The Bancast

An idealistic journalist

What it’s like for an Arab to go on vacation


I have a full-time job. By Jordanian standards I have a decent job – as a presenter on the drivetime programme of a local radio station.

Once a year I feel entitled to go on a summer vacation and for a week or two forget about everything else that matters. And why shouldn’t I?

Oh right, cause I’m an Arab…


Your average hard worker with a first world citizenship will pick a destination, purchase a plane ticket, book a hotel (maybe), go on holiday and return to their routine feeling fulfilled.

As an Arab – a Jordanian at least – it’s a little more complicated:

Step 1. Choose a destination

Step 2. Discover that it requires a pre-approved visa. Nine out of 10 times it’s a Schengen country. Even then you must apply at the country of entry’s embassy.

Step 4. Check to see if chosen destination has an embassy in your country. No? Change destination accordingly.

Step 3. Begin collecting all the paperwork for the visa application process. Let’s start with the hotel booking – better know your exact dates and destinations. NOW.

Step 4. Book a flight – buy it now, you gamble. Buy it later, you pay double – sometimes triple. Expedia? Not an option.

Step 5. Request a certificate of employment on official letterhead stating your position, salary, start date, status, etc.

Step 6. Obtain official signed/stamped bank statements showing your account history for the past six months. Screw privacy.

Step 7. Have your picture taken with unnecessarily specific requirements… again.

Step 8. Insure yourself for the dates of your travel. Fair enough.

Step 9. Fill out an application form. Ahh, how humiliating. In order to lounge on your beaches and sample your cuisine I must answer questions like: have you been involved in terrorist activities or organisations? Or what countries have you entered in the last 10 years and on what dates and for what purpose? Are. You. Serious? And my absolute favorite, what do you plan to do while in [said country]? Umm, eat fish, drink beer, swim in the sea, walk along cobblestone streets… Why do you think it’s called a tourist visa? Never mind that some of these applications are 12 pages long but how do you expect me to retrieve all this information and then sign a declaration stating that it’s all accurate?

Step 10. Pay an absurd sum of money for the non-refundable visa fee – usually between $100 and $150 (makes me feel better about Jordan increasing its visa fee to JD 40 – actually no, that’s stupid too).

Step 11. Book an appointment. It’s June and you want to travel in July? First appointment’s available a month from now? Processing time is 2-3 weeks? Sure, sign me up.

Step 12. Experience the equivalent of a criminal interrogation. One of the dates in your 12-page application is a day off the date stated in your hotel booking? No problem, you can submit it as is and risk rejection or come back with the correct paperwork and delay your application. Not much money in your bank account? That’s the equivalent of saying “hi, I want to enter your country to live and work illegally, use up all your public resources, and never come back.”

Step 13. Wait impatiently for a response. Even a rejection will do at this point. Of course calling to track your application is like asking whether unicorns exist. “We don’t know, we can’t ask, that information is classified.”

Step 14. The nightmares begin. You dream that you’re off to the airport to begin your holiday but discover that your passport isn’t with you because it’s still at the embassy.

Step 15. You get the call. Somehow you manage to survive the mini heart attack en route to collect your passport. You look inside and THERE IT IS! Congratulations on getting your single-entry visa that’s valid for exactly 10 days!

Step 16. Now for all those tickets and bookings you have to pay for. You multiply your vacation budget by three because damn it you have a visa and you’re gonna use it.

Step 17. You travel to your destination, blink once, blink twice and suddenly you’re back at work again.


Happy friggin’ summer holidays to my fellow Arab travelers.


Author: Ban Barkawi

A journalist and apparently now a blogger.

196 thoughts on “What it’s like for an Arab to go on vacation

  1. To have an amazing vacation! U must not do all of that boring steps.
    Just choose somewhere cheap and easy to access, and always remember that (it was never about the place, it’s always about the accompanying person or even groups).
    Take my advice as it’s from professional of Hotel Management and Tourism specialise person 😉

  2. Actually it’s not only arabs! I guess almost every country that its not schengen or the US needs a visa for going pretty much everything. At least I know in Dominican Republic it’s exactly the same procedure. So if it makes you feel better, you are not alone!

