The Visa Struggle Is Real

Staying on the trail is mostly a question of mental and physical fitness for the hikers who have a permanent residence in the United States. And by permanent I mean something more established than your tent or hammock. For us Europeans, as well as all other non-American hikers, it’s also a question of our non-immigrant status in the eyes of the Homeland Security.

Visa Process in the Good Ol’ Days

Hikers who wish to stay in the United States more than three months need a tourist visa. This normally allows one to stay six months in one visit, but longer stays have been granted as well. The process starts with an application at the US Department of State’s website. Essential part of the application is to prove that you have reasons to return to your home country. In addition to explaining that you haven’t committed a genocide or other crimes of that nature.

After filling the never ending application and paying the fee you are required to have an interview at your local US embassy. In a normal situation – like when I applied for my visa before hiking the Appalachian Trail – there was roughly a two week wait to get an appointment at the US embassy of Finland. No appointment, no business inside the gates of the embassy.

The US embassy of Finland in 2016. You don’t just go and knock their door.

Along Came COVID19

The global pandemic hit the international travel hard. The United States was no exception. The country closed its doors from tourists at the beginning of the pandemic. During 1,5 years the citizens of European Union countries were not allowed to travel to US. At least not for any pleasure cruise.

In November 2021 the EU citizens were finally allowed to enter the US – vaccinated and tested. This news was greeted with joy within aspiring thru-hikers. If only that would have been as simple as buying the plane tickets and waving your loved ones goodbye.

Unforeseen Emergencies

In the beginning of the pandemic all the visa interviews were cancelled. Once they were started again in November 2021, the wait list had exploded. Many hikers got their appointments for the summer 2022, which was obviously too late for the hiking season. Some were able to reschedule the interviews and got new appointments for January, February or March. Just in time to get the travel documents.

Yesterday the Facebook group of Nordic PCT hikers started to fill with distressed messages. Swedes had received information from the US embassy in Stockholm that their appointments were cancelled. Some tried to move their application to Denmark. Even Austria was discussed. Wherever there would be an embassy that would still organise interviews.

Today same happened in the Finnish long distance hiker group. A fellow Trek blogger echoed the news from the UK and New Zealand. All interviews were cancelled. The reason was “an unforeseen emergency situation”. No one knows for sure what that means. Speculations gravitate towards the powder keg situation in Ukraine. Some hikers have voiced their concerns whether even the visa holders will be allowed to enter the country. Though this kind of decisions haven’t been officially made.

Getting your pack on the top of that mountain got even harder for foreigners.

The Ripple Effect

The cancellations might not only affect the class of 2022 anymore. Now that at least the US embassy of Finland has its next appointments available in September, the class of 2023 should prepare for the struggle. Abundance of travellers are still waiting to get their visas and the line keeps on growing.

If you are considering a long distance hike in the US in 2023, you should act now. Even if your plans are for 2024, it might be wise to start to monitor the situation. No one wants to give up the life changing adventure because of the missing travel documents.

Disclaimer: Information about most recent travel restrictions to the United States are available at the CDC and the US Customs and Border Protection websites. The most accurate information about the schedule of visa interviews should be searched from the website of your local US embassy.

Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

Comments 2

  • Warwick : Feb 23rd

    The stresses of promptly obtaining a six month tourist visa are similar in Australia. I sought an interview with the US consultate in Melbourne last August and was given a date last week. That put pressure on a departure date to start the AT in March 2022 given the processing time of the visa was not clear. Prior to Christmas my interview was cancelled because the Sydney consultate was closed for renovations. After sitting on hold for more than two hours with the Melbourne consulate I had my interview reinstated. The security at the consultate is a little confronting when we are not used to that in Australia but the staff were very courteous. After explaining at the interview that my sole purpose of visiting the US was to hike the AT, I was advised the visa had been granted. My passport with visa attached was returned just a few days later. It is now all systems go for a March 23 start barring intervention from any number of world crises that didn’t exist five years ago.

    • Finnisher : Feb 24th

      I can only imagine how stressful situation that have been for you. I know many hikers that are now forced to make a quick decision on whether to postpone their hike or travel for 3 months using ESTA. Or go hiking somewhere else. It is very unfortunate because you don’t always have the chance to go and your dreams are generally set on some specific goal. I’m lucky enough to still have my old visa valid. I’m happy to hear that you were able to discuss with them and to receive your visa in time. The world situation is concerning at the moment in so many levels. I hope all the best for your hike.


What Do You Think?