I was born in a third world country, the Philippines, and with the ‘power’ that my passport holds — which, mind you, is low — I am no stranger to the fact that I can’t just travel on a whim.
A passport is said to be very powerful if it lets you travel to a lot of countries visa-free at low costs (for any immigration-related fees), high validity (with a long number of allowable days to stay), and minimal effort (quick to process). The top 5 most powerful passports are from Singapore, South Korea, Germany, Japan, and Sweden according to the Passport Index.
With this data in mind, let’s do a simple example of how powerless my third world country passport actually is: Singaporeans and South Koreans can go visa-free to over 163 countries. And what does my Philippines passport give me? Well, it will only allow me to go visa-free to 60 countries.
Surely there are others who have it worse than I do, but I hope this shows how someone from a third world country like me can’t just go to American or European countries at just about any time without going through rigorous planning, costly visa applications, and strict immigration officers first.
In case you don’t know, for us, visa processing can take 2 weeks at the very least, if not 2 months — so you can just imagine how tedious it is! People from first-world countries who complain about visa processes that they ever happen to encounter is nothing to scoff at, but it does make us wince and cringe because we think that it’s something to be thankful for given that we have it worse.
Like what I would often like to jokingly say…
You really can’t blame us, the third-world or even second-world passport holders, for making it a HUGE deal whenever we get a visa (because rejections are common tales among all of us) and whenever our travel plans do push through (because a lot of things can go wrong).
Oh, you bet that I celebrated a LOT when I first got my Schengen Visa — in fact, I still celebrate every time I get any kind of visa.
Now of course there were millions of times that I wished that visas didn’t exist, but let’s face it: this world needs rules. There are people who have ill intentions for going abroad (overstaying illegally, etc.) and a country has to protect its citizens and society. For instance, the Philippines is typically referred to as a high risk country for most embassies because we have a huge number of people in the past (and even in the present) who either want to overstay abroad or work illegally.
If we put all of these factors together, it’s quite common then that the question of: “How to travel the world on a second or third world passport?” would be commonly met with negativity and answers of “It’s impossible!“
In fact, a lot of people message me with this kind of mindset… and I can’t blame them.
HOWEVER… let me tell you that it IS possible because I, for one, have been making my way around the world ever since 2013 with my Philippine passport. Plus, there are a LOT of underprivileged passport holders out there who are doing the same as well!
So don’t let yourself think that visas will prevent you from making your traveling dreams a reality because there are so many ways to make it happen — YES, no matter if you hold the most complicated and powerless passport there is. It will just be tiring, long, and meticulous; but as long as you prepare for it and accomplish all the requirements or paperwork ahead of time, your dreams of traveling the world won’t certainly be a dream anymore in the long run!
In a way, applying for visas under a limited passport embodies this quote very well:
…and that is to sacrifice some of your effort, money, and time.
Actually, this applies to any goal since we have to give up some things sometimes in order to get what we truly desire. Although hopefully, with this post, I will help alleviate your worries and assist you to success as I list out below the ways on how to travel the world on a third world passport!
Prioritize Visa-Free Entry or Visa-On-Arrival Countries
This is a no-brainer but a lot of us tend to forget this notion.
Look at it this way: traveling to 60 visa-free countries under a Philippine passport, as an example, would already make you go on a world trip for years!
Hence, don’t force yourself to go to Europe or the USA first especially if it would take you a while to prepare all your documents. Besides, building up yourself as a well-traveled person (especially if it’s your first time to travel abroad) can help for future visa applications; so traveling to such easier countries first can help you accomplish that. Let’s not even forget that most of the time, a lot of the visa-free countries have a lower cost of living; therefore, that will help take off the pressure on your travel fund too!
NOTE: Be informed of the difference between ‘visa-free entry’ and ‘visa on arrival’. Visa free entry means as is: you can enter and stay in a country for a period of time. Whereas visa on arrival means that you still need a visa to enter but you can avail that sticker either by paying for it once you arrive or by applying for it beforehand online or via the embassy in order to get a confirmation of your stay.
