What is a weak passport?
Travel on a weak passport is very limited. A weak passport is one issued by a country whose nationals are not able to travel visa free to Canada,America, England and Europe. Some passports are weaker than others of course. If you are not able to jump on a flight deal for any of the places listed above your passport is weak.
The strength of one’s passport has nothing to do with the size of your country. Singapore has one of the strongest passports and it’s a pretty tiny country. The irony of having a weak passport is the fact that you have to pay more to explore many other countries, even those that may be nearby. It is sad and can be really discouraging to those of us who dream of travelling to explore country upon country.
How to travel on a weak passport
Let me share some of what I am learning about seeing the world step by step on my somewhat weak Jamaican passport. Wikipedia outlines nicely countries that I can visit visa free, the ones where I can get a visa on arrival and those I need to apply for a visa for in advance. This is very useful and I do plan some of my trips around countries that I can visit visa free or get a visa on arrival. As you know, if you have ever spent aeons preparing documents and going to an embassy to apply for visa, it’s best to avoid this when possible. Let me tell you all about some things to help get you started travelling on your weak passport, if you have one. Yeah! for you if you have two passports an done is strong – you are winning at this visa free travel life.
Start you travels on a small scale
I know we all dream of going to New York, Paris, Rome, Toronto, London, you get my drift. Those wonderful cities have been promoted to no end to all people on the earth. The promoters forgot to say that the road to get to these places – for some people- is paved with steep visa regulations, fees and rejections in some cases. Of course this doesn’t mean it is impossible to go and visit these cities. Dreams become reality with time and preparation.
My suggestion is to start off travelling to countries that allow you to go there visa free or will grant you a visa on arrival. By going this route you may find yourself chartering territory that is exquisite though not as talked about. Every country has beauty to be explored. Some countries have just mastered the heart of selling themselves, while others are yet to realise the things of value they possess.
Since I am based in Japan, I have been able to visit quite a few places that allow me entry visa free or visa on arrival: South Korea, The Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos and Hong Kong. I have also been able to travel to a number of African countries because of this too: Tanzania, Kenya, South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Uganda. I also went to Israel, Jordan and Turkey because of this. I am going to Peru and Colombia visa free too. Look at all these awesome countries that offer rich experiences. Every country affords access to others visa free, even if it’s even a few countries. Even among weaker passports some have more power than others but explore and see where yours can take you.
Interestingly, having some kind of travel history may make you more likely to get a visa for the bigger countries. It may demonstrate that you can truly afford to travel and will return home since you have done so on other occasions. Any thoughts on this from those with experience?
When you want to travel the world on a weak passport it can be frustrating. Start small and stay positive even when you get those visa rejections for no clear reasons.
Plan and Prepare well in advance for visa interviews
You can’t afford to just show up for a visa interview. It is a process that you should not rush, so give yourself adequate time to do the following:
- Read on the country’s official embassy website what documents you need to prepare for a travel/visitor visa. Write down or print out this information and refer to it from time to time. Ensure you follow the specifications precisely.
- This is a big one. You often have to show that you can afford to finance your trip – you or your sponsor. This means that a certain amount of money needs to be maintained in the bank account you will show the embassy, for at least 6 months. It is great if this is paired with a job you have been in for a few years with a salary to show how these savings were generated. (As we know some countries don’t even look at this after all the prep that goes into it…sigh)
- Research the country you want to visit and have an itinerary of sorts. Since you want to visit for tourist purposes you often need to show you are genuine in this. This is key when applying for the Schengen Visa. I spent much time figuring out my itinerary before applying for this visa. This reflected my intention of travelling for tourism purposes to the relevant officer. In some cases you may even be asked to show hotel bookings or airplane bookings for different countries.
- Think of the time and money you need to get documents and even travel to the embassy for the interview. We often live some distance away from the embassy where we need to go to have a visa interview. This means we have to figure out when to take time off work as well as budget travel expenses for this. When I lived in Fukushima I spent upwards of 25,000 yen to come down to Tokyo for a visa interview. This is in addition to the relevant visa fee. They tax us hard for some of these visas. Again, remember to plan in advance so your whole life isn’t interrupted.
