I got lipstick stamps on my passport, I think I need a new one.
April 25, 2014 11:38 AM   Subscribe

Which countries have visa-free access to more countries than others? Ranked at the top with 173 visa-free countries (out of a possible 218) are Finland, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, which all share the Schengen visa policy; dead last is Afghanistan, which only has visa-free access to 28 countries. (Not included in the list were places like Wonderland, Neverland, Hell, Utopia, the Unconscious, or Pangea.) Regardless of nationality, though, it can still be devillishly difficult to get visas for some countries. With the advent of RFID passports, some countries are doing away with visa labels or passport stamps, so collect as many as you can and take a look at them so you can figure out what they say about the issuing country or even turn them into art (or ad campaigns).
posted by divabat (42 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
I still love my old stamps. They show places I only passed through and place I lived.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 12:18 PM on April 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

It'd be interesting to compare this list to the opposite one, detailing which countries allow visa-less visitors from the most countries. (Australia would not be number six on that list.)
posted by Sys Rq at 12:23 PM on April 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Sys Rq: if I'm reading the visa policies chart right, excluding ETA visa situations, sorting by "visa-free" gives me Mauritania and Micronesia as the top with 194 countries each, followed by Malaysia (huh) and Singapore with about 191/192 countries each. Australia only has 1 (though the details on the TimaticWeb website seem to state that everyone needs some sort of entry pass).
posted by divabat at 12:34 PM on April 25, 2014

Katjusa Roquette: Before my Malaysian passport I had a string of Bangladesh passports, all full to the brim with visas and passport stamps. I feel like doing an art project with them though I'm not sure what. About the only thing I miss with my current Malaysian passport are the visas and stamps; the pages seem so empty even with the same amount of travelling.
posted by divabat at 12:35 PM on April 25, 2014

Ugh - Visas. The amount of time I've spent on various country's immigration websites trying to work out if I can really enter visa-free is ridiculous, especially to enter for business meeting purposes. And that's with a highly accepted passport - I pity my South African work colleagues who would take circuitous flights to avoid certain countries / get pulled aside by immigration every time they traveled for work.

I can also attest to the horrible stomach-churning feeling that comes from being on a plane and realizing that the country you are about to land in technically required you to have a Visa to enter....and you don't have it...(sorry about that Trinidad & Tobago - thanks for letting me in that one time).
posted by inflatablekiwi at 12:41 PM on April 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Woo hoo! I have passports for #1 and #2. I guess I'd better get travelling!
posted by blue_beetle at 12:43 PM on April 25, 2014

inflatablekiwi: I'm surprised they let you on the plane at all. I've been held up at Brisbane Airport's check-in counter because they didn't understand my Malaysian permanent residency card or were convinced that the US visa sticker in my Bangladesh passport was fake because "they only do it electronically!!". (at the time Bangladesh passports hadn't become electronic yet, but even my Malaysian RFID passport - note that Malaysia's the first country in the world to introduce those passports - has a US visa sticker so I don't know what Australia's problem is.)
posted by divabat at 12:44 PM on April 25, 2014

blue_beetle: my main regret with giving up my Bangladesh passport was discovering a little too late that I could have travelled to Bhutan restriction-free - something I can't do anymore!
posted by divabat at 12:45 PM on April 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

inflatablekiwi: I'm surprised they let you on the plane at all.

Yeah...flying from Barbados to Trinidad. Not sure how comprehensive the checks were - I got a bit of a funny look from the counter staff when I checked in, but they seemed to think everything was ok. Luckily for me I was the very last passenger to go through immigration that evening at Port of Spain...and the immigration officer looked at me, looked at the clock, looked at the massive 200+ manual she had pulled out to try and work out what to do with me, looked at the clock again, and just told me to make sure I didn't miss my departing flight, stamped my passport and let me in....phew!
posted by inflatablekiwi at 12:50 PM on April 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

Another way to look at this is which countries require a visa from which countries. Here's a list of countries from which one requires a visa to visit Canada: http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/visit/visas-all.asp
posted by absentian at 12:51 PM on April 25, 2014

Re: my comment above: what that says is Canada, like many developed countries, is very wary of potential economic migrants, which differs from those countries who are suspicious of visitors on strictly political grounds.
posted by absentian at 12:55 PM on April 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I went from rank 75 to rank 4.
posted by zouhair at 1:04 PM on April 25, 2014

Of course, the USA charges even "visa-waived" travelers a $14 fee and forces them to register their trips and receive permission ahead of time, so I guess that in fact the USA doesn't allow anyone at all to enter the USA without a visa or something very much like it. Except you Canada, we're still cool.

