YOUR ULTIMATE GUIDE FOR AFGHANISTAN
YOUR ULTIMATE GUIDE FOR AFGHANISTAN TRAVEL: UNVEILING MISUNDERSTANDING
Afghanistan, a country that is steeped in rich history and the most beautiful landscapes. However, it’s also a nation that has faced its share of challenges in recent decades. This has lead many to wonder about the possibility: travel to Afghanistan. I had the opportunity to visit Afghanistan in late 2022. With the passing of time, it has become even easier to visit the country than during my time there. In this blog post, I will address the most common questions that tourists may have about visiting Afghanistan.
Can Tourists Visit Afghanistan?
Yes, tourists can visit Afghanistan, but it’s important to note that the situation in the country has been dynamic. Travelers should stay informed about the current conditions. It is now possible to travel independently in most of the country. However, unless you’re an extremely well-traveled person, I would highly advise against this. A quick search on Instagram will lead you to local guides operating in the country that you can hire during your time there. I personally traveled with a group and that felt very safe. I will talk about it in detail in this blog.
Can Americans Visit Afghanistan?
Americans may be able to visit Afghanistan, it’s just a matter of securing a visa. This cannot be done in the USA because there is no diplomatic representation for Afghanistan in the country. I would personally ignore travel advisories because those are heavily politicized. Instead, look up vloggers or blogs of people that have been there recently to make an informed decision. I would buy comprehensive travel insurance that covers this specific country. I would also register with my local embassy online if safety is a concern.
Can I Travel to Afghanistan as a Woman?
Traveling to Afghanistan as a woman comes with additional considerations. At the time of my visit, women were still allowed to visit parks and recreational sites. They’re not allowed to anymore. However, if you go with a group it is evident that you’re a tourist so the rules are more relaxed than they are for local women. Regarding clothing, I had to wear an black abaya and hijab throughout my visit. In Bamyan, however, conservative clothing were also a must but at least colors were not frowned upon.
Where can I get a visa?
Since the Taliban took over the country in August 2021, its government regime has not been recognized by a SINGLE country in the world. This means that they have ceased to have diplomatic representations around the world. However, there are still a few unofficial “embassies” with no ties to the Taliban that are able to provide visas.
In order to get a visa, you would first need to fly to one of these locations. THEN you fly to Afghanistan once it’s been approved. London, Amsterdam and Dubai facilitate this process, and the visa costs from $300-500 USD. If you happen to go to Pakistan first, like I did, you can get the visa in Islamabad or Peshawar. This starts from $80 USD depending on the nationality. US citizens on average pay at least $50 USD more for the visa.
How is the Afghanistan visa process?
After visiting almost 100 countries, I can without a doubt say that this was by far the most difficult and daunting visa process I have ever been through. Had it not been for my travel expertise and my knowledge of the geopolitical situation in the region, I don’t think I would have been able to pull this off.
I am not Muslim, but I had to dress as if I were already in the country for the two visa interviews I had in person. This was to show that I was willing to adhere to their customs and expectations. Any mention of social media is frowned upon. They don’t want people documenting the human rights atrocities happening in the country. For all intents and purposes, you do not have social media accounts, whether you’re a content creator or not.
Which documents are needed?
I had to take proof of my return flight from the country, an invitation letter from the agency I used (which has to be registered – freelancers will not do), and two passport pictures. Once I arrived at the embassy I had to fill out a form. During both interviews, I was heavily questioned about my motives to visit the country. How aware was I of the country’s situation? I made an emphasis on the beauty of the country. I also listed all of the places I was looking forward to visiting and why, as well as how misunderstood it was from the media’s perspective. All of this was done without ever questioning or criticizing the Taliban’s authority.
How to deal with the payment process?
I suggest showing up as soon as the embassy you have chosen opens (you can find that information online). Take cash in hand for the visa. USD bills should be in pristine condition. If you’re paying for one of the more expensive visas outside of Pakistan, take $100 USD bills. I had an interview in the morning and paid the fees. I had to go back that same afternoon for another interview and to pick up my passport with the visa. I paid $30 USD for same-day delivery – inquire within the embassy. Do not expect to find any relevant information online. While the visas are legal, these “embassies” are not run by the Taliban so they have no say on who gets in and who doesn’t.
Should I go alone…
Even if you do buy the flight, you need to get the visa approved at the embassy. If you’re going with an agency, this will obviously be much easier to handle since they’ll be the ones providing all of the paperwork needed.
If you are able to provide a detailed itinerary you should be able to do it on your own. However, there are Taliban checkpoints on every highway that you need to go through the moment you leave a city. This is not an easy country to navigate. I truly admire those who are courageous enough to do it on their own. I have many friends who have visited the country on their own: some had problems, some didn’t.
or should i go with a guide or a group?
