Dateline: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Perpetual travel is becoming a bigger trend as more and more expats realize there’s no one “perfect place” in the world. Being a perpetual traveler, or PT, is the perfect complement to Flag Theory; by living a life on the go, you can keep yourself out of one country’s tax net and live a life of freedom where even your sales tax is refunded. I just arrived back in Kuala Lumpur yesterday and I still contend that few countries on earth are as easy-going and friendly to tourists as Malaysia. Not only is living in KL great, but the immigration process at the airport is extremely easy and fast, and there is little bureaucratic nonsense to deal with. However, some countries like Thailand are attempting to make life difficult for digital nomads and PTs by imposing restrictions on tourist visas. Others are cracking down on “visa runs”, in which an individual will go to a nearby country for one day, then return to the country where they “live” to reset the clock on a new tourist visa. There are still plenty of countries, however, where perpetual travelers can easily enjoy a long-term visit hassle-free. These are the countries where you can essentially live there without ever being a formal resident. You simply enter and leave as a tourist from time to time. In fact, there are a number of strategies I recommend for you to maximize your freedom and never be tied down to one place. For Westerners who are not EU citizens, this list includes the typical European countries like the UK, Ireland, and the 26 countries that make up the Schengen Area. If you have a decent passport, you can spend 90 out of each 180 days in continental Europe, another 90 in the United Kingdom, and another 90 in Ireland. As Pete Sisco recently shared, any PT or digital nomad could literally live full-time in Europe as a tourist, either with three different apartments (renting the other two out while you’re away) or living in hotels. There are plenty of excellent options for long-term tourists and visa runs outside of Europe as well, including these seven favorites of mine, which are in no particular order…
Ecuador is not only emerging as a great place for expats and one of the best countries to retire to, but it also has one of the most lenient visa policies in the world. Only citizens of ten countries must obtain a visa before visiting. Upon arrival, tourists get 90 days visa-free in Ecuador; the only exception is any restriction applied on travel to the Galapagos Islands. You can also extend your tourist visa, or merely reset it by visiting Colombia for a quick trip. Ecuador has a number of expat-friendly cities and is a bastion of cheap foreign real estate, which means that in addition to being an easy spot for visa runs and long-term stays, you’ll find plenty to do there and might even decide to stay awhile.
Panama is one of the easiest countries for Americans to visit. Westerners can obtain a 180-day tourist visa upon arrival. That, on top of the country’s use of the US dollar, makes it an easy fit for US perpetual travelers just starting out. Panama offers one of the easiest permanent residency visa programs on earth. The process only takes about six months from start to finish. That in and of itself makes Panama a great place to visit. Neighboring Colombia also offers a 90-day tourist visa that is extendable to 180 days, meaning you could literally spend your entire year going between Panama, Colombia, and Ecuador.
Mexico allows Western citizens from 65 countries to enter and stay in Mexico for up to 180 days for business or leisure. One immigration official told me they don’t really care how long you stay, even if it’s longer than 180 days… not that I’d recommend taking that approach. Though a popular tourist destination, in comparison to some of the countries on this list, Mexico is a bit strict when it comes to visa-free travel and is not as open to all nationalities. That said, holders of non-Western passports that hold permanent residency permits in Western countries can also enter Mexico using that visa. That means you could hold a passport that requires a visa, but if you have residency in Estonia, for instance, you could still enter Mexico visa-free.
Seychelles just might be the world’s most open country for tourists. Citizens of every country — yes, every country — can obtain visit permission for up to three months upon arrival. Citizens of Ebola-effected countries are required to obtain a visa until the crisis is cleared up. Once in the Seychelles, visitors can extend their tourist visa for periods of up to three months at a time, so long as their total time in the country does not exceed twelve months. Seychelles is a popular place to easily set up an offshore company or for banking offshore.
5. Hong Kong
Owing to its former connections with Great Britain, Hong Kong allows UK passport holders to stay in the country for 180 days without a visa. My British friends there tell me that some Brits practice old-school visa runs by maxing out their Hong Kong tourist visa, taking the one-hour ferry to Macau to spend a weekend gambling, then return for a new visa. All other Westerners enjoy 90 days visa-free in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is pretty generous with visas for such a wealthy country; even many African citizens can enter with full tourist visas. When you’re done in Hong Kong, nearby Macau allows 30-day visas to most Westerners, and mainland China now offers a ten-year multiple-entry visa to US citizens.
Malaysia is one of the world’s most hassle-free countries to enter as a Westerner. Unlike the Latin American countries mentioned above, Malaysian immigration rarely asks for proof of onward travel, proof of funds, or even where you are going. Nor are there any forms to fill out upon arrival. It’s easy. Malaysia allows all Westerners 90 days visa-free in the country. Singapore is just a cheap flight to the south and allows EU, US, and South Korean citizens 90 days entry as well. Beyond just allowing Westerners to visit, both countries are open to most nationalities, with few restrictions on foreigners visiting. Additionally, Malaysia’s technical status as a Muslim country means that citizens of Muslim countries with poor visa-free travel options are often able to visit Malaysia without a visa as well.
Cambodia is one of those countries that has traditionally required pretty much everyone to obtain a visa. If you enjoy spending a lot of time in Southeast Asia, you could be able to get a really bad second passport knowing entry to Cambodia would be just as easy as with your old Western passport. However, Cambodia now offers two easy options to obtain a visa for nationals of almost every country. The first is an e-visa that requires a recent photograph, filling out a few questions online, and paying a $30 fee. The second is the new visa-on-arrival option. Both give you 30 days of entry into Cambodia. Once in Cambodia, you can extend your visa to a “Business Visa”, good for a full year for around $300. I suspect almost any explanation of business would qualify you so long as you pay the fee, including exactly what I suggest readers do: go there and scout out all of the opportunities. As always, if you have any questions or want more information about visas and second passports to any of these or other countries, you can contact the Nomad Capitalist here. What are your experiences as a perpetual traveler or when doing visa runs? Leave a comment below about your favorite or least favorite country, or why I’m wrong.