There are many things in life that we can choose to be but one thing we can't choose is where we are born. The location of our birth can determine the opportunity we will get, the privilege we will receive, and it can predefine how our lives will play out. I truly believe that traveling the world is a rite of passage every human being in this world should take, but unfortunately, the access to this privilege is predetermined by which country we are born in and the passport we were given.
I have been traveling the world since 2012 and every time I mentioned to the first-world passport holders, the things I have to go through in order to go to a place like Europe, they were shocked.
I am a Thai citizen through and through and my Thai passport is ranked 54 on the Passport Index with 39 countries visa-free, 41 visa-on-arrival and 116 countries visa required. In comparison to European passports which ranked 2 - 10 on the Passport Index with over 119 visa-free, 36 visa-on-arrival and only 43 countries visa required, you can see the difference.
Every time I hear first-world passport holders complain about doing a visa run or having to apply for an electronic visa online, I cringe a little. For us third-world passport holders, we have to go through much worst to get to places they can simply hop on a plane and be there in no time. How much worst? Well, let me explain the things we have to go through just to get to Europe.
What is it like?
Europe does not make it easy for us to travel to their continent, in contrary to them coming to us. The entire process takes at least 2 weeks to a month from us calling to book for a time slot which can be fully booked up to 2 weeks, to us picking the passport up which can be 3 days to a month from the day we apply.
Planning a Trip
Planning for a trip for people with a first world passport can simply be just buying a plane ticket and show up on time, but for us, it requires extensive planning weeks in advance.
For Europe, first we would have to find the embassy to apply, read up their document requirements and followed the list to a tee. Documents involved are usually a valid return flight ticket, all the accommodation booking details for the entire stay, an itinerary of the entire trip, a 3 months bank statement with cash movement (to prove that it is your money), a letter from work proving that you have something to return to, non-refundable fee from 50 - 200 USD and many more. If anything is missing from the documents, we would get rejected outright and we would have to make an appointment again.
As you can see, going somewhere with a third world passport requires extensive research and careful planning that hinder us from exploring the world as freely as other types of passport.
Traveling on a Whim
People often wonder why we, third-world passport holders, don't travel on a whim. The answer is simple, we can't. Our passport just doesn't allow the type of backpacking trip that goes on for months and months around the world without a return ticket. Even with countries that are visa-free to us, we sometimes get rejected if we do not have a return or onward ticket.
Depending on the countries we are going, we are also forced to be bound to our home country because some visa applications require us to be in our home country to be able to apply. For example, I can not go traveling in Turkey for a few months and apply for a European visa in Istanbul to continue my journey to Europe. I have to come back to Thailand to get the visa and fly back to Europe which doubled the cost for us, and since we are not from a very rich country, we can only afford to do this so many time.
What do we get?
For most first-world passport holders, when you get a visa or exempted from one, you are often given a maximum fixed period of time you can stay in a country, say 90 days in Europe, or Thailand together with multi-entries. For us, on the other hand, is not as simple.
With a third-world passport, often times, the duration we get is considerably less than our first-world counterpart. Europe is the worst at this because they will only give us the duration and the entry that is shown on our submitted itinerary. If we apply for a Schengen visa with a 10 days itinerary involving countries in the Schengen zone, instead of getting the 90 days maximum period like other passport holders, they would only give us 11 days single entry visa, which leave us no room for flexibility.
Imagine if we want to backpack through Europe for 3 months, we would have to book 90 days of accommodation, printed them all out and submitted to the embassy every time. Even with that, we wouldn't be able to go out of the Schengen zone, say for a small spontaneous trip to Croatia and get back into the Schengen area, because that will be considered multi-entry.
As you can see, it is not all flowers and sunshine even after we got the visa.
How I Travel the World With a Third World Passport
Even though that sounds grim, I can confidently say that it is not impossible for us to travel the world like a first-world passport holder if we know our way around our passport weaknesses. There are many world travelers out there with a third world passport (Aileen from IAmAileen.com, Melai from LovedandWanderlust.com) that are constantly pushing the limit of what is possible for us.
Research and Preparation
It all comes down to doing your homework before a trip. First I would see which countries have my passport exempted and I would try to stick to that area first and if I came across a country that requires me to get a visa prior to the trip, then I would go into their website and look at the visa application requirement one by one.
The key is to do enough research that you have an itinerary you can base your trip on. You don't have to follow the itinerary to a tee but it is good to know which country you can go and cannot go without a visa in order to prevent disappointment.
For example, when I first planned my trip to the middle east, I wanted to go to Egypt, Jordan, and Turkey for 3 months. I found out early on that I would need a visa for Egypt prior to traveling and none needed for the other 2 so I went and got my Egypt visa beforehand. I was also looking at neighboring countries like Georgia and Armenia in case I have spare time which I did and I was prepared for it.