Travelscope is a good resource for determining what countries you can enter into freely or not — this is as dependent on your passport of course; though, considering that the data there is also controlled by users, it’s safe for you to research and verify things either by doing a quick search on Google or by inquiring with the appropriate embassy.
If you ever need some guidance in pinpointing the best countries to venture into (as ranked by cost of living, safety, etc.) as well as planning your overall travel lifestyle, you can click on my articles below:
» Or when mixing it up…
So let’s say you really want to mix it up and visit one or several first world countries while you’re journeying to visa-free countries for years or several months. With that aim in mind, you have to take into account that you won’t be coming back to your home country for a while, SO: all visas that you need to acquire should be applied or prepared for beforehand — this is because almost all countries want you to apply for a visa in your home country or place of official residence. (And from what I know, most visa applications can only be done at most 3 months before your intended departure).
“But while I’m on the road, is it still possible to apply for a visa in a country that is not my home country? It will be very helpful so that I can continue traveling non-stop without going back home.”
MAYBE. There are embassies abroad that can allow you to apply for a visa while you’re in their territory since I do have a few friends who have been successful in doing this as long as they justified perfectly why they can’t apply from their home country. (For instance, one of my friends reasoned with the embassy that he can’t go back home since he was on a continuous world trip and he provided details of his journey and situation to back it all up).
Nevertheless, you have to take note that each country has different visa rules and procedures — some can be more lenient while some can be very strict; in fact, most are very strict. Therefore it helps to research beforehand. (Russia for example is commonly known as a country that does not allow this).
Overall, the answer is that it’s possible BUT generally, it’s really tough… You might even have to plead at some point! That’s why it’s always best that you plan out your route beforehand and prepare everything in advance. (Example: plan a route for a year, mix visa-free and visa-required countries, go back to your home country, and then apply again for the necessary visas that you’ll need for your new route the following year. At the same time, you can also try applying for long-term visas. If you want to stay longer in Europe legally, you can read my guide here.)
When it comes to the paperwork…
Going by the visa applications that I have been through aaaand as based from the advice and stories of my fellow travelers, there are 4 main things that you must ensure that you have when dealing with paperwork for visa applications:
- Accurate, complete, and genuine documents
- True, strong, and reasonable purpose of entry/stay
- Sufficient funds or support
- Proof of NOT overstaying
For a more detailed discussion about this…
Now the main problems that are related to the 4 factors above are as follows:
» Accommodations and flights.
While you’re planning your route, surely one of the problems you’ll face are matters regarding accommodations and flights. No matter if you’re visiting a visa-free country or not, immigration and embassies still need the details for these; therefore it’s best to arrange them as early as now. Some tips for making this less of a hassle:
- Find connections. Look up your friends and family members abroad who are living in the destination that you’re heading to and ask them if it’s possible for you to stay at their house. This will help fulfill the need for providing proof of accommodation and it will also help you save up on booking costs. (Take note that this typically needs a letter of invitation and some other official papers which should be easy to arrange).
- Be wary of the details. Don’t just say that you’re going to ‘couchsurf’ or ‘housesit’ at some stranger’s place abroad without explaining the arrangement thoroughly. Rest assured, you can still do these as long as you don’t make it sound like you don’t have a connection at all with the person that you’re staying with. So! You’ll need to provide a proof of your relationship with your host, an invitation letter, and some other documentations that the embassy would need. (Remember though that if your housesitting involves money, you would then need to apply for a working visa. After all, you’re not allowed to ‘work’ while on a tourist visa).
NOTE #1: Speaking of work, like I said, you NEED a work visa or permit if you intend to work in a foreign country “offline” and receive money in return. But for digital nomads who work “online” while they travel overseas, going in with just a tourist visa is fine since you’re not going to their country to look for work. A lot of embassies in the world don’t have clear regulations yet for this either, so it’s basically a grey area. Anyhow, provide as much details as you could to the embassy officer during the visa application about what you do when they ask about your job.
