How special visas can help you bypass travel restrictions around the world

Aug 4, 2020

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You may not be familiar with visa waivers. But if you’ve ever traveled abroad, chances are high that you’ve already taken advantage of one.

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Visa waivers allow travelers to visit to foreign countries for tourism or business for a limited amount of time without obtaining a visa. For instance, the United States offers visa-free privileges for up to 90 days for visitors from 39 countries. And U.S. travelers can visit a whopping 185 countries in the world without visas.

Related: The world’s most powerful passports, ranked

However, COVID has changed many aspects of the world as we know it, including ease of international access. While visa regulations haven’t changed since the beginning of March from a policy standpoint, dozens of countries around the world, including the European Union, have banned travelers entering from the U.S., as coronavirus cases continue to spike across the country.

So who are the people who are able to travel overseas right now to restricted countries? There are a few select groups of people who aren’t bound by the same travel restrictions the rest of us are:

In This Post

Dual citizens and/or multinational passport holders

Since every country’s relationship with other nations is different, people who hold dual citizenship can choose which travel privileges they wish to utilize when entering or departing a country. Members of our TPG Lounge shared various ways that they use second passports to their travel advantage. For example, Natalie Kusonruksa, who holds a Thai and American passport, used her Thai passport on a trip to Cambodia so she didn’t have to apply for a visa. Similarly, Carl Cabrera, a recently naturalized American citizen who kept his Philippines passport, told TPG Facebook group members that his American passport gives him visa-free access to countries that might require visas of a Filipino national — but that he keeps his Filipino passport for less visa fuss when traveling to countries that ask for U.S. visas.

Related: What is the citizenship of a baby born on an airplane?

TPG writer Andrew Kunesh recently shared how he claimed Czech dual citizenship five years ago by proving descent through his mother’s side of the family. After receiving his Czech passport, Kunesh has used it instead of his U.S. passport whenever he travels to or from Europe. As a newly minted Czech citizen, Kunesh enjoys full European Union privileges including entering country borders through the EU lane when passing through customs, as well as the freedom to stay indefinitely and work within EU borders should he so choose.

In his article, Kunesh details a number of additional ways people can acquire dual citizenship, including:

  • citizenship by naturalization
  • citizenship by investment
  • citizenship by religion

Traveling on business

If you hold a work visa or permit for another country, you generally can enter and depart the country where you hold the employment visa with more freedom than you would with just your regular passport. However, you’ll still want to keep a close eye on changing regulations, such as in the case of COVID lockdowns.

Related: Welcome to Africa? A country-to-country guide to reopening

Government envoys

As representatives of their respective countries, ambassadors and diplomats can also take advantage of special entry privileges when visiting foreign lands — even during COVID times. It makes sense: Regardless of the country, ambassadors and diplomats undergo rigorous, grueling background checks to attain their jobs, which require high levels of national security. As such, these government employees are held to higher standards for travel behavior and often have unique needs for safety and protection that don’t apply to everyday citizens. Even within the U.S. Level 4: Do Not Travel global advisory as well as in the fine print of most international COVID-related travel bans, most policies make exceptions for travelers entering or departing a country on official government business.

Family ties

You might still qualify to enter a foreign country right now, even if you only hold a passport from a single country — and don’t work for the government. A number of countries allow certain immediate family members to enter or depart a country together, even if only one of the travelers is a citizen of that country. The relationship is usually limited to close family bonds such as a spouse and any underage children; however, some countries are more lax in their interpretation of family.

During the no-travel era of COVID lockdown, Denmark has recently made headlines for its “sweetheart declaration” clause, which allows healthy non-resident travelers to enter Denmark to rejoin a close loved one who is a Danish citizen or resident. The rule got its name from the list of approved relationships, which included “sweethearts” in addition to a number of legal and biological relationships such as spouses and step-family members.

There are two stipulations to the Danish sweetheart declaration beyond the obvious health requirement. One is that unmarried couples must declare in writing and be able to prove that they have been in a relationship for six months or longer, and at least one of their past encounters was in person. The second requirement is that the travelers must enter Denmark together. So if you’re in a relationship with a Danish citizen living in Denmark, they must exit the country, meet you up, then travel back into the country with you.

Emergency visas

There are very few true travel emergencies in this strange, scary world of COVID. People around the world have been forced to say goodbye to loved ones, or observe births and weddings from a distance because of the high risk of spreading the virus. However, exceptions do exist for essential workers, people with life and death emergencies and a handful of other reasons.

Under such circumstances, you’ll need to apply for an emergency visa from the country you wish to visit. Requirements vary, but the vast majority of countries will ask for recent proof of clean health as well as official evidence of the emergency, such as a doctor’s note. Jennifer Tu, a medical student from Duke University, recently spent two months applying for emergency visas for herself and her father to travel to China to help care for her mother, who unexpectedly suffered a near-lethal stroke while visiting family in Shanghai.

The important thing to remember about an emergency visa is that it permits you to enter the country of your destination — but not necessarily any country you might transit through on your way there. Tu, who flew to China in July by way of South Korea, found herself stranded for a week in Seoul’s Incheon International Airport when she was denied boarding for her connecting flight through Hong Kong.

So when traveling on an emergency visa, be sure to plan a route for yourself that transits through countries that permit passengers passing through — and keep a close eye on the news and regulation changes as your travel date approaches.

Bottom line

Of course, just because you can doesn’t mean you should bypass the strict regulations governing travel right now unless absolutely necessary, especially across international borders. The coronavirus pandemic is very real, and infectious spread has consistently proven to be accelerated by asymptomatic travelers crossing borders. So as always, consult with a trusted medical professional to assess the risk to yourself and others, and weigh the pros and cons of your trip before booking any travel.

Featured photo by @iheartcreative via Twenty20.

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