If you want to have more freedom by going on your own (and lower costs), I’d suggest finding a guide. Like I mentioned before, these can easily be found through Instagram. If you are willing to spend more, want to feel safer as part of a group, and don’t want to deal with planning or paperwork, I suggest joining a group trip.
There are plenty of companies online that offer tours to Afghanistan. I will not mention the one I used. It was foreign-owned and I was disappointed by the service. However, we were the third group of foreigners to enter the country after the Taliban took over. There were practically no agencies running tours then and choices were limited when I went. Most of them have opened again. I would only support locally-owned agencies. This one is very well-known. This other one is also reputable and run by locals.
Is Afghanistan safe to visit?
Yes and no. It is much safer than the media depicts it. If anything, this is the safest the country has been in decades. The Taliban has taken over and most of their opposition is gone from the country. We spoke to locals that said that this was more bearable. Now they have a few attacks per month compared to a few attacks per week. This is a country that has been ridden by war since the late 1970s. As someone who has never lived through war, I cannot even begin to imagine how this current situation is better for them compared to before. Restrictions in place and lack of human rights do not apply to visitors. We are able to use tourist privilege to enter the country and leave unscathed, while locals have no opportunity of leaving.
How does the taliban treat tourists?
The Taliban does not wish to hurt tourists. They will never gain international recognition if they harm citizens of other countries. However, there is another player in place: ISIS. It is now ISIS who targets foreigners in the country with the hopes of framing the Taliban. This is why it’s so important to dress the part, to blend in, and to stay in low-key accommodation that is not frequented by foreigners. If you travel with an agency, they will make sure to keep you as safe as possible throughout the whole trip.
How was it being in the country?
It is not in the Taliban’s best interests to harm you, so I have to say that they were extremely hospitable and welcoming towards us. When I visited the country, we needed to secure permits for Herat and had an in-person meeting with the head of the Taliban in the province. While I do not agree with their policies and the way they handle the country, many were forced to work for them because there are no other sources of income in the country.
How are locals towards foreigners?
The few people who were able to speak to us were happy and grateful to see us visiting their country and willing to learn more about the situation on the ground. The media does a great job at tarnishing a country and the whole of its population. In reality, it’s usually a select few that have the power to negatively impact locals.
Were there ever dangerous moments during your visit?
Personally, the only time I felt truly scared while we were in the country was when a suicide bomb went off in Kabul. This happened at an education center for women. I had personally reached my limit then, and was completely ready to leave the country by the time that happened. I also happened to be really sick, but I had already been sick for a few weeks before this trip. That aside, I really enjoyed my time in the country.I actually have a Master’s degree in human rights and international conflict. This trip was an eye-opening experience. I learned so much about what the situation was TRULY like on the ground.
Main recommendations for visiting Afghanistan
- Dress appropriately. Always. One of the girls I was with got called out because her ankle was showing under her abaya.
- The less noticeable you are, the better. Not just in terms of clothing but also as a tourist. The less people know you’re a foreigner, the better.
- Men in our group were advised to grow a beard for a month or two before the trip to blend in. As women, if any of us had really light hair, it was advisable to cover that up completely at all times. Afghanistan is incredibly diverse in terms of ethnicities, but this was just an extra precaution.
- Travel light. One of the best ways to stand out anywhere in the world is with a suitcase with wheels.
Respect local culture
- Do not take close pictures of locals unless you ask for permission.
- Do not criticize the local government or the Taliban, no matter who you’re speaking to, unless it’s someone from your own group.
- Do not post on social media until after you’ve left the country. And if you tag a location, this can be easily traced back to your guide or agency. There are only a handful of foreigners in the country. Your posts could have a negative effect on the people that hosted you if you are to criticize the country – please be careful.
- Read up about the country and what makes it up in terms of diversity. Learning about this, especially the Hazara, will give you a better insight as to what is happening within.
I could go on and on about what visiting the country was like. It was a unique and rewarding experience, and I have never been at such a crossroads regarding a country: the safest it’s been in decades, but that also means locals are paying a price for that. This trip is not for the faint of heart, but it is not impossible to visit, like most people would lead us to believe. Stay informed. Be respectful of local customs. Remember the privilege you have for being able to visit the country without being affected like locals are. Embrace the rich culture and hospitality that Afghanistan has to offer. I hope this was helpful, and if you have any questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments below or reach out to me directly.
Hey there, and welcome to Go Global with Sibu! I’m a global citizen that has been living and traveling around the world since 2005 – all through budget travel, scholarships, study/work and living abroad opportunities. I share everything I’ve learned over the years here – to prove to you that you don’t need money or privilege to enjoy everything that this world has to offer.