As you can see, you can travel the world with a third world passport with the flexibility like a first world passport if you do enough research.
Paperwork for Visa
After you have done your homework, it's time to do the boring part, the paperwork. The key here is to prove to the embassy that you have the mean to come back to your home country. They put this rule in the first place to prevent us from going to their countries and work illegally and we will have to prove that that is not the case.
More often than not, the embassy will require you to provide several documents about your itineraries such as flights, accommodation, and day-to-day itinerary. Here is a list of things you are often asked to prepare:
- Filled-in Application Form
- A Copy of Passport
- 2 x photos with specific requirements
- A confirmed return flight ticket
- Proof of booked accommodation
- Travel Health Insurance
- A day-to-day itinerary
- 3 months bank statement
- Proof of employment or a letter explaning what you do and how you earn money
The application form is often found on the embassy website where you can fill in online, print it out and attach with a copy of your passport, 2 photos and all the other documents listed above.
I often book a flight in advanced that would give me enough time for the visa process (a month prior) and often time I'd buy at full price so that I could get a full refund if need be. Be sure to look at the airline's refund policy so that you can choose the right type of ticket.
For a day-to-day itinerary, I would often come up with a plan that I would stick to loosely and write them in the format shown below:
[Arrival Date] – [Departure Date]: Travel to [City], [Country] via [Bus or Train or Airline] and [a brief activity]
Here is an example of the itinerary I wrote for my Europe trip:
Jan 22, 2018: Flight from Bangkok to Warsaw, Poland via Qatar Airline
Jan 22, 2018 – Feb 12, 2018: Warsaw, Poland and travel around the city..
For the accommodation, I often go on Booking.com to book the accommodation for the entire time I planned to be traveling based on the day-to-day itinerary I came up with, printed the email confirmation, and make sure that the date on the booking confirmation emails add up to the exact amount of time I want to be there for. Booking.com is great for this because they allow you to cancel the booking for free if need be.
For the travel insurance, I often buy mine from World Nomads which has all the tools I need to get the right travel insurance for the right country I am going to and covers the entire time I would be there for.
For the proof of employment, you can ask your employer to provide an employment letter with your job title, the date you started and a signature of an authorized personnel in your company. If you are like me who do not have an employer, you will have to write your own letter explaining in detail what you do, who is your client, and how much money you are making per month. If you have any business website to show, capture a screenshot and print them out too. The good thing is once you have written one freelance letter for an application, you can reuse that forever.
Last but not least, the bank statement. This is by far one of the most important documents you will have to carefully prepare. One of the criteria they used to approve or reject people is the amount of money you have. You must have enough money in your bank account to cover the entire trip and the bank statement will have to show an active bank account with money coming in and out regularly in the last 3 months which is to prevent people from asking others to temporary transfer the money to the account just for the visa process.
From my experience, if you have around 2,000 USD in your account for a 3 months trip in Europe, that should be enough to prove that you can cover all the cost but the value varies considerably depending on your duration, the embassy you are applying to and how expensive that country is, so prepare accordingly.
The process of applying for a visa varies depending on the embassy but for the most part, you will have to make an appointment with the embassy in your home country, prepare all your documents according to their requirements on their website, and organized them in the order they recommended.
If there is no embassy in your home country, then you can apply it in any country that has it.
Once all the documents are ready, you will have to go to the embassy at the time slot you were assigned to and give them all your documents. They may ask you a few questions about your trip, so answer them truthfully and the process should go smoothly. They will usually tell you when you will get the result so all you have to do now is wait until they call you and they will tell you when you can come and pick up the result. You won't know the result until you pick it up so don't bother asking the person who called you.
Getting rejected is a common occurrence for us. I was lucky enough to only got rejected once, but many people often do and all we can do is observe what went wrong and try again. There are many factors that could affect the outcome of a visa process and more often than not, it boils down to either we did not give enough proof of our return or the bank statement did not pass their requirements.
The key is to never give up and keep trying. You just need to know what the embassy is looking for in your application and try to prepare enough documents to reinforce it. When it comes to applying for a visa, it is always better to be over prepared than under prepared.
I hope this guide helps shed light on how lucky it is to be a first-world passport holder, the situation us, third-world passport holders have to deal with and how we can overcome the limits of our passport and travel the world freely. If you have any question, please do not hesitate to ask me in the comments below.
Looking for more inspirational articles? Check out The Solo Traveler’s Inspiration section where we will discuss topics related to the nomadic and traveling lifestyle and shower-thoughts that will invoke wanderlust in all of us.
The Solo Traveler’s Resources is a series of posts by Bucketlistly where we will explore the ways of life of nomads including how we work, travel, and what we carry in our backpack.