Travel and Passports

As we look at our Finnish passports, we know they open doors to many, many countries in the world. Travel is still a privilege, a privilege we should appreciate. A passport can open doors to most parts of the world very easily or with a little effort. Or it can be the barrier between you and the world.

World Tourism Stats and Passport

Tourism is not a very old phenomenon, travel for leisure became possible for masses in the Western Hemisphere only after economies and transportation developed. Suddenly people had time and money to spend. These days we are in a way living through that same phase again.

More and more lower income citizens of the Western Hemisphere countries and people living in the Asian, African and South American countries have the possibility to access the world. People have money to spend and a variety of transportation to choose from. International tourist arrivals grew 6% in 2018, totalling 1.4 billion according to the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer

However, your passport can make the travel plans possible only in theory. Where you come from dictates the smoothness or the lack of it in travel. We know passport is a powerful thing. A person living in, say, any EU country will have access to so many more places than a person living in certain developing countries. Even if the two people have very similar income, education or lifestyle.

How does Finnish Passport Rank?

There seem to be several organizations ranking passports of the world. Henley & Partners Passport Index ranks our Finnish passport as #4 in the world. This means that our passport gives us a visa free access to 187 countries, 39 countries in the world require a visa from us. Of these countries 10 are in Asia, one in Europe (Russia), 21 in Africa, one in Oceania (Nauru), one in Caribbean (Cuba) and five in the Middle East.

There are some countries where we can be granted a visa on arrival at the border. These countries are India and Uzbekistan in Asia, Angola and Nigeria in Africa and Azerbaijan in the Middle East. For the rest, you’ll have to apply a visa in advance.

Passport Index gives a little different result. They tell our Finnish passports allows visa free access to 165 countries. We didn’t dig in all the details, but with an easy calculation they obviously list countries that require us to say, apply for an ESTA or similar to the US, Canada or Australia etc. as countries that we don’t have an access to just because we have our passport.

Applying for a Passport

We can only speak for ourselves as Finnish citizens when we talk about applying a passport. Both of us have had passports since childhood (which is not reality for most of the people in the world) and these days we have to apply every five years.

For the first time application you will have to visit the local police station even if you’ve filled in the applications online and got your photos sent online to the police station from the company taking your photos.

Passports applied online are cheaper than the ones you apply for manually, even if the first application does require you to go and verify your identity at the police station. If you apply for an ID card at the same time, it’s even cheaper. And this is something we suggest to everyone. Having an extra ID with you.

These days you can mostly apply passport online and receive your passport at the most convenient pick-up location for you, these places are open from early ’till late. We’ve got several locations near, no need to go to the police station.

Years ago Mikaela had to get a passport from Helsinki Airport to get to Paris as her passport was at the Embassy of India. We know people who have had the possibility of applying for several passports due to overlapping visa applications, but so far we have not had to actually find out how that works out.

Visa Application Experiences

Our history of visa applications is short. Mikaela applied for Indian visa in the late 90’s and sent the passport with the paperwork to the embassy. Now it’s granted on arrival at the border. For our trips to Hong Kong and Macau we didn’t have to apply for a visa, but to mainland China it is required.

For the visa application we used a visa service by a Finnish travel agency Traveller for a variety of reasons. Firstly, we live in Turku and the Consulate of China is in Helsinki.

Last year, as we applied, we could send our passports and applications (and a return envelope with an address) to Traveller and they would take our passports and applications to the consulate after checking we’ve filled all the details right. We needed double entry visas as our trip included a cruise to Japan.

Our passports with Chinese visas arrived after about two weeks. However, now the rules have changed. For the future trips to mainland China we would have to travel to Helsinki to give our fingerprints for the biometric identification purposes. These fingerprints will be valid for five years. If we should decide to travel to China multiple times during those years, we’d only have to visit the consulate once every five years.

Hong Kong and Macau we can travel to without applying for visas as they are both SARs, Special Administrative Regions. That is very convenient as now we know we can actually get a short term visa at the border between the SAR and the mainland.

Finnish Passport and ESTA

We travel to the United States of America maybe twice a year and every time we need to update parts of the ESTA. It is valid for some years and regulary we need to apply a new ESTA.

As decent citizens sans any misconducts in history we’ve never had any problems applying an ESTA. But we have heard of cases where you can’t get the ESTA and will have to apply for a visa & visit the embassy in Helsinki. That has happened because someone has a record of problems with law or such.

It’s not required to have the ESTA with you when you travel, but we always have it. Some officials may not understand our passport doesn’t require an actual visa, that we only have to have the ESTA to enter the country.

At the border it’s never an issue, but for example at some casinos around the country we have encountered weird situations. We got into the country with our passports and ESTAs, but some local officials don’t believe we don’t need a visa.

Take Care of Your Passport

Being such an important document the the passport deserves to be taken care of. And as you apply for a passport and read the small print, you may notice you are actually obligated to take good care of it. Here are our tips for taking care of your valuable document.

