Iraq used to be one of the most closed-off countries in the world. With sanctions in the 1990s and then the American invasion in 2003 it has been through some tumultuous times in the last few decades.
However, in the last 3 years, things have been slowly changing. The younger population has taken a keen interest in changing things in Iraq. Elected officials are changing. Thanks to the Internet, as well as relative political calm with the rest of the world, Iraqi people are finally well connected with the outside world.
In March 2021, Iraq quietly changed its policy on tourist visas. It was just weeks after the Pope visited and had such a successful visit, that the prime minister decided that it should be easier for international visitors to also visit his country. It offered an opportunity for economic investors as well as Christian pilgrims to visit without barriers.
Instead of applying in advance, tourist visas can now be processed on arrival from a few dozen countries.
Iraq Visa on Arrival
There are a few things to keep in mind if you want to visit Iraq. First, you need to book accommodation in one of the 15 approved government hotels. Second, you need at least one empty page in your passport for the visa sticker ( it is not just a stamp ). Third, you need to fly into Baghdad. Visas can also be obtained in Iraqi Kurdistan, but for that region only and you cannot travel by land OUT of the region. You will need to fly to Baghdad and then get a different visa ( Iraqi Kurdistan stamps your passport only, it has different entry requirements ).
While this is by no means a difficult process, if you miss something, it will cost you. If you do not have proof of a reservation at an approved hotel you will be fined USD50 before they will even take your passport to process your visa. This is very easy to do, even a confirmation on your cell phone is enough. If you are on a tour like I was, your tour company will give you a letter confirming your booking with your name and info on it. Print this out and give it to the visa officials with your passport.
While not a problem for most, having an empty page on your passport is also important. It is illegal to cover passport stamps with visa stickers in most places, so make sure you have room in your passport.
Visas to Iraq: More Important Details
Currently ( Nov 2021 ) there are also requirements for a negative PCR test no more than 72 hours before your departure. This was checked for me before I boarded my flight in Istanbul. It was also checked when I got off the plane before arriving at customs ( so have it handy so you don’t have to dig it out ). This information changes so quickly so refer to the most recent information that is usually obtainable from your tour company or the airline. Currently there is no official government source online for this information ( or for visa information for that matter ).
With that being said, this visa on arrival process is brand new and subject to change at any minute. There is almost zero tourism infrastructure in Iraq, as virtually all visitors until very recently have been solo backpacker type travellers. While group trips are beginning to emerge, with the help of start ups like BilWeekend, do not expect anywhere to have any type of tourist conveniences.
Yes of course there are hotels all over Iraq, but they have largely been limited to religious tourism and local tourism. Even in Baghdad, the man at the hotel front desk spoke very little English. While it was enough, asking for things like towels can sometimes be difficult. Things like this, make having a tour company on hand invaluable. We had to obtain special permission to enter beautiful sites. While we waited outside, our guide would make a call, someone would come and talk to security and then things would be unlocked and run smoothly. The caretakers of these sites were then so proud to show them off,offering us a glimpse into their country’s history and achievements. Sites are just not used to having an influx of international visitors.
Places that are popular with locals are obviously easy to visit, such as famous cafes, but it can be difficult to get the vibe of the place unless you know what to expect or are adventurous enough to figure it out along the way!
I have yet to encounter a menu that is not in Arabic, so having a guide again came in handy. I’m not saying you need one, but I really enjoy getting to spend time with a local guide, get a bit of an insight into their lives in Iraq ( and also avoiding hassles along the way ).
Visa on Arrival Cost
The visa on arrival needs to be paid in USD. The price is between USD75-80 (I am assuming currency fluxuations). I paid USD77 in Nov 2021 (they give change).
Country List for Iraq Visa on Arrival
Those carrying passports for the following countries can get a Visa on Arrival at Baghdad International Airport.
- Republic of Cyprus,
- Czech Republic,
- New Zealand
- South Korea,