Also, there's the fee issue. I need a visa to travel to China on any of my passports, but if I'm flying from the USA it's $140. If I'm flying from the EU it is (last I checked) $40. Pity that the Chinese consulate won't take my non-US passport when I'm in the US. I guess they're wise to that trick and want to make sure their retributive fees sting everyone.
posted by 1adam12 at 1:33 PM on April 25, 2014

I wonder if there is a calculator somewhere that shows how many visa-free countries are accessible to people with multiple passports. In a year's time I'll have three passports. I know, for example, that my UK passport will allow me visa-free travel to Brazil. My US one won't.

My father, a Mexican passport holder only, recently came to visit me in Europe. Mexicans need all sorts of visas to get into the US, their closest neighbour. But all of Europe is visa-free. My father was actually asked by the UK immigration official "You're a US permanent resident but never got citizenship?" My father replied "I don't wan't it. I want to stay Mexican." The UK official beamed at him and said "Good for you!" It was an odd exchange.
posted by vacapinta at 1:35 PM on April 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

I had a particularly bewildering experience a few weeks ago, when I had to pass through Customs and Immigration to fly from St. Thomas to Puerto Rico (both US territories!).

I kind of wanted to ask about the legal basis for this, but I generally find it unwise to make small talk with border agents...
posted by schmod at 1:48 PM on April 25, 2014

"Chinese Taipei"? Fuck you, it says "Republic of China, Taiwan" on the cover.

My mother has one of those, and whenever she passes from Malaysia to Singapore, they don't stamp her passport, but a separate piece of paper that she has to retain. She was once left behind at the border by the bus she came in because she was the only non-Malaysian and had to be processed differently. More recently, on a trip to Mongolia with my family, she was turned back at Beijing because neither the travel agent nor the MAS staff who checked her in thought that she needed a visa. Poor mom. Mysteriously ineligible for a Malaysian passport after spending most of her life there and giving birth to three citizens.

I've always had a passport, and I still remember how there was a line on one of the first pages that prohibited travel to South Africa (apartheid was still in effect) and Israel. Now it just says "Israel".
posted by peripathetic at 1:50 PM on April 25, 2014

I don't think the UK is in the Schengen policy. Though the UK does accept tourists (and most workers) from EU countries.
posted by 92_elements at 1:54 PM on April 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

Alright, I knew there was a good reason to get my Swedish passport renewed. Though now I'm curious about which country Sweden (173) and Denmark (172), my country of birth and residence, differ on.
posted by bouvin at 1:54 PM on April 25, 2014

peripathetic: Oh god my parents and I went through the Malaysian citizenship process and it was a NIGHTMARE. Had to do it twice because they rejected our first app on stupid baseless grounds. I was born and raised in JB and didn't get Malaysian citizenship till my 26th birthday.

The Bangladesh passport used to have South Africa, South Korea (not sure what their problem was), and Israel, but now it's just Israel.

92_elements: UK has a Schengen-esque visa - though I mostly put that link on there because searching for visa policies for Finland, Sweden, and UK all got me to the same page.
posted by divabat at 2:31 PM on April 25, 2014

Finland, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, which all share the Schengen visa policy

The UK isn't Schengen at all. Neither is Ireland incidentally, because it shares border controls with the UK rather than with Schengen or the rest of Europe. I know this first hand because it would make my, and my husband's, life a lot easier if it was since we now each have residency in different countries that don't share border controls so we're limited to how often we can visit each other without extra paperwork. And while that extra paperwork still never includes a visa per se, because we're kiwis and everyone loves us, it does include residency permits so different name same shit.
posted by shelleycat at 3:03 PM on April 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

The UK categorically is not part of Schengen; there has been a bit of a campaign by the tourism industry recently to do with tourists from non-visa nations (for example) having to complete more paperwork and go to more expense to get a visa for the UK than they do to get the same visa for the whole Schengen zone (which is 26 countries).

