Travelling with a 3rd world passport is one of the biggest eye-opening experiences and life lessons I have learnt in the past 10 years. I’m an owner of Kyrgyzstan passport and frankly speaking, I have a love-hate relationship with my bright blue friend.
My passport gives me visa-free or visa on arrival access to 72 countries and territories out of 195. Meanwhile, the owners of the world’s most powerful passports can freely travel to 177 destinations.
Travelling with Kyrgyzstan passport is a tragicomedy. Today I’m sharing my story of travelling the world with a
shitty really weak passport. And why it’s essential not to let your passport hold you back from exploring the world.
Want to check how powerful your passport is? Click the link here.
Travelling is a privilege: how high does your passport rank?
Do you agree that “power of passport” is a privilege that lets you travel freely and hassle-free? You always meet British, German, Dutch, French, American, Japanese, Australian (basically name any 1st world country) travellers everywhere you go. Unless you are privileged to travel thanks to your mighty and powerful passport, travelling on the whim is nearly impossible for the rest of the world.
Last summer, I met a German guy during my travels in Turkey, and we were hanging out for a few days together. He didn’t have any itinerary or plans where he’d like to go next. One morning after breakfast, he asked if he can search for flights on my laptop. He opened Google flights and started to look for cheap deals from Turkey to everywhere. And he was checking every destination available as he didn’t even bother about visas. He could buy a flight, and he was good to go. Is it familiar or unfamiliar situation to you? I couldn’t help but compare us. My travels always require careful planning ahead, reading and gathering info on visas and its requirements. So I was sitting next to him and silently resenting my 3rd world passport.
What do you avoid as a holder of a powerful passport? You don’t need to apply for a tourist visa in most of the cases. What a nightmare it can be! It isn’t a pleasant process as it requires you to go through a time-consuming and dreading routine. And you need to do it in your home country or where you reside legally. Real-life story: I was travelling in Malaysia and had to apply for a Japanese visa. I either had to fly back home, or I could risk and send my passport and all necessary documents via DHL or other express post services. I went with the latter and the risk paid off. My mum applied for a visa in the Japanese embassy in Kyrgyzstan and sent me back my passport via DHL again.
Real-life stories of travelling with a weak Kyrgyzstan passport
Let me tell you what I experienced in the last 5 years of going to different parts of the world. It is quite a challenge to travel with a weak passport, but it’s still possible. I can’t count how many times I was cursing at my Kyrgyzstan passport for all the struggles I had to face. To the point of crying and almost giving up on my travels altogether. Now, as I look back at what happened to me, I can only laugh:
- I was pulled out from a queue for additional screening. They brought me to a police room they have next to the passport control. Happened to me when I was crossing overland Malaysia to Singapore, arriving at the international airport in Amman, capital of Jordan, and crossing overland Bosnia to Serbia.
- Airline officials came to the plane when I was already sitting with my seatbelt buckled. They wanted to confirm once again if I had a valid visa to my next destination. That’s besides initial documents screening during check-in and boarding. It happened on 3 different occasions: Peru to Mexico, Mexico to USA and Belgium to Russia.
- I was left stranded on the Serbian-Bosnian border after being denied entry to Bosnia & Herzegovina at 5 a.m. All because border officials weren’t aware of the law, which allowed me to enter Bosnia with a valid US visa. I also spent almost an hour proving Vietnamese border control that I do not need a visa to enter Vietnam. I had printed proof of the law in both English and Vietnamese. Guess what happened after? They asked me for a bribe of 30 USD.
- Argentinian Embassy in Moscow told me that Kyrgyzstan is a high-risk country, and I would need additional screening of my visa application process as well as notary approved invitation letter from Argentina. Excuse me, what?!
- Last May, my Schengen visa (the one needed to enter EU) was rejected with the reasoning that “justification for the purpose and the conditions of the intended stay was not provided.” I applied for Schengen visa again in December. They called and asked to come for an additional interview with a Consul. 3rd time was a charm, I got my visa relatively stress-free.
5 essential travel tips for 3rd world passport owners
Travel Tip 1: No matter how time-consuming it is for me to arrange my trips, I also love checking “Everywhere” as a destination. Most of flight search engines offer it: Skyscanner, Google Flights, Aviasales, eDreams etc. Try it out as it’s an excellent option for both last-minute deals as well as for the trips in the future.
Travel Tip 2: Don’t trust everything you find on Google when it comes to visas. Always check only official websites of either embassies or Ministries of Foreign Affairs of respective countries. If you have any questions, drop a line or give them a call as in my experience they always try to help you.
Having a 3rd world passport sucks big time is a weakness, but getting visas is still possible. I’m somewhat even lucky that Kyrgyzstan’s passport ranks #135 out of #199 countries, as according to Passport Index the Top 10 worst passports include Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Sudan, Palestinian Territories, Libya, and Iran. Of course, there is a direct correlation between a country’s economy and diplomatic relationships with the world. If you are coming from a developing country, what are the chances you might stay illegally somewhere else where life is better? We all know the answer.
