed. The region was suffering from genocide. The war against IS has not penetrated the major cities of Kurdistan, but they have been close. The Yazidis, who have suffered under the error of IS, mainly live in Western Kurdistan.
Travel & visa in Kurdistan
Traveling in and to Iraqi Kurdistan is actually very easy. Due to the autonomous status of the region, the area has its own visa policy. Many nationalities (including most Western countries) are therefore not dependent on a visa.
To get to Kurdistan you can fly directly to Erbil from several European cities. You can also choose to enter Kurdistan by land via Turkey or Iran. Most nationalities will receive a (free) stamp at customs: a so-called ‘Kurdish visa on arrival ‘. The validity of the stamp can vary, but usually it is between 10 and 30 days.
In Kurdistan, traveling around is safe for both men and women. However, keep in mind that you can not venture outside the autonomous Kurdish region, as you need a different visa for the rest of Iraq.
Iraq: Finally open for tourism
As mentioned before, the rest of Iraq has recently adopted a new visa policy. A long list of nationalities can now get a visa at the airport upon arrival in Baghdad. Very convenient and efficient. We explain further below how it works.
The old situation
First let’s look at the old situation. Until recently, Iraq had a strict visa policy. Tourists were only welcome in groups (minimum 5 people). In addition, there were many restrictions in the freedom of movement, and you had to have a local guide.
The guide had to personally visit the Ministry of Tourism to ask permission for issuing the special group visa. After the ministry accepted his request, the letter of invitation (LOI) would be sent to the embassy of your native country. With the invitation letter you could then go to your local Iraqi embassy, where a cross-check followed. When finally everything was approved, the embassy would issue your visa for Iraq for € 50. The whole process was time consuming and usually the final visa would only be issued days before the trip. Fortunately, this procedure is now a thing of the past!
The new situation (update: March 2021)
In March 2021, there was suddenly a news report from the Iraqi government about tourist visas for Iraq. The message stated that the old (complex) system for tourist visa applications was no more relevant. Instead a new policy comes into place.
With immediate effect, people from the following countries /regions can get visa-on-arrival upon landing in Iraq.
– European Union (Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Croatia, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Austria, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Spain, Czech Republic & Sweden)
– United States
– United Kingdom
– South Korea
For this, once you arrive in Baghdad, you will receive your visa at the visa desk, after a payment of $77. After they issued the visa, you are free to enter the country.
Visiting Kurdistan and Southern Iraq
Do you want to travel all over Iraq? That’s no problem. Your visa-on-arrival for Iraq is also valid in Kurdistan. Conversely, your Kurdistan stamp is not valid in the rest of Iraq. So make sure you travel to Baghdad via the airport and not by land from Kurdistan.
Tours in Soutern Iraq
Traveling around southern Iraq means a lot of checkpoints. Especially north of Baghdad (towards Mosul) and around the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala, where you’ll find soldiers or local militias every few kilometers who want to check your passport and documents. Generally, this is not a problem as long as you have the right papers. But even if you have a visa, you are not allowed to go wherever you want as a tourist in Iraq. The local guide ensures that all the necessary permissions are obtained for each area tourists are allowed.