Top Posts & Pages

So what exactly happens when you don’t have a ‘passport of privilege’? 

August 16, 2017 78 Comments

I recently fulfilled a goal of traveling to 30 countries before I hit the age of 30.

Compared to other bloggers I know that isn’t much; and I also know that travel isn’t about ticking countries of a list to rack up mileage. But this is achievement for someone like me and let me explain why.


There are millions of people like me: women; women of colour; women who didn’t grow up traveling due to inherited wealth or their parents’ jobs; women from third world countries for whom travel is a foreign concept because it involves so much more than money and time off work- it involves strict visa restrictions that do more keep you out of a country rather than welcome you in.


You see, despite what philosophers and religious scholars might tell you, not all men are born equal. From the moment of birth, people start in different levels of difficulty in order to succeed in life.

My Instagram feed is full of travel bloggers accounts. Some are black, some are white, some have Asian backgrounds and some have African heritage but they all have one thing in common- a passport of privilege. There’s a reason a staggering amount of travelers and travel bloggers hold passports from the U.S., U.K., E.U., Australia or New Zealand and most of them have to do with freedom of movement. Yet here I am, a blogger too, traveling as much as I can with the South African passport I have.


One of the most requested topics I get asked to write about is how having this passport has shaped my travels and contributed to my experiences abroad. So for those of you who don’t know, here are are 5 things that happen when you don’t have a passport of privilege:

  1. Your world becomes smaller

Although I have always wanted to travel, my ideas of where I would like to travel were limited. Almost the entire continent of Europe was closed off to me for most of my life because the Schengen visa application was too much of work, money and a general logistical nightmare for the average South African. After 9/11, The U.S. visa policy became super stricter especially if you had a brown face and a not-so-Christian name. Canada and Australia were long, expensive flights away in addition to a headache-inducing visa application for each.

Let me put this point into perspective for you visually:

Most of our own continent is closed off to us too.

The average E.U. citizen has access to these countries without the headache of admin:


Let us look at that in comparison to the average Indian passport holder:


This is how the world is and I accept that. I have queued for hours to get a visa only to be told at the front of the queue that the system is offline/I don’t have a required document despite my suitcase of paperwork/ I am not eligible for a visa.  I have had embassy officials talk down to me, made assumptions on my religious/marital/racial status, talk above me but about me in their native tongue and all the while I smiled and pretended I was wasn’t grossly insulted because this is what you do when you aren’t privileged.

Although my world seems small, I took my tiny bank account and went where I could. Now that I am in a financial and geographical position to do so, I have begun with the strenuous visa applications. The questions remains to be seen about, are these countries really worth the hours you spend amassing documents, stressing, being insulted and the money it costs?


2. People will take pity on you for no reason

People ALWAYS assume that you are ashamed of where you are from. For example:

British twat: Where are you from?

Me: South Africa.

Brit: And you are traveling to Europe? Wow. I don’t think I would ever travel if I didn’t have a British passport. Who can be bothered with all the visa applications. Don’t you wish you had another passport?

Me: No. I have no wish to be anything other than South African especially if it meant being an ignorant fool like YOU!

Many conversations go along those lines. Let us get this straight people: We LOVE our countries. Do you know how amazing South Africa is? It is the ultimate privilege to be from a country most people only dream of! We may not agree with the way our country is run (my Zimbabweans friends know what I mean) and we may not have perfect English abilities (my Korean friends are agreeing) but we do not wish to be from anywhere else. It is foolish for you to think so. And if you grew up with pristine beaches, lush weather, dreamy landscapes and delicious food, you would never make those kind of daft comments.

I was recently asked if South Africa is “even worth visiting?” Well… you tell me. Here are a few of my pictures from my hideous third world country:



Who would ever want to live there? Ew. And yes- all these photos are mine- with no photoshop needed for the most beautiful country in the world

3. People are surprised that you have traveled.

Because apparently when you’re from the third world, you don’t have a passport? I was recounting a story told to me by my Egyptian friend about her travels in Iceland, to a colleague from America. He seemed very taken aback. “She went to Iceland? But she is Egyptian!” SO?