Travel Tip 3: Do you know that valid US, Schengen or Japan visas (usually long-term and multiple-entry ones) can give you access to certain countries without any additional visas? That’s how I managed to travel to Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Mexico without the hassle of getting separate visas to each of these destinations.
Travel Tip 4: Always have proof of accommodation, flights, bank statements, insurance on hand. And I highly recommend carrying a printed explanation of the laws regarding visa requirements applicable to your citizenship (usually available on embassy websites) whenever you cross the border. It costs you nothing to download and keep it on your phone but will save you nerves whenever passport control asks you for additional documents.
My 3rd world passport taught me that you can still travel the world, although it’s tough. It requires you to prepare everything beforehand. You become a search engine guru and know how to find reliable and updated information. Every time you succeed, you prove again and again that a weak passport isn’t an obstacle when it comes to accomplishing your travel goals.
I even need a visa to travel to Thailand. Or Hong Kong. So believe me when I say I had the best and worst experience. I can’t stop laughing at some situations that happened to me during my travels. On par with that, I also cried more than I care to admit when I had problems because of my passport. You rarely have anyone near you who understands struggles carrying 3rd world passport. Eventually, you grow a thick skin.
Since I’m discussing the passport differences, it’s only fair to mention the powerful passports in the world. There are a few global passport rankings available, but I will share with you the one by Passport Index. UAE comes first (surprise-surprise), followed by Germany, Finland, Luxembourg, Spain, Singapore, Denmark, Italy, Japan, USA, South Korea.
Are you a single guy in his late 20s/early 30s from any of the top 20 countries? Oh, hey, I am single. Hit me up. On a serious note, don’t take your passports for granted. Be grateful you’ve got a much easier life process when it comes to travelling.
I didn’t see many travel blogs written by someone who has a background similar to mine. Even sharing all of this is out of my comfort zone as I usually live a private life. But I am glad I reached a point where I feel that telling my story online will only help others.
Don’t let 3rd world passport hold you back from travelling the world
When I was 18, I read George Orwell’s “Animal farm”. It became one of my favourite books of all times. And it was published back in 1945. And guess what? It is still relevant now and will always be. Because “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
We live in a world where you are judged by your passport. But does it stop you from chasing your travel dreams? It never stopped me, and I’m grateful that I always pushed through:
- It took me almost 4 months to get my visa to Taiwan. I transitioned to adulthood there as I learnt how to live on my own, be independent and work in a completely different environment. I had the best 10 months as an intern in a Taiwanese company. Taiwan will be my 2nd home, and stinky tofu will always be my favourite dish there.
- I had to change passports because the Chinese embassy wouldn’t issue me a visa to a passport, where I had a Taiwanese visa. Talk about politics. I managed to do it, and I attended my last international AIESEC conference. We all cried our eyes out, saying farewell to all AIESEC friends. On top that, visiting the Great China Wall was an unforgettable experience as well.
- Peruvian embassy in Moscow had to send my documents to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Peru. It led to 4 weeks wait for a tourist visa. I got it 1 day before my flight. I felt so happy when I reached the top of Machu Picchu that I almost cried. Also because 3 days before that I was throwing up in my room in Cusco while battling high altitude sickness.
- I had to send my passport from Malaysia to Kyrgyzstan, so my mum could apply for a visa. Then I also asked my Japanese friends if I can list them as “guarantors” as the Japanese embassy in Kyrgyzstan requires it for a visa application. 1,5 month later I finally visited Kyoto, which was always on my bucket list after watching “Memoirs of a Geisha”. We also learnt that being in a wheelchair in Japan doesn’t stop you from exploring any of the sights.
- I applied for a Schengen Visa one more time after having a roller-coaster experience with it. The German embassy in Bishkek granted me 22-days stay. I remember I felt like I was on a cloud 9 when I picked up my passport. During my trip, I drank lots of Belgian beer in Antwerp and cried on the streets because I was battling my insecurities. On my first day in Berlin, I got my wallet stolen. Italy was one of the bests trips I had, even if I gained 2+ kg eating pasta, pizza and prosciutto. I was denied entry to a bar in Stockholm because I didn’t have ID-card. But most importantly, I had the best 3 weeks surrounded by people I love.
It is not the easiest to be an owner of 3rd world passport. But it builds your self-resilience, stubbornness and faith that everything is possible when you want it. And that’s why it’s my blessing.
I learnt how to be grateful and how to go beyond negative experiences. It shaped me to be a better and stronger person. Now I share my personal experience of visa struggles to be living proof that nothing stops you when you push forward. It’s hard, but it’s possible.
I hope my story inspires you to chase your travel dreams and not give up in the face of challenges we face as owners of weak passports.
Do you have any stories you’d like to share? Leave a comment below, and I would love to hear from you.