When it comes to immigration though, if they ever ask about your work, it’s best to just mention that you are a self-employed freelancer or business owner (as dependent on the work that you do) and that you are paying tax and working for a company somewhere else — this will be an assurance to them that you’re not heading to their country to work (even though technically you’ll be working there, but only ‘online’ thereby not affecting the local employment). This is also a good practice if you want to avoid any confusion with an officer that might not be familiar with the details of a digital nomad job because surely, given the nature of immigration, it’s a quick process so if you’re not as clear, you might not be allowed to leave the country or be held back for questioning.
NOTE #2: Be mindful that if you start to stay somewhere more long-term as a digital nomad, it’s best to consult with a specialist to sort out your tax and work situation.
Moreover, there’s also another kind of work that’s in the grey area and that’s working offline in a foreign country but NOT getting money in return. Commonly called as volunteering, it’s the kind of work where you do menial jobs for hostels, farms, etc. in exchange for free food and accommodation. Governments neither find this legal or illegal; so much like the digital nomad scenario, there’s no need to mention that you’re going to do ‘volunteering’. Just say that you’re there for tourism and that a hostel/farm has invited you and sponsored your free stay (back this up with an invitation letter as needed).
NOTE #3: Be wary if you’re offered a volunteering job with payment since that is legally NOT allowed. For such arrangements, you would need to acquire a work visa. I do know that some people still do it without a permit especially if they are traveling visa-free and have never been caught; but again, it’s risky. (Yet of course there seems to be some countries that tolerate this). To be on the safe side however, it’s often best not to take jobs like these for as much as you could.
- Consider a cultural homestay. Customarily, in exchange for 3-months’ worth of accommodation and food with a host family abroad, you will either share your skills with the family members or your native language for a certain amount of time in a week. A sample organization that arranges this is Cultural Homestay International and though they can only arrange 3-month trips at a time, if you want to travel for a year, they can definitely combine multiple destinations for you! For other ideas on how you can get FREE or cheap accommodation worldwide, like home exchanges, farm stays, etc. go see my post:
» Money. Money. Money..
Every foreign country wants you to convince them that you have enough money to support yourself while you’re on your trip. If you don’t, they would certainly think that you’re a sketchy character. Likewise, you also need money to jumpstart your traveling lifestyle!
Some things to consider in order to come up with your travel fund:
- What else, but save up! Check out the array of money saving tips that I have collected here:
Other things to remember:
- Self-employed people, ready your financial documents beforehand! If you’re planning on traveling the world for a looong time and you plan to work as a digital nomad, freelancer, or entrepreneur while you’re on the road (like I do), you will be classified as a self-employed individual. When it comes to visa applications, this would mean that embassies will typically need a copy of your business registration/business permit, tax statements or income tax return for the past year, and bank statements or financial reports for the last 3 months. (If you’re employed remotely by a company as a freelancer, you can also show your certificate of employment). Requirements may vary of course, depending on the country; but these are the basics. Given this fact, it’s important that you register yourself or your business for as soon as you could.
This, in my opinion, is what most embassies put great importance on when assessing a visa application because they want to know that you’re someone who won’t overextend your ‘welcome’ by staying there longer (illegally). It varies from country to country but generally, to decipher if you might or might not overstay, they will investigate your situation, travel plans, financial resources, and strong ties to your home country.
Employed persons or students have it easy for this since they can just present a document that states their approved leave of absence; but for self-employed or unemployed persons, you would need to show some hardcore evidences. Apart from the previous documents and tips that I have already mentioned, it helps to show proof such as:
- Documents that mention an affair or event that would necessitate your return (job offer, start of your studies, wedding, etc.)
- Proof of possession of real and personal property in your home country (real estate, car, etc.)
- Or a letter from you or from people who know you, stating any other reason(s) why you won’t overstay abroad (your long-term plans in your residence country, etc.)
