How Your Passport Can Make it Easier (or Harder) For You to Be a Digital Nomad

The travel space is much like any other: riddled with opinions, judgements and misinformation. I often see online discussions that read something like “you’re not a digital nomad if you don’t move to a new country every few weeks” or “tourists and travelers are different, being a tourist is bad”. And exactly who are these self-proclaimed arbiters of just how much one needs to travel to be a real nomad or to escape the pejorative title of tourist? More often than not, these discussions tend to be spearheaded by folks that have a helluva lot of passport privilege.

What is passport privilege?

Merriam-Webster defines privilege as:

(n) a right or immunity granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor
— The Dictionary

Which means - you guessed it - that passport privilege refers to the benefits and advantages that you get from having a passport from a certain country … and that not all passports are created equal.

Shocking, right? Now imagine how all the more shocking it is when people chastise others for not traveling the ‘right’ way without even so much as considering what passport they hold and the difficulty by which they can get a visa to visit another country

What is a visa?

While your passport is essentially an international identification card (read: booklet), a visa is what actually gives you permission to enter and remain in a country for any given amount of time. Some passports allow their citizens visa-free entry to certain countries, while others have restrictions and/or require the traveler to apply for a visa ahead of time and pay a fee. So if someone comes from a country with a weaker passport, they’re not able to travel as freely as someone with a stronger passport, and oftentimes their travel options can be more costly and difficult due to all of the added visa fees. (There exist different types of visas for different purposes, like working visas and extended stays that require their own processes, but for the purposes of this article, we’re only referring to basic tourist visas).

This little visual representation can help you understand why you may run into more digital nomads from certain countries more often than others:

Passport Strength by Country - the darker the coloring, the weaker according to  Passport Index

Passport Strength by Country - the darker the coloring, the weaker according to Passport Index

According to Passport Index, Singapore and Germany have the strongest passports allowing unfettered entry into 127 countries visa-free. A passport from the United States can get you into 116 countries without a hassle, the UK 120 and Denmark get the idea. Compare that to Nigeria’s 23, Pakistan’s 8 or Thailand’s 37 and it’s easy to see why travelers and digital nomads from certain countries can’t move from place to place as easily as others.

So next time you come across a couple of Bromads preaching on high about the right and wrong way to be a digital nomad, or if you meet someone that may be solely traveling within their own country or at a different pace than you, keep in mind that you’re all playing with the cards you’ve been dealt … and not all passports are created equal.