There is no such thing as a Schengen-esque visa - they are different visas entirely. Though of course the UK is part of the European Economic Area (the EU, plus a couple of other places such as Norway) which allows free movement of its citizens. There are passport checks when you get the Eurostar from Paris or Brussels to London, for example, which is because of the UK not being part of Schengen.

(Switzerland on the other hand is not part of either the EU or the EEA, but it is part of Schengen - consequently if you cross the Swiss border you have customs checks but not passport checks).

The UK and Ireland instead form the Common Travel Area, which is separate from Schengen.

It's a great post and an interesting subject on first world privilege, but the UK (and Ireland for that matter) isn't part of Schengen. :)
posted by plep at 3:04 PM on April 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

The Henley Visa Restrictions Index is the one which tracks how easily citizens of different countries can travel the world visa-free :

IATA link with full listing.

posted by plep at 3:12 PM on April 25, 2014

Also, regardless of how similar or not the visa to actually get into the UK is compared with Schengen, the residency permits etc required to visit longer than three months or live and work there etc are an obnoxious xenophobic hellhole compared with the rest of Europe. It's strikingly different.

Visas are an important part for people that need them to enter, sure, but it's only a small part of the story for anyone wanting to do more than visit for a short time.
posted by shelleycat at 3:12 PM on April 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

As an Indian, I pretty much have to get a visa to go anywhere. But recently I got myself the US visa and boy has it opened doors. The french embassy said I don't need a transit visa because the "US have checked me out". They basically outsourced their security setup to the US. And many countries let you pass through without a transit visa or even a short visit if you have a US tourist visa. For the first time in my life, I travelled to another country without a visa. Which meant I could just buy a ticket and turn up at the airport, no need to set up an appointment at a far away embassy, do all the paperwork, lose a day of work traveling ot the embassy, and then wait for approval, travel again to receive the visa. It was a taste of first world privilege.
posted by dhruva at 3:14 PM on April 25, 2014 [5 favorites]

Bah, Wikipedia fools me by redirecting "Visa requirements of United Kingdom" to the same page as Finland and Sweden! my apologies.
posted by divabat at 3:21 PM on April 25, 2014

dhruva: wow, really? I've had US visas on my passports since 1999 but they never really made any other visa easier (particularly Singapore, grr argh).
posted by divabat at 3:22 PM on April 25, 2014

I'm mostly talking about transit/ short term visas
posted by dhruva at 3:57 PM on April 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

The french embassy said I don't need a transit visa because the "US have checked me out". They basically outsourced their security setup to the US.

Typical! (Cheese eating....)
posted by IndigoJones at 4:09 PM on April 25, 2014

I wish I didn't have to get a new passport to visit Iran just because I visited Israel and got a stamp.
posted by oceanjesse at 4:28 PM on April 25, 2014

The first phrase I ever uttered in Hebrew on Israeli soil was "Can I have this on a separate sheet of paper pleas?" (Efshar lekabel al gilayon nifrad, maybe? It was many years ago.)
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:56 PM on April 25, 2014

Talking about Israel and visas: "A campaign to allow Israelis to enter the United States without a visa is gaining steam in Congress, but is still running into a brick wall with the Obama administration over the U.S. government's most elementary demand: that the Jewish state provide the same treatment at its borders to all Americans, even if they are Arab or Muslim."
posted by dhruva at 7:33 PM on April 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

I still remember queueing in Turkey with a big load of British tourists. We were all clutching that £10 that would buy us a visa. Then the border control guy looked at my passport: "Danish?! No, no, walk right through. Keep your money." Ah, the barely disguised outrage on the faces of 250 British people. It was a beautiful thing.
posted by kariebookish at 12:54 AM on April 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

Want to do the Borneo Overland Trail from Kota Kinabalu to Pontianak, mainly for the ridiculous number of passport stamps it would need. Starting from Kota Kinabalu, you have:

Start at Kota Kinabalu:
> 2 stamps to exit Sabah and enter Sarawak
> 2 stamps to exit Sarawak and enter Brunei (Bangar)
> 2 stamps to exit Brunei (Bangar) and enter Sarawak (Pekan Lembang) again
> 2 stamps to exit Sarawak and enter Brunei (Bandar Seri Begawan)
> 2 stamps to exit Brunei and enter Sarawak
> (0 stamps to drive down all the way to Kuching)
> 2 stamps to leave Sarawak and enter Indonesia
End at Pontianak.

