How To Get an Iraqi Kurdistan Visa on Arrival at Erbil International Airport

visa for iraq in kurdistan

Arriving into Erbil Airport which is in the Kurdistan part of Iraq.

Iraq is still a relatively new backpacking beast, and once you’ve read this you will realise how simple it is to travel to Iraq. While hoards of youngsters head to places like Thailand, Germany, USA and Cambodia on their adventures, not many are tempted by Iraq. And why not? (It must be the media…) Hopefully after reading my stories you will be slightly more inspired and wanting to head to places like Iraq, Suriname and Ethiopia instead of Thailand, Australia and Italy. The whole experience of travelling to Iraq is more rewarding, more challenging and more authentic. Entering Iraq as a tourist these days is best done in the northern region – known as Kurdistan, or Iraqi Kurdistan. Iraqi Kurdistan is still a developing tourist spot but once it gets discovered, things won’t be the same. You know my advice is to head there now – before the other backpackers hear about it! You could be hiking to the old ruins of Amadiya, exploring Erbil’s citadel or paying respects to the victims of the suicide bombings under the Saddam Hussein regime…some reminders still exist by the way…

saddam hussein banknotes

You’ll enjoy touring Iraqi Kurdistan – banknotes like this have thankfully passed the country by…

The Iraq Visa Situation

OK so let’s get this over with straight away – as a non-Iraqi and non-Muslim you will have 2 options when heading to Iraq as a tourist:

1. Get a FULL Iraq Visa and be accompanied with a guide, being permitted to visit ANYWHERE in Iraq as long as you’re with a guide (Kurdistan exempt).

iraq flag visa

The Iraq flag – a visa that covers all of Iraq has to be sorted in advance.

2. Get an Iraqi Kurdistan Visa and backpack on your own, without any intervention, but with a limit as to where you can and can’t go (i.e. Kurdistan only – the northern part of Iraq).

kurdistan iraq flag visa

The Kurdistan Flag – a visa for Iraqi Kurdistan can be sorted on arrival and land and air borders.

I’ll make it Easier for you:

1. You can get a visa that covers ALL OF IRAQ

2. You can get a visa that covers the KURDISTAN PART OF IRAQ ONLY

irbil fireworks iraq

How to get an Iraqi Kurdistan Visa on Arrival at Erbil International Airport – enjoying the New Year’s Eve celebrations in Irbil, Iraq.

As a budget backpacker and one who doesn’t want guided tours, or the risk of being stopped at security checks all the time, or to pay a lot for my travels, we chose to avoid Baghdad, Babylon and Al Basra and head to Kurdistan. This allows you the freedom to do things yourself. We wanted to backpack through the Kurdistan part of Iraq at our own leisure. And that’s my advice. It’s easier, safer, cheaper and more authentic. For the time being you should be getting a visa for Iraqi Kurdistan.

kurdistan iraq

Meeting an Iraqi and a Kurdish policeman in Erbil, Kurdistan, Iraq.

A Full Iraqi Visa

If you want a FULL Iraqi Visa to see the whole country and with a guide, you will have to organise it yourself in advance through a tour company, an agent or an overseas representative of the Republic of Iraq. I didn’t go for this option, I went for visa on arrival for Iraqi Kurdistan only. I didn’t want to be with a guide, or to pay the high price of a tour or all the restrictions, I just wanted to go backpacking in Iraq, so the Kurdistan Visa is the one to go for!

iraqi kurdistan

Backpacking in Erbil Bazaar and Markets, Kurdistan, Iraq

Getting An Iraqi Kurdistan Visa on arrival

If you want an Iraqi Kurdistan Visa, you can get this on arrival at the land borders and airports in Kurdistan. Only the nationalities that are eligible of course, and here’s the list…

These nationalites can definitely get a visa on arrival for Iraqi Kurdistan

Citizens of “EU countries (Ireland, Germany, United Kingdom etc.), Canada, USA, Australia, UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, South Korea (but South Koreans should have special permission note from Korean Ministry of Trade and Foreign Affairs)’ will be granted 15 days visas upon arrival at the Erbil or Sulemaniya International Airports or Border gates and if they wish to stay longer, they should visit the Residency Office to extend the duration of their stay.

erbil iraq

At the Kurdistan Parliament building in Erbil, Kurdistan, Iraq.