This sort of thing happens a lot. When I mentioned to an American about a few of the countries I have visited in South East Asia while I worked in South Korea, she was beyond surprised. “I didn’t think South Africans could travel that much!” Um… Apartheid ended over 20 years ago… we have no travel restrictions! (As an aside- when I said how much I loved my trip to India, her response was, “Oh of course you have been to India and loved it. You’re not white after all.” So you can only enjoy non-white countries if you’re not white? Ok then.)


We may not be from wealthy countries, our governments may be corrupt and we may even have only gotten a passport when we turned 40 years old, but do not assume that our nationality holds us back from exploring parts of the world– especially those that welcome us.

4. They will treat you… differently

In 2011 I went on a trip to the Philippines with a group of colleagues. I was the only South African amidst a group of Candians, Americans, Irish and New Zealanders. Everything was going well at Manila Airport and everyone passed through immigration smoothly until it was my turn to present my South African passport. Suddenly the immigration officer needed to call his colleagues for clarification (on what I don’t know, since the Philippines is visa free for South Africans) and as him and his cohorts discussed my unworthy passport, my colleagues looked back at me impatiently. As if it were my fault this was happening to me.


I was glad I was brown, as my face was burning up and if I was lighter, my humiliation would’ve been apparent for the world to see. However, I maintained my composure as my passport was returned to me and I was stamped into the country. I was still a newbie at traveling at that point so I actually did feel embarrassed about making everyone wait. That would never happen now.

Nonetheless, I had a fabulous holiday and the Philippines remains one of my favourite countries.

Fast forward a few years later and the same episode replayed itself in INDIA of all places. A place where I got away with paying local prices and fitted in as well as I do in my home country. I was called aside and interrogated about my father’s profession as well as how I obtained my passport? (I later found out that they thought I was a wanted Pakistani citizen on the run fleeing with a fake passport). What the hell?

All I wanted was to leave with a bag of these chips. Instead I had to forgo my dignity and surrender my snack.

Kuwait was another example of nationality governing how you are treated. When two people accomplish the same task, at the same building, with the same staff, the experiences can be exceptionally different based on what you passport you held. For example, my friends from New Zealand and Europe were treated with the utmost help and respect when applying for their criminal record in Kuwait. When I went to apply for mine, from my face to my passport, they shouted at me and made me stand outside in the sun while everyone else was served before me (even though I had arrived first).


Growing up in the place where in South Africa- the place where Apartheid originated- made me aware of my race and nationality of course but… I never viewed them as a burden until I started traveling.


The worst part of it all is when your friends- or people you consider your friends- tell you, “Its all in your head!” simply because their privilege blinds them from seeing that others aren’t treated as they are.

5. Immigrant vs. Expat

There have been many times where I referred to myself as an expat (name of this blog!) and I was ‘corrected’ and told that the correct term I should use is immigrant. Why is this so when you are calling my German friend an expat but referring to me as an immigrant? Technically speaking, I have been an immigrant to a number of countries. I don’t think I really need to explain the semantic differences between these two synonyms. One of these terms has developed quite negative connotations while the other is something many people dream of being. I know exactly why I’ve  been labelled as an immigrant- because I’m part of an ethnic minority, and because I  am from a developing country which on the world stage seems… weak.


People ask me what my life was like in “Africa” (whispered in a hushed tone). I don’t know what hey expect me to say- Coming from the developing world doesn’t always mean that you were poverty-stricken. I was not forced to leave- I chose to move. 

I always wonder about the many people who want to limit migration – the single easiest way for poor people to improve their life chances – and view growth in India and China not as dramatic progress in reducing both poverty and global inequality, but as a sinister development. Ask yourself why improving the quality of life of certain nationalities  is considered dangerous but for others (for example, those within the European Union),  is completely acceptable?


The truth is…

As much as these truths and incidents rattle me, I still recognise that I too am privileged because I have the choice to travel for leisure; as I mentioned, I was not forced to leave my home country due to war or conflict. I was privileged to receive an amazing level of education. I was lucky enough to have English as my mother tongue which, as we all know, is the language of travel.