As far as I can see, this is the most exaggerated set of border chops you'll get anywhere in the world. Neither the Chitmahals of Cooch Behar nor the Baarle Nassau complex betwen Belgium and Netherlands have actively monitored border crossings.

The KTMB "enclave" within Singapore was quirky, in that you had to "enter" Malaysia before you "exited" Singapore, but now that the train network has been pushed to the border, it no longer exists.

Air Asia at KL once refused to let me board a plane to Laos because their check-in staff was literate enough to read "Visa required" for my then Indian passport, but was illiterate enough to not read the next line, "Visa on arrival offered". I had to make calls to the Indian embassy in Laos and the Laotian foreign ministry to sort it all out. "Somebody thought you were allowed into... Laos?", the Laotian official gasped incredulously.
posted by the cydonian at 1:02 AM on April 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

I wish I didn't have to get a new passport to visit Iran just because I visited Israel and got a stamp.

On my vacation to Eilat I got to make trips to Egypt (hello shore dive from an empty beach) and to Jordan (hello Petra).

I made sure to have Israel only stamp my exit back home, not the entry. And I knew it was a passport that was going to expire before I expected to travel again. But I could not resist getting passport with stamps from those three countries in them... I'm not even sure if that's still possible today..
posted by DreamerFi at 2:55 AM on April 26, 2014

Typical! (Cheese eating....)

According to that bastion of anti-American sentiment, PBS, there were more French casualties in WW1 than American casualties in WW1 & WW2 combined. So maybe that joke isn't that funny.
posted by ersatz at 3:58 AM on April 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also, regardless of how similar or not the visa to actually get into the UK is compared with Schengen, the residency permits etc required to visit longer than three months or live and work there etc are an obnoxious xenophobic hellhole compared with the rest of Europe. It's strikingly different.

Excellent point. The immigration agenda is unfortunately being driven by a race to the bottom. The Tories are absolutely terrified of UKIP (which would make the visa rules far tougher than they are even now), with Labour and Lib Dems also sucked in in response to media moral outrage. (You only have to read the 'immigration' section of Tabloid Watch to see the misinformation and in some cases outright lies which are fuelling this).

UKIP for their part are trying to enter the same space as parties such as the Front National in France, the Lega Nord in Italy, the Party for Freedom in Holland and other similar parties in Europe; i.e. the hard, populist right (contrasted with outright fascists such as Jobbik, Golden Dawn and the BNP in Britain). This is what's driving the debate - it has British characteristics but there are also commonalities with tensions across Europe. And in turn, this drives policy, and also the implementation of policy. (This isn't just about the policies themselves, but the bureaucratic and hostile manner in which they are implemented - Britain's Chief Inspector of Borders, for example, discovered thousands of applications dating back years unopened in a room in Liverpool, as well as other delays; there are allegations that visas may be deliberately delayed to meet a rejection target; etc.

There have also been worrying noises to the effect that some governments are looking to find ways to restrict free movement - notably Britain, Germany, Holland and Austria.

That said, it's hard to see how these restrictions would work in practice; Europe's economies and societies are now so intertwined that restricting free movement would come at the expense of free trade, economic stability and (possibly at the far end) liberal democracy itself. Governments seem to feel that they need to make the noises but the reality of Europe as we know it - in a modern interconnected world - is very different. Even in the case of non-EU, non-EEA Switzerland, which recently voted to introduce a quota from the EU, it's hard to see how this could be enforced without introducing passport controls at the border, which would in turn mean withdrawing from Schengen, which in turn means disrupting the free movement of people - free trade - on which Switzerland depends. Time will tell.
posted by plep at 7:18 AM on April 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

Also, regardless of how similar or not the visa to actually get into the UK is compared with Schengen, the residency permits etc required to visit longer than three months or live and work there etc are an obnoxious xenophobic hellhole compared with the rest of Europe. It's strikingly different.