All other Nationalities will need an Iraqi Visa or a KRG Entrance Approval

All other nationalities should have an Iraqi visa or KRG Ministry of Interior’s entrance approval prior to the travel. There are three ways to obtain a visa for the nationalities that need visas to the Kurdistan Region:

1- You can apply for the Iraqi visa at the nearest Iraqi Embassy or Consulate

2- You can apply for the KRG Ministry of Interior’s visa through one of these ways:

· Through your company, or counterpart in the Kurdistan Region

· Through your Embassy in Baghdad or Consulate in Erbil if they have one, to send them an official letter requesting KRG’s visa

· Through KRG Representation in your home country if there is one.

If you are in doubt about your situation, please contact the Kurdish government before your trip, their email address is: [email protected] – they normally get back to you relatively quickly. Their website is – Kurdistan Government website. It’s also worth checking out the excellent site Go Kurdistan which is the best backpacking resource for Kurdistan on the web.

jonny blair backpacking in iraq

Posing by both the Iraq and the Kurdistan flags in Irbil.

How to Get to Iraqi Kurdistan

You have two main options of getting to Iraqi Kurdistan:

1. Overland

2. By Air

jonny blair iraq

Iraq was the 85th country on my journey.

Going Overland to Iraqi Kurdistan

Overland you can only really access Kurdistan from two countries – Turkey and Iran. All other borders into Iraq remain tightly closed except for those working there or for special circumstances. For the record, Iraq also borders Kuwait, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Syria.

iraq border map

A map showing Iraq and its borders.

A few of my fellow blogging buddies have gone overland without fuss – Derek from Wandering Earl and Adam Pervez from Happiness Plunge. They chose the overland border from Turkey. This goes from Silopi to Zakho.

erbil iraq flight

We boarded our flight to Erbil, Iraq from Doha in Qatar.

We decided to fly in and out of Iraq. I have no idea which option is safer, but for sure going overland is cheaper. This was the last part of our 4 month Middle East and Caucases tour so we weren’t bothered about spending money on the flight just to see part of Iraq. We booked flights in and out.

kurdistan iraq erbil

Arrival at Erbil International Airport in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Flying into Iraqi Kurdistan

If you choose to fly into Kurdistan, you have two options for airports:

1. Erbil International Airport

2. Sulimaniyeh International Airport

international airport erbil kurdistan

Erbil International Airport is the largest in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Both airports have a range of flights which vary depending on time of year and demand. The most popular destinations from Iraqi Kurdistan are Istanbul, Ankara, Adana (all Turkey), Doha (Qatar) and Dubai (UAE). There are also direct flights from Erbil to Amsterdam and Stuttgart. Using Baghdad as a connection can also get you further afield, but please remember Iraq is still recovering from years of War and the Saddam Hussein regime so safety in Baghdad, even in the airport cannot be guaranteed. Unless you have the full Iraqi Visa you won’t be able to leave the airport in Baghdad anyway.

erbil doha

Boarding pass all ready for the flight to Erbil from Doha.

With all that in mind, we eventually decided to fly into Erbil from Doha in Qatar. It’s a direct flight and takes just under 2 and a half hours. We went with Qatar Airways. I’ll write a bit more about the flight itself in another post.

qatar airways flight

We went with Qatar Airways from Doha to Erbil.

Arrival at Erbil International Airport

On arrival at Erbil International Airport, your plane will most likely head straight to the terminal for a direct walkway into the arrivals hall. There doesn’t appear to be any buses between the terminal and the planes – they’re not needed. Erbil is still a pretty quiet airport, a lot of flights come in daily but generally it is still a “sleeping giant”.

erbil airport

Erbil International Airport – modern and swanky!

It’s a really nice, swanky, modern airport waiting for a tourist boom to kick into play. You walk straight from your flight to the immigration section without fuss. Clean, well laid out, bilingual (Arabic and English) and modern.