My ability to speak English opens the door for me in other ways, too. As a native English speaker, I can choose where I want to work by teaching English abroad.

That’s just not an option for someone who doesn’t speak fluent English, meaning that they don’t have the option to pursue one the most economical methods of long-term travel. This can apply to other work abroad situations too, including working in a backpacker hostel or a cruise ship, since English is usually required.


Growing up in post Apartheid South Africa taught me many things. From poverty to suffering to opulence to grandeur, South Africans, like most people from the third world, have seen it all. Human pain and suffering are incommensurable in the sense that you cannot really compare one experience with another, but let me tell you something: If you’re reading this, you- like me- already have it easy. I don’t believe that admitting privilege detracts from my hard work or authenticity as a traveler. If anything, I think it makes me more real, relatable, and believable.

Thailand in 2013… one of my favourite countries because not only is it gorgeous, but its so easy to travel there!

As for all those travel bloggers telling people out there to quit their jobs and travel the world- hold on. Think about what you’re saying. If a couple wants to go to Europe from South Africa they will spend around $150 just on their visas. Another $150 if they want to get UK visas. $300 is A LOT of money in South Africa . Then consider having to spend in Euros and Pounds, which are almost 17 times the value of the South African Rand, and you can see how, in some countries, traveling can be limited to the very privileged.

Of course this isn’t a post designed to make people feel guilty about their nationalities. If you can travel, DO IT, and don’t feel guilty just because it’s easier for you than it is for someone else. Instead, simply be aware of it, and be sensitive to those who weren’t born into the same circumstances.giphy7

Do you have a not-so-privileged passport? If so, how has it shaped the way you’ve been treated or how you have to travel? Comment below and let me know!



All posts


  • Evelyn M. Hill August 16, 2017 at 11:47 am

    I love posts that show me a different way of viewing the world.
    All the same, I am confused. (Well, nothing new there. I am frequently confused about the world we live in and its inhabitants.)
    I always thought an immigrant was someone who was moving to a country permanently, or at least who had the intention to make it a permanent move. An ex-pat was someone who lived abroad (i.e. lived in a different locale from whence they came) but was not necessarily planning to make a permanent Life Choice about their abode.
    I could be wrong. That has happened before.

    • Expat Panda August 16, 2017 at 11:51 am

      I love your sense of humour 😂 Ok so yes you’re absolutely right about your definitions, in fact that’s what I thought too before I moved abroad. BUT I soon realised that an “immigrant” is more commonly referred to as someone from the third world (usually non white) who has had to move because there were limited opportunities in their home country. So here in the Middle East, Indians, Pakistanis, Filipinos and other Asian nationalities are more commonly referred to as immigrants. An expat is someone who goes where they want out of choice and preference and is more commonly, someone from a western country like America, UK etc. It’s difficult for me to explain the negative connotations but I’m sure you understand a little more now. Trust me I was just as confused as you when I first learned about all of this jargon! Who cares what you’re called as long as you’re happy where you are?

      • Evelyn M. Hill August 16, 2017 at 1:01 pm

        Thank you! That does clarify things. I hadn’t realized that ‘immigrant’ these days referred to people of non-European ancestry, but I suppose that makes sense. My great-great-grands were immigrants because the alternative was staying put and starving, but that was a century or so ago. It’s not so much an issue in Europe these days. (Thankfully.)

        To update an old phrase, Terms change, and we change with the terms. I am glad to know that if I used these terms today, the connotations could be different from the intended usage. I will update my mental dictionary!

        I am enjoying your blog.

  • The Shining Gem August 16, 2017 at 12:18 pm

    As an Indian, thank you so much for this post. It really is tough for people like us.

    “Fast forward a few years later and the same episode replayed itself in INDIA of all places. A place where I got away with paying local prices and fitted in as well as I do in my home country. I was called aside and interrogated about my father’s profession as well as how I obtained my passport? (I later found out that they thought I was a wanted Pakistani citizen on the run fleeing with a fake passport). What the hell?”

