Whether you are a freelance journalist or a blogger who love to visually document their travels abroad, it is important that you do you research before officially traveling under the “journalist” title. The majority of people who have extensively traveled abroad are aware that you are often asked to state the purpose of your visit to the immigration official when visiting a foreign country. The typical reasons for a visit are: vacation/holiday, business, visiting family, convention, honeymoon, wedding, or special event. The while the majority of visitors will select vacation/holiday, some individuals (especially freelance journalists who fail to do their homework) may select business or use the “other” category because they are intending on taking some photos for a blog, article or other publication. No harm, no foul right? Wrong. Keep reading.
Even if your intent is to capture your journey and the various locations that you visit for purely recreational (translated as non-paid) purposes, stating that you are a journalist may raise flags in some of the more “guarded”territories. Believe it or not, there are some countries where an unpaid journalism activity, even if it is for a blog, is considered to be a professional service and therefore prohibit unless you have the permission of the local (read foreign) government. A work permit/work visa may actually be required in some some situations. If you think that is a joke, just check out the entry requirements for a place like— say Maldives. Yes, that tropical paradise has very rigid standards for entry. Why? I honestly do not know, but I suspect that it may have something to do with controlling the dissemination of information and their image.
Perhaps one of the most obvious places where this is most evident is China (think Tiananmen Square). The chinese government is VERY guarded with their image and definitely has a strong hold on controlling the flow of information and imagery into and out if the country. Unless you were born at the turn of the century, you would definitely know about the journalism restrictions in a place like China. But then again, some people do not do their homework.
So, what is a budding journalist to do? Well, you can go the official route and work through the local government or a foreign sponsor who can help you legally enter under the journalist/professional services category. If that doesn’t work, you could possibly just enter the country as a normal tourist on holiday and take in the moment sans professional equipment or just bring along a camera phone. Regardless of what you decide, DO YOUR HOMEWORK. If you are not a professional journalist (even if you are), take the time to find out if your hobby could result in you missing out on your dream vacation, losing precious time traveling to your destination only to be denied entry into the country, and experiencing a significant financial blow resulting from the forfeited lodging and the cost to depart the country.
My advise is to leave the journalist title to the professionals, unless you are truly on official business, and just enjoy the experience. Life is short and tomorrow isn’t promised. You wouldn’t want to miss out on a great holiday just because you selected the wrong category.