  • Your passport doesn’t like direct sunlight, water, extreme heat or cold. Can’t say where you’d get radiation from, but that is a no-no as well. Store it in a dark, dry place and carry it in a safe holder.
  • Especially guys tend to carry stuff in their back pockets, that’s a no-no to your passport. These days the passports have sophisticated security details, like the biometric chips, that don’t appreciate bending.
  • It may sound stupid to list these two things, but we do that anyways: do not make markings on/in your passport and never use your passport for any other purposes than it is intended to be used for.
  • If your passport gets damaged or broken, it may cause you trouble – your entry to a country may (and most definitely will) be denied. Once Pekka used an automatic passport reader in the US and the passport got stuck. The page with photo and personal information got almost torn apart, it was only 1/3 attached after the incident and we had to do a lot of explaining for border security and the airline as we were heading home. However, we found out that that particular passport design had structural problems and he was able to get a ne passport free of charge when back in Finland.
  • Take 2-3 A4 copies of your passports photo page before travel and have some with you and also in some separate place. Last time we needed them when boarding Royal Caribbean in Shanghai (they took our passports away, but our passport copies were asked for after that), but you will need them also if your passports get lost or stolen. When you have a copy somewhere else than the stolen bag you will definitely get help faster. Tip: have the contacts for all the nearest embassies/consulates with you in a notebook.
  • Also, if you travel around and have a hotel safe, keep your passport there. Just carry around a copy of your passport and some other form of identification
  • Safeguard your passport from theft. The thumb rule is to keep spending money and passport in separate place. You have to make the math in terms of destination and your bags/moneybelts/pockets…
  • Make sure you carry your own passport, don’t let anyone else carry it.
    If someone at a hotel or at a casino counter wants to take your passport and you are uneasy about it, suggest a copy instead.
  • Find out what your travel insurance says about a lost/stolen passport (do that before a trip).
  • Always report a lot or stolen passport to the nearest embassy or consulate, local authorities and authorities at home as well.

Places Where They Ask for Passports

In many places you can get around by having a photo ID or a driver’s license. We never feel happy about bringing our passports to places like casinos or clubs.

However, maybe 99% of the cases you will have to bring your passport to get a players card. So: take your passport and then get it back to your hotel room safe as soon as possible.

We never bring the original passport along to clubbing. Not at home and not abroad. Getting some other for of ID is a good idea.

Passport is also asked if you go to places where you are allowed to buy Tax Free, getting the tax refund requires you to bring your passport. We realized that during the cruise from Shanghai to Japan: as we had to give away our passports when boarding, we could not get tax free shopping in Japan. Passport copies were not accepted.

When to Apply for A New Passport?

It sounds easy, you apply for a new passport as the one you have is expiring, right? Well, of course that is one possibility. But here are some other reasons to apply for a new passport.

  • You change your name. Your personal information has to be up to date. Most often name changes due to a marriage. TIP: If you’re planning to change your name after marriage and leave for a trip abroad soon after wedding day, make the name changes only after your trip. This ensures all your travel docs have the same personal information.
  • You are planning a trip to a place that requires your passport is valid for a certain time after your trip. There are different rules in different countries, it’s your responsibility to make sure your passport has the required validity. If you travel to a country that requires you have a passport that is valid six months after you enter the country and your passport is expiring just a short time after your return home, you’ll be denied entry.
  • Your passport gets broken or damaged.
  • Your passport no longer has empty pages: some countries require you to have at least two empty pages upon arrival.

Where to Next, Dear Passport?

The list of countries that requires a visa for holders of the Finnish passport includes Cuba. However, we will be visiting the country during our cruise in March and we are very interested in understanding what that means in reality as we are not required to apply for a visa in advance. ’till the next news.

2 thoughts on “Travel and Passports

  1. Getting a visa can be tricky even for Finns! In January we had flights & hotel booked for a trip to Gabon and basically it should have been VOA based an a pre-approval, but then something happened in Gabon and all visa applications were frozen. So we never got to Gabon, but went to Kamerun instead.
    Regarding passports if you travel a lot you can also apply for a second passport to be used when the first one is tied in visa applications.
    Regarding ESTA for US remember that if you have visited Iran or a number of other countries in Middle East/Africa you are no longer eligible for ESTA but as a Finn you will most probably get a 10 year visa to US. But you need to apply for it relatively early as with the interviews it can take several weeks to come through. It also costs a bit, but the it is valid for 10 years and actually nowadays the queues for people with visas are often quicker that the queues for people with ESTAs!

    1. Hi there! Sorry for a delayed answer – we read about your exiting visa adventures in Africa and yes, something can look so much easier on paper than it actually is. Just renewed our ESTAs yesterday and talked about the countries that are on the list preventing you from applying for an ESTA. Obviously, you two do have to have a visa these days to travel to the US. The ESTA lines can really be daunting – It would be awesome to be able to apply for their fast track pass (Global Entry) as we travel there several times a year.

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