- Manage your expectations, especially for certain countries. We know that some countries will refuse to give you a visa even with all the above on deck. To top it off you will get no explanation and not a cent is refunded. This is enough to eviscerate one’s ego and morale. It is not easy to lose anywhere from 100- 300 USD like that. I know the struggle, but open yourself to this possibility before you begin. It is not always personal. The system jus set a way as we say in Jamaica.
- Use the visa you have been given for the right purpose. Many people make it bad for others. Unfortunately, many citizens of some countries come under stricter restrictions because of those who are dishonest. We can play our part by being honest. Yes, I am on my soap box and I know it often isn’t as simple as I make it out to be.
- Dress appropriately and be you. People judge us first based on our appearances, everything else is secondary. Even if we are eloquent, the image we present may get stuck in their heads so they can’t see past it. Don’t overdress. Put yourself together well and convey your best self for that setting and relax. Don’t come off as desperate.
Some reasons why some passports are weaker than others
First your country may not have reciprocity with certain countries to facilitate freedom of travel. In some cases this doesn’t exist because one country is a ‘pull’ country while others are ‘push’ countries. ‘Pull’ countries are powerful and draw many people from weaker countries. Harsh economic conditions, war, poverty, violence and other factors push people usually from weaker countries to those countries. This results in more stringent visa policies. Hence, while citizens from powerful countries can travel freely to most weaker countries the opposite is often not true. This can’t be helped eh. We, who travel on weaker passports have the burden of proving we are genuine tourists – unfortunately even with all relevant documents on deck this doesn’t mean things will go our way. Again I say go explore other places that are more open.
Secondly, it may be very well that your government has not negotiated visa free travel with certain countries. Yes, some countries drop the ball on this and it can be confounding. I am not sure why this is not a priority, maybe they think their citizens don’t travel? Who knows.
Thirdly, some countries are stereotyped as being dirt poor with all citizens being in that state. Therefore there is no way anyone from such countries would be able to afford travels beyond their borders. Yes, people do think this way still. Many do not recognise that all countries in the world have a well to do group who can afford all the luxuries in life. If a certain country was embroiled in war and under many international sanctions, even after these are lifted, its citizens may face travel restrictions. It is a sad reality and I have met a few people from such countries.
If you dream of exploring beyond the borders of your country, go for it. Start with the places that are easily accessible and offer visa free or visa on arrival access. Google ‘visa requirements for (insert name of your country) and a Wikipedia page should be available on this. It gives a breakdown of areas where you need a visa and such. You can plan your trips using this information. I do this with many of my trips. For example, I had always wanted to go to Israel(no visa needed) so, when I found out I could get visa on arrival in Turkey and Jordan, I planned a trip and went exploring in these places for a month. I am always looking at what countries I can get to that allow visa free or visa on arrival access. I am travelling to all these countries before others.
Oh, another thing before I go, don’t overlook countries that require that you get a visa but the process is straightforward. Do your research because not all visas require thousands of documents and such. Some of the places that I have been to such as India, China, Sri Lanka and Ethiopia were pretty straightforward. These are not considered to be powerful countries per se but they all have outstanding sites to explore and enjoy. I found my experiences in all of them fulfilling. We travel to explore, embrace and experience different cultures, yes? Are we subjective in the places we want to visit? That is a given, I am not here to tell you how to spend your money.
I want you to think of other options, to go beyond the norm, beyond yourself and discover other awesome corners of the world worth exploring. Travel on a weak passport your way and don’t be pushed around by visa processes all the time.
Additionally, some of us with weaker passports get the opportunity to live abroad in more powerful countries and branch out from there. Look into scholarship programmes to study abroad as well as work opportunities to experience life in another country. Life abroad is exciting, challenging and thrilling all at the same time. You do get the chance to travel and explore another country or even a region through these avenues.
You, reading this, who dreams of travelling but feel discouraged because of a visa rejection, a lack of funds or just a very weak passport that blocks your path to travel to certain countries. Take it step by step, build up your savings, visit countries that allow easy access and stay positive. Over time you will show that you are a genuine traveller who returns to your country, so that you will be allowed visas for those more difficult to access places.
Twenty years ago as a university student I had no idea that I would have been able to travel far and wide, let alone live abroad. I travel the world on a weak passport. I have been rejected for my fair share of visas. I still have to prove that I can finance my trips and will leave a country after a stipulated time. My passport filled with stamps is still not enough because it is weak. I am all about exploring lands that allow me easy access and I have had no regrets yet. Try it.