Ask the Visa & Passports Experts- Why Do Visa Applications Cost What They Do?

by on June 17, 2014 · 25 comments

in Allied Passport

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I’m happy to present a new TPG series “Ask the Visa & Passport Experts” to demystify the visa and passport application process. Meet Peter Gulas and Steve Gempeler, owners of Allied Passport & Visa. Today, they’ll explore why applying for a visa to various countries costs what it does.

Most seasoned travelers have applied for a travel visa to a foreign country at least once. Few contemplate the rationale for shelling out, often times, hundreds of dollars for a visa to visit an international destination you’re already going to spend top dollar at once there.

passport and travel

Reason 1 – Reciprocity

The United States charges $160 for all nationals requiring a visa to enter the U.S. Many countries, in return, charge US citizens reciprocal prices for their visas.

Most foreign embassies in the United States that adhere to this reciprocal fee structure charge $160 for all passport holders, even if they are not U.S. citizens. Some embassies, however, take their fee structures to the extreme. The Indian, Nigerian and Bangladeshi embassies in the U.S. all have visa fees with segregated prices for every nationality and often wildly fluctuate depending on who is charging who what and when.

Reason 2 – Background cost maintenance

If you’ve ever obtained a visa to Russia, China, or Brazil you’ll notice a high level of security features on the visa label itself. Expensive holograms, watermarks, sometimes your photo on the visa, and barcodes all prevent counterfeit, decreasing illegal immigration and keeping better track of travelers’ movements.

Embassy staffing also plays a vital role in determining your visa cost. As you’d expect, wealthier countries have more stringent entry criteria. Therefore, embassy staffers (often times in the dozens per embassy) examine each application with a higher degree of scrutiny. Background checks, phone interviews, or personal appearances to validate identities are occasionally required, creating additional costs for the embassy, all of which are passed onto the applicant.

In contrast, many embassies only employ one or two visa officers that simply stamp your passport, pen in your personal details, cash your money order and you’re in.

China Visa

Reason 3 – Embassy outsourcing

Some embassies have hired private companies to assist in visa document preparation. This eliminates the embassy from any direct contact with applicants. Instead of applicants presenting their documents directly to the embassy, the outsourcer acts as a middleman, reviewing, correcting and requesting additional information/documents from the applicant, if needed–essentially, perfecting the applicant’s application before it gets through embassy doors. Russia, India, Nigeria, Algeria, Azerbaijan, and Zambia are currently the only countries that use outsourcing.

  • Russia’s outsourcer charges a $33 outsourcing fee, plus a $35 “mail in” fee, on top of the $140 embassy fee.
  • India’s new outsourcer currently charges a $17 outsourcing fee per application.
  • Nigeria’s outsourcer bills $20 to complete the required online application and payment.

Having a private American company and a foreign government both taking a cut makes these countries some of the most expensive visas to obtain.


Allied Passport’s services is happy to extend a $5 TPG discount on your orders. What are your visa and passport questions? Ask the experts in the comments below.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • KristaSCole

    Most seasoned travelers have applied for a travel visa to a foreign country at least once. Few contemplate the rationale for shelling out, often times, hundreds of dollars for a visa to visit an international destination you’re already going to spend top dollar at once there.

  • dcsells

    Surely, though, one of the driving factors behind high visa costs for a number of countries is the “because they can” factor. Countries know that so long as the visa price isn’t unbelievably irrational, it’s unlikely that high costs are going to dissuade travel by U.S. visitors, whether for pleasure or (especially) business purposes. Very few people who get it into their head to visit Brazil, or Russia, or somewhere else “exotic” are going to abandon their plans when they find out a visa costs, say, $300 instead of the $100 they expected–especially when the visa cost is a relatively small part of the overall cost of the trip. It’s not much different from airport exit fees that a lot of these same countries charge. All of these tactics are quick, easy, and relatively costless ways for countries that lack a reliable currency to accumulate dollars or other valuable hard currency, like euros, Australian dollars, or other currencies from first-world countries with stable currencies.

  • morrow

    What wasn’t explained in the article above is that the $160 that the U.S. charges to all B1/B2 (non-immigrant tourist, business) visa applicants is based on a meticulous cost accounting of how much it costs, front end to back end, to process one visa application. I’m not aware of any other country that makes a serious attempt to recover essentially the exact cost of the visa application; this ensures that the cost of reviewing visa applications is not borne by U.S. taxpayers. The cost is averaged out among the costs to provide such services in all countries; while it’s certainly significantly more expensive to process a visa application in France than in Bangladesh, due to local labor costs, any foreign national will pay the same cost, regardless of which Embassy or Consulate they choose to apply at.