Not least of all the fact that visitors to the UK get 6 months (on a visa or at entry), not the paltry 3 months offered in Schengen countries.
posted by Hobo at 11:40 AM on April 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Not least of all the fact that visitors to the UK get 6 months (on a visa or at entry), not the paltry 3 months offered in Schengen countries.

Not true anymore. You used to get 3 months flat for Schengen some 10-odd years back, but these days, you'll get a visa for precisely the number of days you have hotel bookings for and not a day more. This is extremely irritating, in that travelling in Europe has actually become less structured and more serendipitous than before; it's easy to get cheap flights in and out, and easy to book backpacker hostels on a whim. In fact, I actually forgot it was possible to book an itinerary without buying a ticket until I applied for a Schengen visa two years back.

This isn't just about the policies themselves, but the bureaucratic and hostile manner in which they are implemented

The shit that UK is pulling out with its new restrictions on spousal visas is a sight to behold. Not that Singapore (or India) are far behind in denying visas these days; I've heard of cases where permanent residents in Singapore are finding PR applications for their kids being denied. Not a good time to be a cross-cultural family these days.
posted by the cydonian at 7:26 PM on April 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Applying for a medium-to-long-term visa anywhere is a pain in the ass. I've never really seen anywhere where it was straightforward.
posted by divabat at 11:38 PM on April 26, 2014

My comparison with his experience, the dates roughly coinciding:
Vietnam was an awful, awful experience. Not only did I have to trustingly send away my passport for a couple weeks, but the fee was mysterious. Nothing on the website, nothing on the application form, and repeated calls to the Consulate services rendered many unanswered phone calls and finally two different prices within two weeks of each other. Overall things ended ok but wtf Vietnam.

South Africa same wait time (one hour), but my sticker is only a half a page. It's cool because it says "temporary residence permit" even though I was there for an entire week. Visa clearly states that I "shall not conduct work unless in the corporate mine or seasonal worker category." Interesting.

China. Visa on arrival?! Lucy bastard. Mine required in-person drop-off and trusting the post to return it by mail. At least this was in Japan, where the mail service can be totally trusted.

My worst experiences so far? Ghana-Togo crossing, with the same bribery bullshit as he described. Luckily I arrived with a Togolais, who chewed the immigration official up one side and down the other. Awesome.

Brazil, for which I've (twice!) done the 6am cattle call and interview. They process a limited number of visas per day, so if you arrive at opening, you're leaving at lunch time or later. Maybe you have to come back the next day. Hooray for reciprocity policies, but dammit it sucks when you are on the losing end of them.

The UK, which grills like New Zealand, but doesn't give coffee afterwards. Reason for visit? 3 days of professional stuff. I don't even want to be here, so thanks for the warm welcome, guys.
posted by whatzit at 2:35 AM on April 27, 2014

Arstotzka passport control is the worst. Man, those officers are picky.
posted by mbrubeck at 8:25 AM on April 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

The kindest treatment I get is from UK immigration. The worst is from the US.

When we flew into the US a couple years ago, we transited through Atlanta on our way to San Francisco. I'll never forget that. The agent insisted on seeing my wife's itinerary (it was all electronic. she didn't have her return ticket with her. We've never been asked this before.) and got a bit more aggressive with us. Finally, he threw us over to secondary - yes, to the interrogation rooms.

At least it was eye-opening for me. We were in there with Mexican and Chinese immigrants mostly - many of them with large families and clutching sheafs of papers. The atmosphere was like a DMV. A mix of despondency and anxiety. You take your ticket and wait and wait and wait. We did finally get to see someone who was slightly astounded we were in there. ("Did you explain all that to the agent? Yes, we did, he wouldn't listen.")

We figured we had missed our connection but it turns out if we ran at top-speed we might be able to make it. So we ran until our legs gave out. And barely hopped on the plane as they shut the doors behind us. And I silently cursed that agent all the way to San Francisco. And also gave thanks and thought how lucky I was not to be a visitor from China or Mexico with my large family, hopefully grasping a sheaf of papers.
posted by vacapinta at 9:52 AM on April 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

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