Travel Notes

Passport Privilege

10th April 2017

Do you value your passport? Do you treasure it and prize it like a ticket to unknown lands, exotic locations and fabulous foreign experiences? Maybe. But many of us won’t dwell on the luxury; the choice to travel so freely, so cheaply to other countries if we originate from resource rich countries. This is an opportunity that is denied to so much of the world. The Trump administration’s travel ban brings this home. He is going to suspend the ability of millions of people to travel to, conduct business, study, vacation in one of the most influential countries in the world.

But there have always been passports that are more valuable than others. Some, where a simple application form or affordable bribe can get you access to all the opportunities that await. Others where the barriers in place to gain entry, are so convoluted or expensive, if they are not denied altogether.

I have a deep emotional connection to my passport. Not just the fact that it would be a pain if I lost it and would have to go about sourcing another one. But I see it as my escape route.

It has afforded me opportunities to pass easily to countries both near and far. Being European I have, never required anything more than my passport to live and work in almost the whole continent. When I entered South Africa last year, I wasn’t asked any questions on arrival, the immigration officer simply stamped my passport and let me through.

Think of the disadvantage in terms of business opportunities and social events that that been missed. Caused by the dealings of politicians and diplomats that happen in a completely different sphere to the ordinary people on the ground, who are trying to live their lives and make global connections.

If I was born in Afghanistan or Pakistan, my passport would restrict where in the world I could go. Visa free travel for Afghanis amounts to just 25 countries, compared to 175 with a UK passport. It is ironic that we often want to see so much of the world but as a concept, just entering another’s country is demonstrating your wealth, your privilege. Kari Mungo puts it well when she describes holding a Kenyan passport:

“Passport privilege (or the lack thereof) is knowing from a young age, without the words to explain the mechanisms at work, that for all the mzungu expats and tourists I encountered from exotic places like Missouri and France, the act of touring, of living overseas wasn’t for people like me. It was something relegated to white bodies moving in brown spaces, or white bodies moving within other white spaces; the sort of thing that happens in Europe.”

So, if you have a passport that gives you so many travel options, cherish it. International ventures are a right that is denied to so many of our brothers and sisters around the world.


Find the full article by Kari Mungo, ‘The meaning of Passport Privilege’ at



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