What is Visa-Free Travel
If you’ve ever traveled abroad, chances are that you’ve used visa-free travel in some countries. But what exactly is visa-free travel?

At Nomad Capitalist, I often work with people looking to get a second passport.

For the most part, the people I work with are from the US, and they’re looking to start building a passport portfolio to get out of the US system of citizenship-based taxation.

However, I also work with plenty of folks from the UK and Australia who also want second citizenship.

If you’re an Australian reading this, you may wonder why other Australians would want a second passport. With an Australian passport, you can go just about anywhere with visa-free travel.

When most people think about passports, visa-free travel is one of the first things that come to mind. Most passport rankings, like the Henley Passport Index and the Arton Passport Index, focus on visa-free travel to determine a passport’s power.

While they use different methods and focus on different types of visa-free travel, visa-free access is generally what determines how powerful a passport is.

So, people from the UK – who have visa-free access to 164 countries – might not see a need for a second passport like someone from Russia or China – which have limited visa-free travel – might.

However, westerners have plenty of reasons to get second passports, but you won’t find much that’s geared toward US citizens or Australians on the internet.

In fact, most of the content about second passports focuses on people from China, Russia, or the Middle East simply because there’s more demand there.

When you’re a citizen of China, where you only have visa-free travel to 75 countries, a second passport from Saint Kitts and Nevis – which has visa-free access to 133 countries – sounds very appealing.

Since that’s not the case for westerners with more powerful passports, there isn’t much good information out there on issues like visa-free travel. It’s either geared toward a much different audience, or it’s not advice that a successful person should follow.

To help fill that gap, this article will address:

  • What visa-free travel is;
  • Visa on arrival and e-visas;
  • The benefits of visa-free travel; and
  • Why visa-free travel isn’t all that important.

What is Visa-Free Travel?

Visa-free travel seems relatively straightforward – it’s the ability to enter a country without obtaining a visa in advance.

If you have a US passport, for example, you’ll need to get a visa to travel to places like China or Russia. You’ll have to apply, send in your passport to your local consulate, and pay a fee to receive your visa.

Countries Without Visa-Free Travel
China only grants visa-free travel to citizens of just 16 countries.

However, for countries like Canada or France, you don’t need to go through this process. You simply arrive, go through customs, and they stamp your passport.

Certain countries have agreements with other countries that allow their citizens to travel there without needing to go through lengthy visa procedures. This allows them to have visa-free travel to certain countries.

Because the US has these agreements in place with some countries and not with others, US citizens can travel visa-free to France and Canada but not Russia or China.

Regular visa-free travel, then, allows travelers to move freely across borders with their passports.

While you usually don’t need more than a passport to clear customs in most visa-free countries, certain countries may request other documents, such as proof of onward travel, before allowing you to enter.

Thailand – a popular backpacking destination – is known for asking visa-free travelers for proof of funds and onward travel.

However, these requirements are usually easy to meet and loosely applied.

In Thailand, you only need a ticket out of the country and a little over $600 in your bank account, and whether or not Thai immigration asks for these extra documents depends on the officer you encounter.

In some countries, you may also have to pay some kind of airport or departure tax even if you travel there visa-free.

Certain airports in the Philippines charge around $11 in tax, and Costa Rica charges a departure tax as well.

But again, these taxes are usually fairly negligible, and you don’t need to pay them in advance.

While you may need to prepare a few things in advance, visa-free travel generally allows you to arrive at immigration and pass through with little hassle.

Visa on Arrival and E-Visas

In addition to regular visa-free travel, your passport may also give you access to expedited visa processing in countries where you do not have visa-free travel.

Sometimes, you can get a visa on arrival where you apply for and receive a visa at a port of entry, or you can obtain a visa easily online.

Visa on Arrival

While visa on arrival isn’t technically visa-free travel, it only adds a few steps to the process.

If you’re a US citizen traveling to Dubai, you’ll need to get a visa on arrival for the UAE. Depending on where you land, you either go in the same line as visa-free travelers, or you go to a separate line where you wait a few minutes longer.

You then fill out paperwork, pay a fee, and immigration will process you and let you through.

Visa on Arrival Visa-Free Travel
Some countries, like Vietnam and Cambodia, allow citizens of certain countries to obtain a visa on arrival.

Getting a visa on arrival can be a bit more expensive and paperwork-intensive than visa-free travel, but in most places, it’s not that much more difficult.

Cambodia, for example, has one of the fastest visa on arrival processes in the world.

