The Most Difficult Countries for Americans to Visit

The stars and stripes won't get you far in these countries

As you might've read in the TripSavvy article about the world's best passports, the U.S. passport is right up there with the best of them, allowing you visa-free access to at least 173 countries as of April 2015. Several countries remain practically off-limit to Americans, however, certainly independent American travelers.

While none of the countries on this list ban American visitors outright, the difficulty of obtaining the proper visa – and the various other hoop you'll need to jump through – could be enough to dissuade you from visiting altogether. These are countries US citizens cannot visit very easily at all!

  • 01 of 05

    North Korea

    Mansudae Grand Monument, statues of former Presidents Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il
    Gavin Hellier/Robert Harding World Imagery/Getty Images

    Many people believe that Americans can't visit North Korea at all, but the fact is that unless you're a Christian missionary, it is the US government, not North Korea's, that bans you.

    Prior to the murder of Otto Warmbier in 2017, if you were coming to North Korea with a government-approved tour company, stayed with your guide the whole time, avoided conversation and even eye contact with ordinary North Koreans and weren't a journalist, politician or any other professional North Korean's totalitarian regime might consider threatening, you could visit.

    Unfortunately, geopolitics led the Trump administration to ban Americans traveling to North Korea indefinitely. North Korea is one of the countries Americans are banned from—by their own government, no less!

  • 02 of 05

    Iran

    Iran
    Paul Keller via Flickr

    As is the case with North Korea, Iran allows American visitors – you just have to be on an organized tour for the entire duration of your stay, and not leave your guide's side under most circumstances. Where many people who might otherwise be able to visit Iran get tripped up is the so-called "authorization code," which your tour company must provide to the Iranian government in order to finalize visa approval. This often happens with weeks or even days to spare before your arrival, which can make you even more anxious about your trip to Iran than you probably are. 

    In 2017, in the wake up Donald Trump's unexpected election victory and inauguration, Iran briefly banned US citizens, as a reciprocal measure for the administration's Muslim ban. Now, thankfully, Iran is no longer one of the countries US citizens cannot visit.

  • 03 of 05

    Cuba

    Cuba
    HYanWong via Wikimedia Commons

    Americans have been traveling to Cuba illegally for years – but it's always been a matter of flying to Canada, Mexico or some other "third" country, then hopping over to Havana. Contrary to the beliefs of many Americans, the illegality of such a journey has to do with American law, not Cuban. As is the case with North Korea, Cuba is one of the countries US citizens cannot visit due to restrictions of their own government.

    When Barack Obama was president, Americans could travel to Cuba legally, with some caveats. This is also the case, in practice, during the Trump era. In spite of the administration's tough talk, you can still book direct flights from the US to many of the Cuba's largest cities, including, most recently, Havana. It's possible that Cuba may return to the list of countries Americans are banned from at some point in the future, but as of now that's not the case.

  • 04 of 05

    Libya

    Libya Oasis
    Lucag via Wikimedia Commons

    Libya's place in the news the past several years can be summarized in three words: Qaddafi; Benghazi; ISIS. In spite of this, the country – namely, its portion of the Sahara Desert – is among the most unspoiled treasures of North Africa. Unfortunately traveling to Libya, especially in today's political climate, is near impossible for American, even if it's not officially on a list of countries US citizens cannot visit.

    While the Libyan government has officially been issuing visas to U.S. citizens since 2010, there's no rhyme or reason when it comes to the approval process, nor any statistics on how often they grant approval – word on the street is that it isn't often. Plus, with the number of terrorist groups who've set up shop in Libya thanks to the vacuum the failed 2011 intervention left, the R.O.I. for travel to Libya just isn't very high right now.

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    Saudi Arabia

    Mecca
    Al Jazeera English via Twitter

    You would think, given Saudi Arabia's reputation as an American "ally," that visiting this oil-rich kingdom would be relatively easy for US citizens. Unfortunately, while the geopolitical realities of the world continue the two countries' mutual dependency on one another, it's very difficult for Americans to visit Saudi Arabia solely for tourism purposes, or at least it will be until the tourism visa officials have long promised goes lives.

    Tip: If you're an American and want to visit Saudi Arabia, consider finding a job teaching English or working in the oil and gas sector. This not only permits you legal entry into the Kingdom, but a handsome salary that counteracts the notoriously high costs of traveling there.  Saudi Arabia is not among the countries US citizens cannot visit, so long as you're going for work!

Was this page helpful?