Basically, the main idea here is to assure a foreign country that you don’t have the desire to stay too long in their territory since you have strong ‘ties’ somewhere else (like your home country or your next destination). That being said, a return ticket also serves as proof that you won’t overstay! This works for most visa-free countries, but not so much on countries that require you to apply for a visa so it helps to have some of the papers that I mentioned above.
When you want a long-term stay in one destination…
If you want to spend some time in a country longer than the typical span of a tourist visitor (more than 3 months), don’t worry! There are a LOT of ways to extend your stay abroad. Some of the options that you can try are:
- Studying. Apart from trying your chances on scholarships, did you know that there are FREE foreign universities? Yes, free! For example, some countries in Europe have no tuition fees for international students. (Learn more here). But then there are the cheap ones too. As a matter of fact, my first ever successful long-term visa application was for a student visa in Belgium (wherein I aimed to study a 1-year Master degree in Marketing).
My studying didn’t push through though and it’s for the reason that weeks after I landed in Belgium, my online business suddenly took off so well. That meant that I won’t be able to juggle my studies AND the business at the same time. After some research, I found out that I can stop my student visa and convert it into a partnership visa with my friend (who’s also my business co-founder). So we moved the online business’ incorporation from Hong Kong to Belgium, and applied for cohabitation which now enables me to stay in Europe longer! …I made this sound so easy but it involved a lot of time to make things happen. Mine is obviously a special case but the main ‘takeaway’ here is that anything is really possible as long as you look into things hard enough.
- Working. There are official full-time or part-time job positions, but you can also try internships. Additionally, you can also look into some jobs that are popular right now with travelers and can absolutely give you the appropriate long-term visa that you’re looking for:
- Au pair jobs: Very popular in Europe wherein in exchange for free accommodation, food, and pay, you only need to watch a family’s young kids and do small tasks around their house. For applications, check: www.GreatAuPair.com, www.IAPA.org, www.Europa-Pages.com/au_pair/, or www.TransitionsAbroad.com
- Teaching English: Most of my traveler friends are doing this! To search for opportunities online, see: www.TIEOnline.com, www.SearchAssociates.com, www.ESLcafe.com, and www.GoAbroad.com/teach-abroad
- Freelancing: Apparently, there are a couple of countries worldwide that offer a self-employment visa which allows you to stay in their country long-term as an artist, freelancer, digital nomad, etc. (So far I’ve learned that Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and Dubai offer this type of visa so go and inquire with their respective embassies to know more info about this).
Example: Philippine residents can apply for a working holiday visa to New Zealand!
Currently, my ‘forte’ is for European destinations since I did manage to stay here for such a long time. As a result, I’ve done a lot of research about the Schengen Area. So if you’re eyeing a long stay in Europe, you can check by my article below that will give you ideas on how you can stay longer here:
• • •
It seems like a lot of work, right? Yep, it’s really a pain. A big freaking hassle. But don’t forget the bright side a.k.a. the silver lining! Since like what I’ve mentioned, it’s really NOT impossible to travel the world on a third world passport.
Though if you got rejected in one visa application or two, hear me out: don’t take the rejection seriously WHILE taking it seriously too! Okay that sounded confusing… but what I’m trying to say is that if you got rejected, remember to NOT let it get to you — stay confident and try again! BUT do reapply with insight: know WHY you were denied and then work on fixing that problem.
Take note: embassies may treat us very strictly (even harshly) but as long as we fulfil all the requirements correctly and sufficiently, they really won’t have any reason to say no. So go and find that missing piece and do a reapplication. I assure you that after several applications, you’ll become a pro at nailing this thing.
Lastly, if I can add one more tip: do overdeliver. Going by my experiences, it’s better to have more paperwork ready than not. So if you find yourself saying: “Nah, I don’t think they’ll need that.” Stop. Just go and prepare that document too. You’re never too sure, so why not?
All in all, I hope this article has been of help! There may be a lot of visa horror stories out there from underprivileged passport holders, but don’t ever let yourself be discouraged — don’t let yourself wallow in negativity because like what I always say, if I managed to do it, so can YOU!