  • Marnie

    I don’t mind paying for a visa application – when I planned a vacation for South America, I needed a visa for Brazil and Chile. The visa for Brazil took up an entire passport page and I think $100. For Chile, it was $131 US and cash was required at customs. The trick is making sure when the visa has to be obtained because it’s different for every country. In Bali, it was issued at customs as well and I think it was only $10 US. It’s just part of the expense to travel. If one is lucky enough to travel to these places, be happy you can afford to pay the fee. It’s miniscule.

    The only part I did not like was leaving my passport at the consulate office for Brazil in L.A. because they lost my passport and I was leaving in a few days. The passport feel in-between drawers in the cabinet. They should make it easy like the other countries and pay upon entry.


    Good article. Looking forward to a possible part 2?

  • Jack Pualson

    This. Issuing visas is often seen as a revenue center, either for the country or for the department involved. This is compounded if the majority of travelers are business or governmental travelers who care less about high prices.

    Trust me, Nigeria, Congo, etc are not setting their visa prices based on their costs.

    The revenue aspect and the reciprocity aspect are the two drivers here.

  • Steve |

    Timely. I scored the $130 flight to Milan, Prague and then Beijing and was contemplating which route to go to get my China visa. I’ll definitely check these guys out.

  • Willie The Shake Speare

    Explain to me this:

    Step 1: apply for green card, I-485, via immediate relative, spouse. Get conditional green card for two years. Cost: $1070, or over $1K,

    Step 2: re-apply, to remove condition, I-751, fee: $590,

    Step 3: apply for naturalization, I-400. Fee: $590.

    It is a bit too much to pay in a matter of, oh, say, 3 years. Total fees: $2,2K.

  • Willie The Shake Speare

    Brazilians have resentment against the Americans. When Americans started introducing fancy things like fingerprinting, etc, Brazilians retaliated, and imposed the exact same conditions on the Americans.

    If you ask me, I think it is fair and square.

    If I count how many times they have collected fingerprints from me, I would probably be a millionaire.

  • Willie The Shake Speare

    Frankly, I would not visit this list of countries even if they paid me:

    Nigeria: $275

    Algeria: $191

    Azerbaijan: $180

    Afghanistan: $160

    Bangladesh: $160

    Belarus: $160

    Kazakhstan: $160

    Kuwait: $160

    Qatar: $160

  • J

    No I won’t be happy about some of the countries prices. I will avoid them and take my $$ elsewhere. It is a tit for tat. I was going to take my family to Russia to visit and the visa fees were so high that I cancelled. I had lived there 20 years prior and had never been back. I certainly wasn’t going to stay and become a menace to their social services. Not good for business Russia! I would have undoubtedly spent money there and seen my best friends. NOPE or should I say NNNNYYYYYEEETTTT

  • Avery

    It really depends on what current passport do you hold, and how often you need to travel to visa requiring destinations,for me visa application fees can add up real quick, say average $150 single entry.. . Besides the time of processing, some of them for more than a month, is a real pain in the a**

  • LoganGuy

    This is an interesting article. $160 reciprocity fees sound expensive but the cost averaged over time is not so expensive. For instance, the Argentina fee is $160 and is valid for 10 years so the cost per year is $16. After talking with Allied Passport and Visa in Washington DC I learned a sneaky trick to get the most of the reciprocity fee. When you plan to travel, call them and ask what is best. When I visited Argentina, they had some awesome advice. Since I already had the Brazil reciprocity pass from a previous trip, they suggested I buy the Uruguay reciprocity pass as well as the necessary Argentina pass so that I can move around easily. When I visited Iguassu Falls, I was able to cross the borders of all 3 countries easily since the falls are spread across all 3 countries and all 3 counties have unique parks and views of the falls. Also, in the case if Argentina, I wasn’t able to see the entire country in one trip since the country is so big. The reciprocity fee is valid for 10 years. Allied recommended I print the pass or scan it to my computer. Since I was not able to visit Mendoza, the wine country in Argentina, and since Mendoza is relatively close to Santiago Chili, I can include Mendoza on a Chili trip in the future. It pays and saves to ask a professional.

