THE QUEST FOR VISAS
One of the most frequent questions I get from fellow travellers - who usually come from Western countries - is whether it is troublesome for Russians citizens to cross borders. My typical reaction normally involves the rolling of the eyes, a sigh, and an answer along the lines of "you have no idea!". It is not that I tend to be over-dramatic, but rather the sad reality of my passport: what fills it up so quickly is not stamps but visas that entire pages.
Do you remember last time you had to apply for a tourist (visitor) visa well ahead of your trip? Not a work permit or student visa or any other long-stay purpose, but a mere document that allows you to board the plane? I do. It was last October and I was collecting and filling out numerous forms for my New Zealand visa: university enrollment statements, proof of funds (aka bank statements), detailed itinerary, 15-page-long application, immigration history, previous passports, and much more on top of that. In case you are wondering, I was not even going to stay in the country longer than 4 weeks. Ok, at least that is still some quality time, so how bad can it really be?
Imagine you find a bargain plane ticket that is only half the price of a direct flight. Awesome. But then you look at the stopover city and realise that it is situated in a country you need a visa for. Yes, that's right - transit visas are also a thing. A transit visa is required even if you fly out on the same aircraft and from the same airport at which you arrived or if you only intend to stay in the transit lounge, without actually leaving the airport and entering the territory of the country. So, had I travelled to NZ through, say, Australia, I would have had to apply for an Aussie visa too. Mind you, most visas are not free of charge: fees range from $20 to $250 and beyond. Is it worth going through that horrendous paperwork just to get a better flight deal?
Moving to a European country a couple of years ago sure did make it a lot easier for me to travel around the continent and to some countries' overseas territories. For example, the only reason I managed to get to French Polynesia and New Caledonia on my round-the-world trip is that I have a residence permit of a Schengen country. Both FP and NC are French overseas territories whose levels of autonomy and legal statuses vary but are bound by the immigration laws promulgated by the French government. For citizens of certain states, it means getting a special visa for these territories as a regular Schengen one would not be enough, but I was lucky to avoid all of that.
Yet my national passport is not even among the worst to travel with. The map above (click to enlarge) is labelled according to how many places citizens of those countries can travel visa-free: the higher the number, the darker the colour. Henley & Partners, , an international residence and citizenship planning consulting firm, monitors global visa regulations and analyses how it changes from year to year with respect to international relations and status of individual countries. All 28 members of the European Union are free to move within their zone, including work and study purposes. However, even EU members do not have the same relationships and agreements with other countries which affect, among other things, how long one can stay in their desired destination and what type of visa you are eligible for. For instance, the only EU citizens who can travel to Vietnam without a visa a Denmark, Sweden, and Finland. These 3 national passports, in fact, are among the most desirable to have if you are an avid globetrotter.
So what are the best passports to have if you want to travel?
Germany, United Kingdom: 173
Finland, Sweden, United States of America: 172
Denmark, France, Italy, Japan. South Korea, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway: 171
Belgium, Canada, New Zealand, Portugal, Spain: 170
Austria, Ireland, Singapore, Switzerland: 169
As of 2015, German and British citizens have the privilege of travelling to as many as 173 countries without having to arrange a visa prior to departure. That is one country down since 2014. To be specific, British citizens here are citizens of the United Kingdom only, as visa requirements for other classes of British nationals such as, for instance, British Overseas Citizens, British Overseas Territories Citizens, British Protected Persons or British Subjects are different.
On the flip side, the least advantageous are citizens of Afganistan can enter 25 countries (13% of the world) free of formalities. As Henley & Partners reports, "visa restrictions are an important tool for governments to control the movement of foreign nationals across borders.” With that in mind, I found it interesting that Chinese passport holders, one of the most sought-after groups for the travel industry, still face quite a few obstacles when travelling abroad, with only 45 visa-free countries to choose from. This number ties them with Algeria, Haiti, Laos, and Vietnam. For further information on entry requirements for some countries with your passport, check out this page.
Now, let's set something clear: 'better' passports in this particular case speak of better diplomatic relations but not necessarily of better citizenships or better countries to live in. But if travel is high on your priority list, then visa logistics and planning can take an incredible amount of time, effort, and money, let alone freedom of spontaneity. Visa hassle can ruin plans too. Take another example from my experience: last year my parents could not make it to my Bachelor's graduation in Canada because they received their visas 3 days after the ceremony had taken place; they sent their application over 2 months in advance.
Got a 'good' passport? Appreciate it, don't take it for granted. And go make the most of it. Happy travels!