  3. Sounds pretty similar to a South African passport… it’s one of those things that I’ve just put down as part of my travel – no other way around it. It sucks, but there’s not much you can do about it unfortunately. Unless of course you marry someone with a “better” passport and are able to get a spousal passport…

  4. This is pretty much how we Filipinos apply for visa for most countries in the world! I can totally relate to the frustration.

  5. Today, you have shown me something I take for granted and am now more grateful. Next time I am picked (at random but not because I have long hair in a pony tail a goatee and dress like an old hippie) for a special search, I will remind myself that many of us have an easier time than others. I hope, someday, things will be easier for you. Thanks for today enlightening story.

  6. I feel so very related to your post. I’m not an arab, but I am Colombian, and besides having to deal with all the paper work and the visa problematic, you have to deal with all sorts of colombian stereotypes, “funny” comments about your nationality and straight up racism and ignorance during the trip. How awesome!

  7. It all depends on beurocricy that stems from the existence (or not) of international agreements between countries or groups of countries. So also so called first worls citizens will need to do some hoop jumping, depending on what country they would like to visit. But i think you’r rant above is more about the treatment and arab might get because of racial, cultural, religious and political aspects. Such a small franction of the arab world is actually involved in terrorist activities that is saddens me to see how this minority manages to tarnish the experience for all the rest who would just like to enjoy a simple and innocent pleasure such as a vacation. It bids the question: Whay is the majority of the arab world not harder on the terror minority, work more in conjunction with the so called first world countries to opress terrorism and create more trust and security ? not so simple I know, when again you have to take into account the context of race, religion, politics, culture, etc. that is highly segmented and at odds with eachother within the arab world. for an outsider it feels as if the leadership in most of the arab world lacks interest in making things easier for their citizens (leaders don’t have such a hard time going on vacation), as well as having to walk a thin line in politics, goinf up against terror supporters meaning often shooting themselves in the foot in domestic or external politics. I may be way off target here and mean no offense. Everyone deserves a vacation.

  8. Uncanny. My experience exactly, as an Egyptian. Although, maybe (very small chance) it is easier for an woman than an Arab man.

  9. It’s not all one way. I’m a UK-born British citizen travelling on a UK passport, but had to jump through the visa hoops to visit Ghana, India and Syria when I visited those countries as a tourist.

  10. How about doing a Palestinian version? Now I can tell you all about that!

  11. Excellent article, it’s amazing how easy it is to forget the privileges of the west

  12. Dear Ban after reading your thoughts and facts …… I want to protest and stay home!,,,,,,,,,,,

  13. Very accurate and painfully true haha. I think you should just include a 3-4 line paragraph that explains the same procedure but for non-Arabs (if it even takes 3-4 lines), just to make it even more obvious how absurd this is.. Anyway great post :))

  14. Blease add to that actually credit cards are satin possessed products that either your too afraid to touch or desperately you cannot obtain, so online bookings are like also either a complicated math or a dream that travel agency enjoying sucking your soul on !
    and blease also add the military service pardon book that 99% male youth forget in the stinky socks drawer and remember also to go a military base to sign only on the way to the airport
    screw summer vacations, i am enjoying mafraq !

  15. Try being a New Zealander going to England to live for a year, jumping through all the damn hoops, when you’ve identified as English all your life, and suddenly being told that you are not English, you’re Foreign, and although all your grandparents fought for the damn British Empire, a German or an Italian who fought against the British can just waltz right in and go straight on the dole. You have to have a job. And a reason for being there. And no recourse to public funds. Because of where you were born. That sucks as well.

  16. Wow, Im impressed…not only about how good you write, but also about how much work you have to go on vacation. I have to confess that some of it Im been through before (being a Brazilian), but not even close to that!!

  17. I guess I live in a bubble. I had no idea and honestly never thought about potential issues for other people to be able to travel. As an American, I pretty much can go where I want. I’ve had to get visas in the past but it was only a minor annoyance. Thank you for the information.

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