There is an assumption on many digital nomad forums that all digital nomads are Western. This is clearly not true as Megan (pictured here), my other half and the co-owner of NomadTalk is not Western at all – she’s Filipino.
However, it’s fair to say that her passport is weaker than my British one and that means we do have to think about how we work and travel. So, with that in mind, we’ve got some handy tips on how to digital nomad with a weak passport and rest assured; it’s not as hard as you may think.
Start By Getting Real
Life is not fair and whining about it is best reserved for time in the pub, otherwise, you might as well get a handle on it and do what you can.
Celebrate What You Already Have
The Philippines passport is currently the 126th most powerful passport in the world according to Passport Index. That means there are 124 countries in the world that expect a Filipino citizen to apply for a visa before visiting them.
Now, that may sound glum but there are still 36 countries where Megan gets a visa on arrival and another 38 that she can visit visa-free. That’s 74 countries where we don’t need to fill in any paperwork for her to go.
I’ve been traveling all my life. I lived in Nigeria when I was a kid and since I was in my mid-20s I’ve been traveling throughout Asia. I still haven’t visited 74 countries.
Yes, life’s not fair but it’s not like Megan’s passport is some sort of national imprisonment either. So far, she’s visited Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, and Vietnam. Not bad right? And still nothing like 74 countries.
Even the world’s weakest passport, that of Afghanistan, still allows you access to 34 nations without a visa.
Start Traveling Where You Can
Before you take your brand-new passport and rush off to apply for a visa to the United States, you should consider traveling where you can go first.
Immigration teams are not evil soulless gits, they’re paid to reduce the risks that when visitors come to their country, they don’t go home.
One of the easiest ways to show that you do go home is to prove it. The more countries that you visit and the more stamps in your passport (without any overstay or prison sentences) the more they can see that you’re not the type to get a visa and then run away.
Now, this may not be enough to sway every immigration officer into granting you a visa, but it may sway some of them. But in general, there’s a lot of discretionary power in these processes and a good track record is always going to be better than no track record or a bad one.
Focus On Making Money If You Want To Spread Your Wings
The other reason that visa authorities turn people with weak passports down is that they’re positive you only want to visit the country in order to disappear into the underground economy.
There’s only one way to satisfy them that you’re not that type of person: money and ideally, lots of it. Now, this isn’t a guide to making money as a national from a less developed country and yes, we appreciate it’s much harder to make money in countries where the average wage is $10 or less a day but that’s the cold hard truth of it.
The more money you have in the bank in your home country and the better the property you own in your home country, the higher the chances of being granted a visa for another country.
We don’t think this is fair, mind you but it is factually true.
The Big Door Opening Visas
Now, if you want to visit the whole world, the easiest way to do this with a weak passport is to get yourself a visa from one of the biggest and most powerful countries.
A visa for the USA, Canada, the UK, Israel or the EU will, generally speaking, enable you to get visas for nearly every country on earth. Now, we recognize that getting these visas is often very challenging, but some people will have relatives in these places that can help them get accepted.
If you can’t get a visa from one of these countries then Tukey, Mexico, Australia, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand or Malaysia are good places to aim for. All of these are developed countries with high standards for visa issue. You may find that getting a visa from one of these places can help you qualify for a visa to the other nations higher up on the list.
Marriage Can Help
Megan and I aren’t married, yet, but we can certainly see a time when that could happen. If it does, then we will probably return to the UK for a few years so that she can qualify for a British passport and so we can digital nomad back in Blighty.
If you are in a relationship with someone with a stronger passport then it’s OK to leverage the other’s citizenship to get a visa/passport. However, it’s a bad idea just to date/marry someone for their passport. It never ends well.
In fact, in the UK and much of the EU – you don’t even need to be married anymore, the law now recognizes a long-term partnership (what might once have been called “common law marriage”) too.
Buy Yourself A New Nationality
If you thought things were getting expensive so far, then welcome to the most expensive way to free yourself of a limiting passport – buying a passport from another country along with their citizenship or buying yourself legal permanent residency in that country.
How much is this going to cost? Well, you can buy a passport from a mid-strength nation for $50,000-$100,000 (assuming you meet all the other criteria they lay down).
Residency in a top tier country (like the USA or UK) is going to cost around $1 million -$3 million. This is definitely not an option for those who are financially challenged (which is why Megan and I won’t be doing this too, you’re not alone).
Gain Exceptional Skills
There is another route for the perpetually broke, well that is assuming you’re young enough – the highly skilled migrant programs of first world nations.
This is where you learn a skill that’s in desperate demand in the USA or UK or wherever and then you convince an employer to sponsor you into the country, legally, in order to work there.
This is an excellent way to see the world because a.) it means you’re going to get paid to do it and b.) there’s an opportunity, if you’re there long enough, to grab yourself a new passport for free (well nearly free, nothing’s ever actually free in Western bureaucracy same as everywhere else, really).
Some General Advice On Getting A Visa With A Weak Passport
It might sound unfair after you’ve watched the pile of Westerners dressed like drug addicts claiming their visas from your country’s embassy but the way you approach getting a visa might influence the results too.
You want to:
- Make sure all your paperwork is right. Pay someone to check it for you if necessary – rejections on technicalities are really common.
- Make sure you attend any interviews required. There’s no way you’re getting a visa without turning up when you’re asked to do so.
- Make sure you’re dressed sensibly. You can wear shorts and a wife-beater t-shirt along with sandals every day if you like but not at your visa interview, dress like someone who has a job – it will help your case.
- Don’t do anything foolish like offer a bribe or tell lies. It won’t help and might get you barred from traveling to that place forever.
- Relax and remember there are plenty of other places to go if this doesn’t work out for now.
Also, don’t keep applying to the same place over and over again. If you get turned down, go travel some more, get a few more stamps, earn some more money before you submit your paperwork again -it will keep you sane and stop you from driving an immigration officer into blacklisting your applications.
A “weak passport” still opens plenty of doors to places you can go as a digital nomad. That’s a great way to get started.
If you want to travel further afield focus on getting stamps, earning money and landing at least one visa from a stronger country.
If that doesn’t work try buying a new nationality or better yet, entering a country on a highly-skilled immigrant program.