    Sorry you had to go through that but the security of our country has really tightened up after 26/11/2008. Not sure why they suspected you though, but I am sorry for the inconvenience.

    • Expat Panda August 16, 2017 at 1:13 pm

      I admire every Indian that travels! It is SO difficult for you guys to to travel without a visa but yet I am inspired every time I meet a traveler from India. It reminds me of my privilege and keeps me humble. Don’t even apologise for security measures, India is on the top of my favourite countries list despite all that!

      • The Shining Gem August 16, 2017 at 2:09 pm

        Thank you. I am of the opinion that it is better to be safe than sorry.

  • Ben Aqiba August 16, 2017 at 12:20 pm

    Very useful article,

    Thank you

    • Expat Panda August 16, 2017 at 1:15 pm

      So glad you enjoyed this piece Ben! Thank you for always reading 🙂

  • Oscar August 16, 2017 at 12:32 pm

    Dear ExPAT Panda. I am a newbie to teaching and to teaching in the UAE. I have also travelled, but nowhere as much as you! I might be nearly twice your age (nearly, not literally!) and I love what you do. It gives so much authenticity to the experiences many of us are undergoing as South Africans and great information to novice potential travellers. Keep those posts coming!

    • Expat Panda August 16, 2017 at 1:17 pm

      Dear Oscar! Welcome to the UAE! Your age is not relevant to me as long as you enjoyed and identified with this post! Whether you start to broaden your horizons at 20 or 40 or 60, the fact that you take the step, is what counts. Us, South Africans, have to put up with a lot of nonsense from others but in this post I wanted to show that we too also have some privilege whether it feels that way or not! Thanks for reading and following along 🙂

  • Julz August 16, 2017 at 12:40 pm

    My husband’s biggest complain is his Mauritian passport – and am laughing here, cause we left the uk 6 months before his permanent residency… yes the visas are a pain – and yes customs always look strangely at his passport – but let me tell you a little story: my dad’s best friend is married to a Maroccan and she holds Danish passport as they lived in DK for a long time. They lived on the Ivory Coast and decided after 15yrs to move to France. When she arrived to exchange her driver’s licence to the French one, they stared at her asked for her residency card (they were holding a Danish, EU citizen passport in their hands). Yet didn’t acknowledge the fact that she could live where she wanted. It took a bit of discussions and some phone calls for her to be allowed to apply for her drivers licence: it isn’t only your ZA or my husbands MRU passport being questioned and making things hard. I have tons of stories like this one… I brush it off to lack of education and of interest – so many people don’t think before they speak. a few months ago a overheard a South African guest here in Mauritius asking the spa girl how many times she had visited South Africa, because you know it’s soo close really! – the girl can probably not afford to pay for the plane ticket… 😉

    • Expat Panda August 16, 2017 at 1:20 pm

      Wow wow wow! Finally a story that makes me feel a degree of surprise. I guess people are ignorant no matter where you go and you’re always judged by some particular criteria whether it is known to you or not. As for the idiot South African who made that ridiculous remark- I apologise profusely. Do you know that despite the mere 4 hours between Johannesburg and Mauritius, it is one of the more expensive flights because only 2 or 3 airlines fly the route. But as you said, so many people don’t think before they speak and this is why its important to travel, meet people and hear their stories so that your mind can open. Thanks for the interesting comment as always, I enjoy your insight!

  • Pooja Thapliyal August 16, 2017 at 12:48 pm

    I loved this post.You poured out your heart and being an Indian , I can completely understand this. Currency and visa are the major hurdles. The agony of going through the visa formalities and fast depleting money because of the low currency value .Still it doesnt really dampen my spirits of travelling abroad 😊

    • Expat Panda August 16, 2017 at 1:22 pm

      Pooja I hear you! Despite everything, we brown girls are going to explore the world even if they don’t want us to because we are worth more than visa restrictions, racist comments and snide looks. Glad you enjoyed this piece!