Getting a Visa on Arrival at Erbil International Airport, Kurdistan, Iraq

Join the queues and line up for your visa. You don’t need any photos, any forms or anything else if you are travelling on a British or Irish Passport. Some other nationalities are the same, but check with your embassy to confirm.Canadians, Americans, Japanese can all get visas on arrival for Iraqi Kurdistan.

erbil airport

Arrival at Erbil International Airport – visa sorted within minutes.

What you Need to get an Iraqi Kurdistan Visa at Erbil International Airport, Kurdistan, Iraq

I used my Irish passport and this is what I needed:

1. Myself (a given – you have to be there)

2. A valid passport from an eligible region with more than 6 months validity on it

3. To pose while they take a quick photo of you

The entire process must have taken 45 seconds. One of the quickest and easiest entries into a country ever – and this is Iraq! Here’s what the stamp (your visa) looks like:

erbil airport visa

My visa stamp on arrival at Erbil International Airport in Iraqi Kurdistan.

* You don’t need any forms, you don’t need to pay, you don’t even need proof of your onward flight (if they do ask this – better to say you’ll go overland into Turkey – even if you end up booking a flight and flying out).

How much does an Iraqi Kurdistan Visa cost at Erbil International Airport?

It cost me nothing on my Irish passport. It’s a FREE visa on arrival. Don’t you just want to visit Iraq now? Some nationalities will of course have to pay for a visa though, so again, please check.

iraqi kurdistan notes

The 15 Day Kurdistan Visa is FREE for a lot of nationalities!! You won’t need any of these old Hussein Dinars!

How long does the Iraqi Kurdistan Visa last?

As a standard rule they give you 15 days. This is easily enough time to see the Kurdistan region of Iraq. Should you want to stay longer, you’ll need to apply in advance or while in the country, ask for an extension. I have no experience of either situation, but trust me – 15 days is sufficient.

visa for iraqi kurdistan

It’s a 15 day visa for Iraqi Kurdistan ONLY.

 

What Restrictions does the Iraqi Kurdistan Visa have?

It does exactly what it says on the tin – you are allowed to visit the Kurdistan region of Iraq only. This is not a crazy rule by any means – it’s for your own safety and parts of Iraq are still out of bounds.

This means you cannot sadly visit the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Baghdad, Mosul, Kirkuk and Al Basra are also off limits so don’t think about it.

erbil citadel

Checking out the Citadel in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan.

Other parts of Kurdistan

Please also note that there are also Kurds in other countries such as Iran and Syria, so the term Kurdistan covers more than just Iraqi Kurdistan. This map kind of shows the entire area known as Kurdistan.

kurdistan map

A map of the region known as Kurdistan – it goes beyond just Iraqi Kurdistan.

What are the main sights in Iraqi Kurdistan?

Erbil, Sulimaniya, Amadiya, Salahaddin’s Fortress, Zakho, Dohuk and Hamilton Road are the main parts to see.  I’ll be writing more about the places I visited in future posts. In the meantime, just check out GoKurdistan.com which is an awesome site which gives a great overview on Kurdistan. I hope my this post on how to get an Iraqi Kurdistan Visa helps you on your way!

go kurdistan website

The excellent Go Kurdistan website gives a fantastic overview.

Safe travels!! Kurdistan is in Iraq, but you’ll discover it’s a great place to go backpacking in! I can’t wait to write some more posts on it!!

Join 13,000 Monthly Readers! If you enjoyed this article and LOVE travel and SAVING money, get e-mail updates from Don’t Stop Living – a lifestyle of travel! (It’s Free) ;-) Jonny

About Jonny Blair

I'm Jonny Blair, a travelling Northern Irishman. Since leaving my hometown a decade ago I have managed to visit over 80 countries and over 500 towns or cities across all 7 continents. Along the way I have worked in countless jobs! Join my journey on Don't Stop Living - a lifestyle of travel as I provide you with tips and inspiration to live your travel dreams! Safe travels! Follow me on Jonny Blair Google Plus
This entry was posted in Central Asia/Middle East, Erbil, Iraq, Kurdistan, Visas, X tips. Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to How To Get an Iraqi Kurdistan Visa on Arrival at Erbil International Airport

