The world’s most expensive visas for UK holidaymakers

The time between application for a visa and the trip, plus the length of the trip itself, can result in vastly inflated fees
The time between application for a visa and the trip, plus the length of the trip itself, can result in vastly inflated fees - iStock

Each year, the Henley Passport Index measures the number of countries travellers can visit visa-free.

The UK usually ranks reasonably highly: in 2024, with 192 countries visitable visa-free, it came third, level with Denmark and Belgium.

France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Singapore and Spain are all, collectively, the most powerful, with their passport-holders able to visit 194 without the documentation. While the rankings rarely shift dramatically, Britain’s post-Brexit position means that our travel habits may have to change soon – travel to Europe will, eventually, necessitate the purchase of an ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorisation System) waiver, valid for three years.

Such schemes have allowed easier – and cheaper – travel to countries that are perceived as UK allies.

In 2008, the US Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) was introduced in the US – a visa waiver scheme that, subject to security checks, allows the residents of 41 nations to enter the country.

It currently costs around $21, or £17, but if holidaymakers are unable to meet the ESTA criteria, a full visa may be required, at the price of up to $185 (£145).

Similar waiver schemes exist for UK travellers to New Zealand and Canada. And those international relationships can result in some surprising border regulations: in Sri Lanka, almost all travellers require a visa, apart from those based in Hong Kong, Maldives, Seychelles, Singapore and – the only European entry – the Czech Republic, as a result of reciprocity.

In the countries that the UK does require a visa for, prices vary wildly and are often subject to change. The time between application and the trip, plus the length of the trip itself, can result in vastly inflated fees: meaning travellers are advised to apply well in advance.

At the lower end of the scale, a visa for Nepal will set British holidaymakers back around £25; Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Bhutan roughly £31. Travellers to the latter should note that while the travel document cost is small, its tourist fee currently sits at $100 (£78) per day.

For the African countries that require UK visas (such as Ethiopia and Sierra Leone), the price typically varies from around £40 to £60.

Exceptions include Niger and Ghana (both £100), and Nigeria, which is among the most expensive for British travellers at £113.

A visa to visit Nigeria will set a British traveller back by £113 - Getty

Other steep fees include the newly tourist-focused Saudi Arabia, at £108, and India, at £127. China charges UK residents a minimum of £151. And countries that the FCDO specifically warns against travelling to, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Iran, have similarly high prices, at £135 and £185 respectively. Conversely, most South and Central American countries allow visa-free travel for between a month and 90 days.

That isn’t to say it is necessarily easy to acquire these visas. While most embassies now offer electronic versions – negating the need for an in-person visit – their websites can be difficult to navigate or hard to verify their authenticity. Others, such as Turkmenistan, require visitors to present a “letter of introduction” as part of the application process.

Then there is the risk of visa purchasing websites, purporting to be an official source of border documentation, which often mimic the style of the real visa websites and upcharge potential travellers: providing them with the visa, while also adding service fees for themselves. Countries that see very few British travellers are not, understandably, set up to facilitate such requests.

People visiting Guinea-Bissau, for example, require a visa unless they live in one of the 14 surrounding west African nations, but information on how to acquire one as a UK visitor is scarce (one estimate, however, has the cost at £207, making it the most expensive in the world for British travellers).

There are, of course, reciprocal schemes for inbound tourists. Holidaymakers from the European Union, the US, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, South Korea and Singapore are able to visit the UK visa-free.

Those who are not exempt – including places such as India, China, South Africa, Saudi Arabia and Thailand are charged £115 for a standard visitor visa, which allows entry into the country for a maximum of six months.

The Jinshanling Great Wall in Chengde
China charges UK residents a minimum of £151 for a tourist visa. Pictured: the Jinshanling Great Wall in Chengde - NurPhoto

The high cost has been slammed by industry experts: in 2022, when the charge rose 5 per cent to £100, a spokesperson for UKInbound called the charges “uncompetitive” and “incredibly detrimental economic impact on the UK inbound tourism sector.” Since then, the cost has only increased.

It is out of step with the cost of travelling to Europe more generally, although the Schengen area fee rose on June 11 from €80 (£68) to €90 (£76). The European Commission cited rising inflation within its member states as the cause.

Travellers from South Africa, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and China, then, should brace for changes; those who are entitled to 90 days in the Schengen area, like the US, Canada, Australia and the UK remain exempt. Regardless of one’s country of origin, it pays to check for surprising visa fees before travel.