  • thexpatUAE August 16, 2017 at 1:05 pm

    What an eye opener. If I’m totally honest it’s something I’ve not really given much thought to it because you do end up taking things like nationality/passport for granted when you’re not the one being mistreated or discriminated against. Horrible reading your experiences and shocking to see places like India do the same!
    My husband and I have had many conversations about the terms immigrant and expat – people who move to the UK, for the same reason we moved to Dubai, are called immigrants – NEVER expats! It’s always baffled me.
    Another amazing blog post 💞

    • Expat Panda August 16, 2017 at 1:23 pm

      I too take my South African passport for granted. Its only when I saw that graphic about Indian passport holders that I felt a bit ashamed of my complaints. Its completely natural to not realise what some people go through but what is important is that you are open to learning about new things 🙂 Thanks for your feedback, I always enjoy your comments 🙂

  • scottishfamilyadventures August 16, 2017 at 1:09 pm

    I just write a long heart felt comment and it didn’t post and not sure I can write it again! But basically keep writing blogs like this, this is what the world needs to hear!

    • Expat Panda August 16, 2017 at 1:23 pm

      Oh no! Please try again! I always love your comments!

      • scottishfamilyadventures August 17, 2017 at 8:25 am

        Ok so I said you need to keep writing post like this because people don’t get it! I haven’t visited as many countries as you but I do know that with my passport it’s generally pretty easy. However, I have also experienced the difficulty of getting a visa and having to have written permission from my husband to leave the country alone with the kids when we lived in Angola and that was very frustrating. I have also experienced being treated different my because of the colour of my skin whilst living in Angola, Kuwait and to a lesser extent now in Vietnam. I have doors held open for me, umbrellas held over my head (because I couldn’t possibly get wet), my children getting preference in school admissions and being taken to the front of the queue etc. Meanwhile I see others around me being treated as second or theirs class citizens all because of where they were born or the colour of their skin. And it’s embarrassing and frustrating and most days it feels like my effort to change these perceptions is fighting a losing battle. And I know that even as I write this is sounds condescending because I am writing it as a ‘privileged’ person. I just really struggle with it and it’s one of the things I find hardest about being an expat or an immigrant or whatever you want to call it!

        The other thing I found interesting is what you write about others perceptions of South Africa. It’s a place I have always wanted to visit, somewhere that I have heard so many wonderful things about so I am surprised the way you say others view it. Anyway that’s enough of an essay! I would love to write something on this topic too but I feel it would only come across as ‘privileged white lady trying to do good!’

        • Expat Panda August 17, 2017 at 12:49 pm

          I just ADORE this comment and thank you so much for taking the time to retype it all. I have massive respect for you, feeling the way you do but being on the ‘other side of the spectrum’. This is exactly what I was trying to say in my post- just because you have privilege and preference, does not mean that you cannot empathise or see things from another perspective. I love how your eyes are open and you don’t just accept things blindly even when they work in your favour 🙂 Hey I don’t mind if you’re a do-gooder white lady… its better than being an ignorant fool!!

          • scottishfamilyadventures August 17, 2017 at 1:01 pm

            ‘A do-gooder white lady, I’ll take that! 😊 To be honest, though, if people can’t see it it’s because they choose not to because that’s the easier and less uncomfortable option. Although there is one area in which I would say I’m not privileged and that’s when I comes to how much the mosquitoes love me!!

          • Expat Panda August 17, 2017 at 1:03 pm

            Goodness I laughed so hard at that comment 😀

  • Anne Grwll August 16, 2017 at 1:20 pm

    You took the words RIGHT OUT OF MY MOUTH! Especially the parts when people take pity on you or that picture of Robert Downey Jr saying “judging you”. I’m an Indian. It’s so frustrating when people think all that crap and all the problems faced for visas. It’s true, we all do love our respective countries! I’m so glad you put it out there!

