US, India and more: Don't get caught out by these visa entry scams

The number of countries your passport allows you to enter without a visa tells you how much the rest of the world likes you, trusts you and wants to be your buddy.

An ever increasing number of countries are offering electronic visas, available by submitting an application over the internet. Brazil has just recently joined the countries that extend the e-visa privilege to Australian passport holders. The ability to submit a visa application online is a development to be applauded, but the history of e-visas has proven that they open the door to scammers.

Just recently, a family member paid $180 ($US140) for an electronic visa for India. The correct price should be $US50. A week before, I'd been on a similar site that wanted to charge me $220 ($US175) for an Indian e-visa. India is one country with numerous scam sites offering to facilitate the process of obtaining an electronic visa.US

A visa obtained via the US Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) should cost $US14, an e-visa for Turkey should cost $US60, yet visas for either can end up costing $60 to $150 more if you apply via a scam site.

It's easy to be taken in by these fake websites. They look every inch the real thing, and the application process mirrors that of the country's official e-visa website. But rather than offering a "service", they add another layer to the visa application process, and charge a hefty fee for doing it. Neither do they expedite processing, but often slow it down.

Countries that offer e-visas are aware of the problem, and in the case of the USA at least, the number of scam websites that pop up in response to the Google enquiry "e-visa for USA" is far less than it once was.

Another problem - you're giving your credit card information to an agency prepared to scam you. What's to stop it using that information to commit further larceny?

To find out the official electronic visa application website of the country you're planning to visit, go to the website of their embassy or high commission and locate the correct site. If in doubt, call and ask. A phone call will cost a lot less than what you'll pay the visa scammers.

According to the Visa Restrictions Index 2017 published by The Henley & Partners, a global citizenship and residence advisory firm, Australian passport holders have the right of visa-free entry to 170 countries. That puts us in seventh place on the table of the world's most desirable passports, one up from last year, and equal to citizens of the Republic of South Korea.

As a general rule, it's citizens of well-off, democratic and mostly white countries who have the most desirable passports, measured by the number of countries prepared to grant them visa-free access. There is also a popularity-contest aspect to it. The number of countries your passport allows you to enter without a visa tells you how much the rest of the world likes you, trusts you and wants to be your buddy.

Topping the list is German passport holders with visa-free entry to 176 countries. Citizens of Italy, USA, the UK, Japan, New Zealand and Canada are among the 22 nationalities that have visa-free entry to more countries than Australian passport holders.

Russians, by contrast, can travel to just 106 countries without a visa, and China ranks surprisingly low on the list with their citizens able to enter only 51 countries without a visa. For their neighbours in Taiwan - official name the Republic of China - the score is 134. North Koreans have visa-free entry to just 40 other countries, but last place once again goes to those unfortunates who travel on an Afghani passport, able to enter just 24 countries without a visa.

Some countries apply a principle of reciprocity to visa applicants. For example, Australians who wish to visit Chile must pay a Reciprocity Fee of $US117. US citizens pay US$160. British passport holders pay zip. It's tit for tat, equal to the visa fees that Chileans are charged when they wish to enter each of these countries, and fair enough. On the other hand, British passport holders pay more to enter Turkmenistan than Australian passport holders, payable in cash upon entry.

The Schengen Visa is an ongoing thorn in the side of Aussie travellers looking to remain in the Schengen Area for more than the 90 days to which they are entitled. The Schengen Visa, granted free upon entry to Australian passport holders when they enter one of the Schengen Area countries, allows Aussies to travel freely within most of continental Europe and the Scandinavian countries, but only for 90 days within a six-month period.

Britain is not part of the Schengen Area, nor are Bulgaria, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cyprus, Romania and Ireland. One option for Aussies looking to extend their stay in Europe and whose Schengen visa has expired is to stay in one of these countries, or hop between them, before re-entering the Schengen Area six months after their original entry.

See also: The hardest countries for Australians to get into

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