Travel! Travel while you can, as much as you can, as far as you can, for as long as you can; basically, just keep traveling and do not ever look back. Travel because the gratification you get from a life filled with adventure is one that cannot be explained but has to be experienced. In addition to this gratification, there is an extra something that comes with travel when you explore the world on a Sri Lankan passport.
Unfortunately, that extra something is not a positive feeling. Be prepared for long visa processing, requests for all kinds of administrative and banking documents, questions about why you want to go to the particular destination you have chosen, and worst case scenarios, even rejection at borders.
The phrases ‘book a flight and leave’ and ‘just go’ are not meant for us Sri Lankan passport holders, but we should not complain. After years (maybe decades) of only being able to ‘just go’ to Singapore and Maldives on this planet, we now have, wait for it, 38 countries that have lifted visa limitations for us privileged Sri Lankans. It does not matter that some of these countries, like Barbados, Cape Verde, Djibouti, Grenada, Lesotho and Madagascar, might not be on everyone’s bucket list; it is still a significant leap forward for our island and leaves us with some hope for the future. Maybe one day we will climb up the foreign relationships ladder and Sri Lankans will be able to explore the world with relative ease and convenience.
In the meantime, while we hold on to that ray of dim light, let’s look at how it is to travel on a Sri Lankan passport in current times.
1. Additional Costs
Visa fees apply to the majority of our world’s population, but prepare to incur extra costs when you are hailing from certain countries. Sri Lanka stands proudly at the top of that list of countries. Service fees that are almost insignificant amounts, when applying for Vietnam tourist visa online, will shoot up to a whopping USD 80-100 when the officers realise you are Sri Lankan. Because, it makes total sense to extort large sums of money from us travelers who have lighter bank accounts on a global level of comparison. Do not be disheartened though; just be sure to budget for visa costs when planning out your travels to countries like those in South America for example.
2. Longer Processing Time
They charge you more but that does not mean you get your visas any faster because that extra charge is by no means an express service fee. In fact, we Sri Lankans actually have a comparatively longer wait before we can see the visa stamps honour our passports. It is but normal to have a plain faced, unsmiling and irritable visa officer tell you “one day or express service visa are for other nationalities, for you it will take a minimum of two weeks to get visa”. Sadly, even countries on the same side of the world as us, like Laos and Cambodia, scrutinise us thoroughly before letting us in. Because, apparently, in our constant desire to migrate, we also seem to have created a mistaken reputation for preferring thatched bamboo huts in Laos to the comforts of our homes.
3. Lack of Embassies
So you have the money and the time to wait for your visa to come through. The next step is to submit all relevant documents. But what do you do when you don’t know where to submit said documents when you plan on visiting Mexico or Tanzania? Not all 196 countries have their embassies in Sri Lanka and this is fine, but it does make life more difficult for the quintessential traveler. This does not mean that we cannot travel to those countries without embassies in our island; rather, the visa processing will just take longer than the already lengthy processing time, and cost more than the already high fees. Because, in addition to the usual costs, you now have to pay for postage when submitting to the respective embassies abroad.
4. Planning Ahead
Longer processing time for visas and a lack of embassies mean you can say goodbye to spontaneity. In that I mean you absolutely cannot relate to those “wanderlusters” who find themselves lying in bed one night and the next morning on a flight to some random country they just happened to come across while surfing the net on aforementioned bed. Given that once you decide on the country you want to visit you have to check the visa procedures and confirm where the closest embassy is, you pretty much always have to plan ahead to travel. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, spontaneous travel is an entirely different adventure altogether. Because, buying a one way ticket out of your motherland and seeing where life takes you is something everyone should have the pleasure of experiencing.
5. Plain and Simple Rejection
Personal experience has taught us that there are still instances when you end up at a border crossing (like the Vietnam-Cambodia border) and have to listen to the sour and resentful immigration officer tell you “Sorry, Sri Lankans are not allowed into this country”. Why most visa and immigration officers are so grumpy is a wonder since they are the ones ruining our dreams and not vice versa. If this happens to you in a non-English speaking country, then consider yourself doomed because in most cases, the officers are not willing to expose they do not know more English and therefore are not interested in continuing conversation with you. This leaves you with no choice but to accept their decision and walk away but if you manage to get in front of a higher grade official then always try your luck with the ‘extra fees’ that you are willing to pay. Because, money speaks the same language all over the world.
The Visa Restrictions Index even places us as the 9th worst passport in the world as of 2016 which may or may not be primarily due to the fact that our island was plagued by a 30 year ethnic war. Despite all the obstacles that need to be overcome when wanting to travel the world as a Sri Lankan, this should not bring you down nor prevent you from exploring. So cross all those hurdles and keep traveling, because travel is one of the most essential and fascinating parts of life, and like St. Augustine beautifully put it – “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page”. An underprivileged passport should not be a reason for you to stay stuck on one page.
Cover image credit: sbs.com.au