Yes, crazy it may sound but currently there are thousands of tourists stranded in Nepal due to Covid-19 pandemic are staying illegally because Nepali government has decided not to extend their visa even when they are willing to pay visa fee and wait out until things are back to normal. Those fortunate enough to board any rescue flights are made to wait for few days at immigration office in Kathmandu to find out who much fines to pay. Their passports are also stamped stamped for overlay stamp with noting that they are barred entry into Nepal for one year.
How Did We Get Here
Tourism, one of the major revenue earner for Nepal, was focus of Visit Nepal 2020 campaign. The trekking season of February 2020 drew lots of tourists from all over the world. Unfortunately, they got stuck in Nepal as abrupt lockdown was announced on 24th March 2020.
Timeline Of Covid-19 And Visa Policy For Stranded Tourists
- 24th March 2020 – Nepal imposed abrupt lockdown that lasted for months. Immigration office along with all government offices remained closed. There were few repatriation organized.
- 21st July 2020 – Lockdown lifted and government decided to extend tourist visa unit 31st December 2020 taking cue from decisions taken by other countries around the world.
- December 2020 – As Covid-19 continues to be a global threat, Nepal allowed stranded tourists to continue their stay in Nepal, however, this time by paying visa fee of USD 3 per day along with some unexplained fines and penalty. As there are no vaccine in sight and international travel continue to be severely restricted, thousands of tourists decided to pay the visa fee to stay in Nepal. The visa was extended for 150 days after paying fines and fees.
- April 29th 2021 – Nepal was on complete lockdown again. All flights suspended and immigration office closed. Those visiting immigration office were assured that visa will be extended once lockdown is over.
- 2nd July 2021 – Once again immigration offices were open after two months of strict lockdown. Government decided to extend until end of July 2021 payment of USD 183. People were assured that visa will be extended on payment until situation is normal.
- August 2021 – There are no further visa extensions. Nepal has allowed few flights to repatriate its migrant workers from middle eastern countries. Tourists planning to go out must travel through those transit point, as Nepal is on Red list those airports do NOT allow passengers from Nepal. This means while it is possible to Nepali migrants to come back but flying out on those flights is not an option for many tourist as those airlines are unwilling to take passengers from Nepal. Flights to Europe is upwards of USD 4000 one way.
As of August 2021, Nepal offers limited flights to New Delhi, Kabul, Kuwait, Doha and Istanbul. Many do not accept passengers from Nepal because Nepal is in Red list due to rising Covid-19 infections. Situation is unlikely to improve due to limited availability of vaccines and poor health care infrastructure in Nepal. Not a single European or American airline allows direct flight from Nepal which is on Red list of Covid-19
Current Situation For Tourists Stuck In Nepal
Those unfortunate tourists stranded in Nepal are facing dire situations. Currently Covid-19 cases are rising and Nepal is about to face third wave which will prompt government to impose another lockdown. Currently tourists are facing following problems:
- Flights to their home countries are limited, expensive and in many cases unavailable because their home countries are not open for international flights.
- Many tourists with comorbidities are afraid to undertake international travel which is currently not advisable according to WHO.
- While many countries continue to grant extension of visa on humanitarian grounds, Nepal decided to take punitive measures against travelers who are forced to pay exorbitant fines, penalties and visa fees for their stay after July 2021 which is roughly USD 10 per day. They are made to wait for several days at immigration office in Kathmandu. Their passports were impounded and returned on the day of the flight. This is frustrating because airlines requires PCR test within 72 hours of the flight thus tourists are scrambling to hospital immediately after paying exorbitant visa fees, arbitrary fines and penalty.
- Those lucky enough to escape had to buy expensive tickets for journey lasting over several days because many countries/airlines do not accept passengers from Nepal without further restriction such as quarantine and additional PCR tests. Very few airlines are currently offering direct flights from Nepal.
How Other Countries Are Dealing With Stranded Tourists
Most of the countries in the world have taken empathic approach towards humanitarian crisis faced by tourists. This ranges from free vaccination, rescue flights and extension of visa without payment until Coronavirus crisis is under control.
China: Usually China is not very generous in offering visa extensions however she is currently offering unlimited visa extension on monthly basis. The entire process is online and there is no personal visit or fees required. Vaccines are provided to all regardless of nationality.
India also allows all foreigners to extend visa online without any fees or fines until situation is normal. Here is the excerpt from official notice issued by Government of India.
Is There A Way Out For Stranded Tourists?
Department of Immigration in Nepal has not shown any mercy to tourists who are unable to leave Nepal. Adding insult to injury, they are made to wait inside immigration office for hours for several days. Currently (September 2021), foreigners are paying roughly USD 10 per day of overstay. There are no options available except paying fines, buying expensive flight tickets head back to their home country with dreaded red stamp of deportation.
How Can You Help
If you feel concerned for those tourists stuck in Nepal you can help by sharing this post via social media or writing to your country’s Embassy so that consular protection may be offered to those who need.