    • Expat Panda August 16, 2017 at 1:26 pm

      Anne this is an issue so close to my heart and it brings me joy that you have identified with it. Ironically, we both come from the most BREATHTAKING countries in the world and have an immense amount of pride for our lands. So despite all the bureaucracy, stupid questions and ignorance out there, we will just combat stereotypes one incident at a time! Thanks for reading 🙂

  • Jeena August 16, 2017 at 1:21 pm

    This was an enlightening post to read. I have to say I was one of the clueless Americans before coming to Kuwait, I really never thought about the “power of the passport” or how much difference it makes in a country like Kuwait. I still get questions from Kuwaitis or other people like – “but you are Indian right? Well yes my parents were but then I really don’t know much about India or anything because I grew up in America…” not sure if that makes any sense to you..

    Also, before moving here, I never really thought about how easy it was to travel when you have an American passport either. We just would book a flight and go there, and the funny part was when I first traveled to India 6 years ago applying for the Indian visa was such a hassle! It took me almost 3 days and countless hours just to get all the forms submitted!

    South Africa has been on my list of countries to visit! I have only heard how beautiful it is from so many people and your pictures/Instagram stories proved it! Hope that it will be one of the places I am able to go to before I am 40!

    • Expat Panda August 16, 2017 at 1:30 pm

      Jeena, as always, I adore your comments. I am in the same boat as you, constantly having people think I am Indian but my lifestyle and habits are 100% South African as yours are American (especially your turns of phrase!).

      It doesn’t matter that you never took cognisance of this issue before, what matters now is that your mind has opened as a result of your move abroad. This is why travel is so important. Ironically I found the Indian visa super easy to apply for (nowadays its online) and absolutely loved the month Fox and I spent there!

      South Africa WOULD LOVE TO HAVE YOU HABIBTI! Please go and let me plan your whole itinerary haha!

  • Stewie Overseas August 16, 2017 at 2:00 pm

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on people who are judgey when they find out which passport you have. Just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it is impossible. I wish many more travels and expat adventures ahead of you 🙂 Also, the hippos!

    • Expat Panda August 16, 2017 at 2:09 pm

      Yes the hippos! They live 3 hours away from where I grew up and actually, at certain times of the year, they walk around the town. “Hippo warnings” are spread! Yes you are so right- difficult doesn’t mean impossible- and it is all worth it in the end 🙂 I always enjoy your comments!

  • Marwa August 16, 2017 at 5:12 pm

    She went to Iceland?! 😂😂 unbelievable!
    I love the post Aneesa and I totally feel you. It’s strange how some people are oblivious about such matters. They are so ignorant that they actually make it worse. Coming from a third world country as well, I would like to believe that MY privilege is being cultured and open minded unlike some of the “privileged” ones! Way to go Aneesa 🙌🏾

    • Expat Panda August 16, 2017 at 5:25 pm

      HAHA I am so glad you identified yourself in this post 😀 Your privilege is being so amazingly open to new experiences and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. It is one of the many things I admire you for! Most people would think that because you are in hijab/are muslim/are from Egypt, you would be conservative but look at you! Pushing boundaries and fighting stereotypes ones incident at a time 🙂 Keep inspiring me 😀

      • Marwa August 16, 2017 at 6:20 pm

        Aneesa, I’m overwhelmed by your words ❤️ You left me speechless! Am I really all of what you said in one person 🙈 Thank you for the way you see me 🙂 I admire how you push boundaries and fight stereotypes by your words! Keep it going dear friend 🙌🏾

        • Expat Panda August 16, 2017 at 7:49 pm

          Yes you really are! This is why we are friends, connected by our blogs 💜❤️

          • Marwa August 16, 2017 at 9:31 pm

            Forever my buddy 🙌🏾💙💙

  • I am Aranab August 16, 2017 at 8:57 pm

    This is so so so so so true for me. The process of visa application totally turns me off and make me not wanna go travel. And the worst part is I cannot do an impromptu travel. Everything has to be planned well in advance and it really sucks balls. SO this article just resonated with me from top to bottom!