When you arrive at immigration, you step up to the counter, and they take your passport as you fill out a five-question form. You then pay them $30 for a tourist visa or $35 for a business visa, which you can then use to apply for a one-year business residency.

Then, in just a couple of minutes, you retrieve your passport from the other end of the counter, visa in hand.

This easy process is why Cambodia is perhaps the easiest place to get a second residence in the world.

While Cambodia’s visa on arrival system is exceptionally efficient, the process in Cambodia is similar to what you will encounter in most visa on arrival countries.

Some countries, however, can be a bit more difficult about the visa on arrival process. For US citizens, the Turkish visa on arrival process is notoriously slow.

Others can be more relaxed. Before Qatar allowed visa-free travel for most nationalities, its visa on arrival process consisted of an immigration officer swiping your credit card and then stamping your passport.

For the most part, however, visa on arrival is similar to visa-free travel – you just need to wait in a special line and pay a fee.

E-Visas

E-visas are another way that governments can expedite the visa process for citizens of certain countries.

When you get an e-visa, you simply apply online, pay a fee, and arrive at the border.

Australia, for example, uses an e-visa system called an “Electronic Travel Authority” or ETA. Citizens of countries like the US and Japan can complete this e-visa application for tourist or business visas, pay $20 AUD for processing, and then arrive in Australia with little hassle.

Most e-visas are like Australia’s ETA. They’re not very expensive – never more than $50 or $60 – and they expedite the entire entry process.

Occasionally, you may encounter more difficult e-visa processes. India’s e-visa process is exceptionally confusing, and one wrong click can send you back to square one.

In general, however, e-visas are basically like visa-free travel with an extra step and an extra fee.

Visa-Free Travel Benefits
Visa-free travel allows you to visit a country without going through the hassle of the visa application process.

Why is Visa-Free Travel Important?

If you’re like me and grew up as a citizen of a country with a strong passport, you may not realize the true value of visa-free travel until you decide to go somewhere where you need to apply for a visa.

When I first began traveling as a US citizen, I could essentially turn up wherever I wanted, fill out a few forms, and maybe pay a fee, and immigration would let me in.

However, when I started traveling to places like China where I needed to apply for a visa, I realized just how difficult the visa process actually is in most places.

Visa-free travel, then, allows you to travel to different countries without the hassle of going through the bureaucratic motions involved with getting a visa.

You don’t have to spend your time filling out forms, and you don’t have to go through the hassle of going to an embassy to turn in your passport and wait for approval.

Visa-free travel also allows you to travel on a dime if you want to.

Suppose that I’m currently in Cambodia, and I want to go to China tomorrow. If I have Grenada citizenship by investment, then I can use that passport to get visa-free travel to China.

However, if I’m traveling on a passport that doesn’t offer visa-free access to China, then I need to apply at the embassy, and how fast I can get there depends on how long the embassy takes to process my visa.

Some embassies have a pretty quick turnaround while others may take a bit longer.

At the Thai Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, I was able to get my visa in less than 48 hours. I showed up to the embassy in the morning, waited for my turn in line, turned in my passport and paperwork, and picked up my passport and visa the next day.

It was a waste of a couple of hours, but nothing too painful.

Other countries can be more difficult. China’s visa process is known for being hard to navigate, but the Chinese government has tried to make it a bit easier for foreigners to get visas.

In fact, many countries around the world are actively trying to simplify their visa processes.

However, that’s not the case everywhere. The US is currently trying to make it harder for everyone to get visas, and embassy workers even get bonuses when they deny people.

The same goes for Russia. In my experience trying to get a Russian visa, I’ve found that Russian embassies are incredibly unhelpful – to the point where I don’t even recommend going there unless you have visa-free travel.

The major benefit of visa-free travel, then, is that it gives you access to different countries without the trouble of going through time- and money-consuming visa processes.

Why Visa-Free Travel Isn’t that Important

There’s no doubt that visa-free travel is incredibly convenient.

However, in my opinion, it’s a bit overrated.

When I tell people that I renounced my US citizenship, many of them are shocked because I gave up so much visa-free travel.

When you’ve been traveling with a US passport for most of your life, you might wonder how people get anywhere without the visa-free travel that a US passport gives you.

However, even though I gave up my US passport, I only lost the ability to travel visa-free to about 18 countries.

To be honest, some of the countries that I lost visa-free travel to are quite nice, and they can be difficult to get a visa to.

Visa-Free Travel Overrated
Although visa-free travel is nice to have, it’s not a necessity for most people.

New Zealand is certainly one of those countries. In fact, I even had to withdraw my visa application since I would have needed to send my passport to an embassy in London for two whole months.