  • Stevio

    Honestly, if anyone has applied for any type of US visa in a foreign country, this is nothing in comparison. US consulates are some of the rudest people who I have encountered. They trained their staff in such a way that they want people to be dreaded to go and apply for any types of visas. They also want to make sure to create the image that US is the best country in the world, and anyone who knocks on the door to ask for a visa is inferior.

  • Sam

    I assume you don’t have a US passport? US passport holders aren’t required to get a visa for Chile for stays up to 90 days.

  • morrow

    Every consular fee (passports, immigrant and non-immigrant visas, and citizen services like notarials) is based on a comprehensive cost survey which determines the average cost of providing that service.

  • morrow

    I worked in a consular section at an Embassy for two years, and I sympathize with you – the work is grueling, you’re constantly being lied to by visa applicants, you’re expected to completely process one applicant in 1-2 minutes, on average, the paperwork and backlog is unending, and the vast majority of those doing the interviews are relatively inexperienced first or second tour officers who are serving outside of their professional field (public affairs, management, political, economic) because there simply aren’t enough Foreign Service Officers to do all the visa interviews (in person interviews for all non-immigrant visa applications have been required since the 2001 attacks, because the hijackers were issued visas based on “drop-box” applications, and subsequent interrogations with captured terrorists determined that their biggest fear/chokepoint was getting denied a visa during an in-person interview.)

    That’s to say, you’re right: a lot of times, applicants don’t see a friendly face on the other side of the bullet-proof glass window. (Sometimes they do, though, I promise.)

    All that said, there’s actually a /legal requirement/ that consular officers view every applicant skeptically. The Immigration & Nationalization Act’s section 214(b) states that consular officers interviewing non-immigrant visa applicants (people coming for tourism or business) are REQUIRED to assume that all applicants are, in fact, “intending immigrants” until they can show compelling ties to their home country. Not everyone is trying to be mean (though some consular officers, truth be told, aren’t very nice); but in cases where it’s simply not clear to a consular officer whether the person would be better off in their home country or as an illegal migrant in the States, basically, the law requires that the consular officer deny that person a visa.

    (A side note: Almost every other country that charges U.S. citizens a $160 visa application fee is doing so based on “reciprocity,” the idea that any rule or requirement toward citizens of nation A by the government of nation B should be met reciprocally by government A toward B’s citizens.)

  • Marnie

    I do hold a US passport. Perhaps the rules have changed but when I visited in 2008 one needed to acquire a tourist visa upon exiting customs and it was $131 US dollars, and cash was required, no credit cards We flew from Mendoza to Santiago. And we also needed to keep an exit form to leave the country – we flew from Santiago to Rio.

  • Marnie

    I think it’s fair as well. If the US is going to enact a such a practice, why shouldn’t the country retaliate? Maybe retaliate is a strong word, but they should be able to enact the same policy as the offending country. Just because we’re American doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be held to the same standard, IMO.

    Loved Brazil – can’t wait to get back.

  • Smith

    I applied for a visa to Algeria and was able to apply directly through the Embassy rather than their outsourcing provider, though it did take quite a bit of research to find out how. I don’t mind paying visa fees but I was frustrated to pay so much for a single entry visa.

  • Steve Gempeler

    I would like to know how you applied without the outsourcer for Algeria. Was it done in Washington DC or elsewhere?

  • Aaron

    Allied Passport & Visa:
    Can you cover details regarding the Chinese Visa for Americans and their recent addition to letting passengers with an onward ticket internationally, transit without a visa in Shanghai or Beijing.
    1. I’m curious how easy it is to apply for a multi-entry visa for China. (is this a 1-2 entry thing or unlimited entry over a course of so many years?)
    2. How likely is it for someone to get a multi-year Chinese visa without a company sponsoring you?

  • Steve Gempeler

    Hi Aaron,

    China in most cases grants 1 year multiple entry tourist visas to USA Citizens. Max stay 30 days per entry. For transit free visas here is the China Embassy website on the subject:

  • Smith

    It was in DC – I called the embassy directly

  • Willie The Shake Speare

    I have no idea what you are talking about.

    I was complaining about draconian immigration / border control policies of the USA (not of Brazil).

    I have no problems that the Brazilians: (a) require Americans to get a visa, and (b) subject Americans to fingerprinting.

    In fact, if 95% of the 192 countries where USA citizens do not require turist visa get smart, and start requiring visas, that would be awesome.

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