  1. Graefyl says:

    That all sounds great Jonny. Hadn’t realized the difference between the two regions. Nor how easy it was. ‘Course I’d have to do it the hard way ‘cuz I’ve a US passport (unless the Manx Gov’t can issue me one – which’d make things a ton easier all round).
    Graefyl recently posted…Lord of the Rings, a Travelers BibleMy Profile

  2. Jonny Blair says:

    Graefyl – yes it’s a lot easier than most people believe. The thought of travelling to Iraq even terrifies some of my mates (even though they won’t admit it). It was always on my list to go backpacking in Iraq. US passports are OK as my fellow travel blogger Wandering Earl found out. I’m doing the Kurdistan region first time round and will wait till things stabilise a bit more before heading to southern Iraq (Babylon and Baghdad. Safe travels. Jonny

  3. Pingback: Friday's Featured Food: A Kurdish Feast in Dohuk, Kurdistan, Iraq

  4. Great thorough post Jonny! I have bookmarked it. :)
    Raymond @ Man On The Lam recently posted…VIDEO: Firing an AK-47, Driving a Race Car, and More #ManlyMomentsMy Profile

  5. Jonny Blair says:

    Thanks for the comment Raymond – you’re probably the first person to read this post, as it’s my least popular post in the last 2 months so far! Hopefully more travellers will read this too and break the mould to visit countries like Iraq! Safe travels. Jony

  6. Pingback: My Bournemouth Story: Why I left in 2009 and Why it took me until 2014 to return.

  7. Pingback: A Backpacker's Guide to Iraqi Kurdistan

  8. Pingback: Top 15 Things to see and do in Erbil, Kurdistan, Iraq

  9. Pingback: Saddam Hussein's House of Horrors: My Trip to Amna Suraka Red Security Complex, Sulaymaniyah, Kurdistan, Iraq

  10. Pingback: 10 Things to see and do in Duhok, Kurdistan, Iraq

  11. Amanda Smallman says:

    Hi i travelled to erbil kurdistan in 2009 and it was fantastic lovely parks and shops food is great had my pic took with an ak47 which belonged to my friends uncle a lot of what you see in the media is about baghdad falluja and mosul you dont go to these places when i told my friends and family i was going to iraq they said WHAT! IRAQ why cant you go to spain or greece but believe me its an experience and the people are welcoming.

  12. Jonny Blair says:

    Hi Amanda, Thanks for the comments – I totally agree – it’s a rewarding experience and much better than Spain or Greece! Safe travels. Jonny

  13. Pingback: Backpacking in Iraqi Kurdistan: Top 10 Things to see and do in Sulaymaniyah

  14. I am Bangladeshi can i get working Visa?

  15. Jonny Blair says:

    Hi Mohammad – I’m not sure – you’ll have to check with your embassy but also please note – this is NOT a working visa, just a tourist visa. Safe travels. Jonny

  16. Rabar Sami says:

    We are welcoming all tourists…. Come to Kurdistan and see the reality… don’t care about lie medias….
    I really love all my tourists who visit Kurdistan….

  17. Jonny Blair says:

    Thanks for the comment Rabar and totally agree – Kurdistan is an amazing place and the people are great! Hope you get a load more tourists. Safe travels. Jonny

  18. Nadeem Pervaiz says:

    Dear Jonny, I am going to erbil and was not having any idea that what sort of place that is. By reading your post i am no more stranger to erbil. Now i feel that i have already visited that :) Thanks

  19. Jonny Blair says:

    Thanks Nadeem you will love Erbil – it’s a great city! Safe travels. Jonny

  20. kate says:

    I am filipina & i want to go in kurdistan as a tourist is it possible to give me a tourist visa is safe place. and how much, currently i am working now in dubai. let me know some advice plsss

  21. Jonny Blair says:

    Hi Kate – thanks for the comment – I got my visa on arrival as I stated, but I dont know the answer to that but please contact the Kurdish government and send them an email and I’m sure they can help you. Safe travels. Jonny

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Current ye@r *

CommentLuv badge


Follow

Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers:

UA-36691711-1