However, the majority of those countries are ones that I never planned to visit more than once – if at all.

I’ve always wanted to visit Morocco, but since there isn’t much in the way of business opportunities there, I don’t see myself going more than once.

So, even though I need to apply for a visa there, it’s not much trouble to do that just once.

Many citizens of countries with ample visa-free travel often hold the misconception that if you don’t have as much visa-free travel, you’re stuck – but that’s simply not the case.

Even with my lower-tier passports, there are plenty of countries that I can visit – with or without a visa – and I’ve even gotten visa-free travel to places that a US passport can’t get you.

Here is why, in my opinion, visa-free travel is overrated:

Visa-Free Travel Isn’t Always Easy

Even if you have visa-free travel to a particular country, that country’s immigration officials may not interpret it that way.

US citizens have visa-free access to most English-speaking countries, such as the UK and Ireland. However, officials from those countries have begun to more heavily scrutinize US citizens entering their borders.

In the UK, I’ve had friends who are US citizens spend up to an hour at immigration being peppered with questions about why they were visiting and what they were doing in the country.

Right before I renounced my US citizenship, I visited Ireland on my US passport, and I encountered the same thing. In the past, they just let me through, but that time, they asked me plenty of questions.

Countries like Ireland and the UK have had issues with US citizens overstaying their visas or working illegally, so they’re spending more time scrutinizing US citizens at the border.

In certain countries, then, you’ll face some scrutiny even if you have visa-free travel there.

However, even if you need to answer some questions, there are ways to make the immigration process go a bit more smoothly.

One of the easiest ways to do that is to dress well.

If you show up to immigration in $3 elephant pants and a raggedy T-shirt, you’ll be treated differently than if you’re wearing a nice pair of slacks and a collared shirt – it’s as simple as that.

Flying business class can also give you a leg up in the immigration process. If you’re going through business class lines, then immigration officers assume that you have money and aren’t there to work illegally.

However, while there are ways to make your immigration experience go a bit more smoothly, visa-free travel doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be in and out in minutes.

Visa-Free Travel Only Matters if You Want to Go There

When you think of visa-free travel, you often think of it in numbers. How many countries can you travel to without needing a visa?

Now, of those countries, how many are you actually going to travel to?

Many people are afraid of giving up extensive visa-free travel because they fear that they’re missing out on something.

I understand this to some extent. As a former US citizen, I sometimes wish it were easier to go back and see my friends and family.

However, in reality, I don’t need to go back to the US all that much, so it’s not useful for me to stay in the US tax system as a citizen just to get visa-free travel there.

Visa-Free Travel Countries
If you’re worried about losing visa-free travel to certain countries, think about how often you actually visit.

Not everyone sees it this way. One of my friends loves visa-free travel, so when I told him that I renounced my US passport, he was in total disbelief.

The first thing out of his mouth was, “you lost your only way to get to Equatorial Guinea!”

The US is the only country to have visa-free travel to Equatorial Guinea, so my friend – who wants to visit every country in the world no matter what – didn’t understand why I gave that up.

But am I really going to travel to Equatorial Guinea?

I don’t see myself going there any time in the near future, so it’s useless for me to hang onto a passport just for visa-free travel there.

Unless you plan to go absolutely everywhere, then visa-free travel is only worthwhile for countries that you will actually visit.

You Can Always Apply for Visas

Visa-free travel certainly makes the immigration process easier, but applying for visas isn’t terribly difficult if you must do so.

Thailand is one of the countries that I lost visa-free access to when I renounced my citizenship. However, considering that I only visit the country once per year, it’s not too hard to go through the visa process.

If you need to travel to the US, you can always go through the process of applying for an E-2 Visa. You can do the same in Canada or other western countries that require visas.

It can be a bit of a hassle to get a visa through an embassy, but it’s not terribly difficult.

And, if you’re a US citizen who wants to renounce to get out of the US tax net, then giving up some visa-free travel may be worth paying less in tax.

From my personal experience, visa-free travel is nice to have, but at the end of the day, it’s overrated.

Nomad Capitalist is all about helping people like you “go where you’re treated best”. If you want to learn more about what exactly that means, and why I believe so strongly in it, I made this video that is worth watching:

Andrew Henderson

Andrew Henderson is the world's most sought-after consultant on legal offshore tax reduction, investment immigration, and global citizenship. He works exclusively with six- and seven-figure entrepreneurs and investors who want to "go where they're treated best". He has been researching and actually doing this stuff personally since 2007.
Andrew Henderson
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