    • Expat Panda August 16, 2017 at 10:03 pm

      I feel your pain… last minute travel is so not a reality for me especially when I have to allow 3-5 working days for visa processing! I am really glad you could relate even though we are from different ends of the earth 🙂

  • ispyprettyplaces August 17, 2017 at 3:13 am

    I loved reading this post. I have always been aware of the privilege of my passport since I was little. Maybe it’s because my parents had to give up their birth passport to obtain a British one. And now, having two passports and having the option of choosing which passport to travel on so that I don’t have to incur visa fees is truly a blessing. I have friends who, like you, can’t just hop on a plane on a whim as they have to apply for a visa and that takes months. I do take pity on the situation, but not for the same reasons as the British twat (I hope). But more simply, that everyone should have the right to see how beautiful our world is. Its funny, but we were just talking about this in our household today as passport privilege massively affects immigration paper processing as well. Some of the people that have made ignorant comments towards you need to use their passport more often and open their eyes!

    Thank you for sharing this.

  • Blackmuslimandtraveling August 17, 2017 at 7:41 am

    All day yesterday, I thought about your post and our conversation regarding race. This morning, I woke up with tears in my eyes as I thought about how much of a foreigner I am in my home country and how I seldom feel welcome, even in family gatherings. I appreciate your candidness on race and ethnicity as you document your experiences. I have begun writing that post we talked about and didn’t realize how painful of a topic it was for me.

    • Expat Panda August 17, 2017 at 12:46 pm

      Its always tough to write about the things that are closest to our hearts but once its out there… its cathartic. Please do write it, even if you don’t publish it, you will feel better once you have all your feelings laid bare so you can process them fully. I honestly can’t imagine what it is like to feel like an outsider in my home country as South Africa has always been my refuge- if I had a bad experience abroad, landing in Johannesburg was the salve to soothe my ailments. Don’t ever forget, you can always shoot me a message if you ever need to vent/talk!

      • Blackmuslimandtraveling August 18, 2017 at 8:05 am

        I will write it, and I will post it because I think it’s necessary. I’m finding that I’m not alone in my feelings. I appreciate your being fearless in diving into these types of topics.

  • Marta August 17, 2017 at 8:36 am

    Very interesting post. Has anyone really said to you why do you travel, having your passport??? That is a very stupid thing to say (although at least shows the person knows that having a South African passport makes travel not so straightforward).

    I have a EU passport so I can go visa free to many places. However instead of choosing any of the European countries where I could live more or less hassle free, I had to decide to come to China and bind myself to an annual visa nightmare haha. And now with a Chinese husband I am also affected by the necessary preparations and visa dealings. I’m currently in the process of obtaining an awful lot of documents so my parents in law can apply for a Schengen visa and attend our Spanish wedding. I am not very sure that they will get it as they don’t have much money (need to provide bank account statements), and although I stated I will be financially responsible for them during the trip, I’m not sure that will be good enough for the visa officer!

    • Expat Panda August 17, 2017 at 12:51 pm

      How interesting to hear about your experience living in China! I can imagine how frustrating it must be to deal with all of bureaucracy of not only living in China, but also when traveling with your husband. I know all about the Schengen visa nightmare (I basically had to flirt my way into getting one), and I really do hope that your in-laws can attend your wedding in Spain. Thanks for sharing your experiences 🙂

  • haley81 August 17, 2017 at 10:53 am

    You are a brave women.These are unforgettable experiences

    • Expat Panda August 17, 2017 at 12:51 pm

      Thank you for saying that!

  • higgledypiggledymom August 17, 2017 at 5:41 pm

    Thank you again for another of your enlightening posts. We are one of the privileged passport holders and yet we feel safer not to travel to certain countries. That has more to do with religious politics and pinpointing through names. South Africa does still seem exotic, but it’s on the bucket list as are some Asian countries. Unfortunately they bring up serious bad memories for my hubby, so I may have to grab one of my friends or kids. The world is as open as it can be and I think we unfortunately have to follow our hearts and be smart when traveling. There’s more experiences out there for us, but it is sometimes time and always money.

    • Expat Panda August 17, 2017 at 9:56 pm

      Thank you for your comment 🙂 Travel as much and as freely as you can- don’t ever feel guilty about your passport. I totally agree with you about the world being as open as it can be and following your heart when choosing a destination 🙂

  • Smiling Notes August 17, 2017 at 10:07 pm

    Interesting post and I love that you have highlighted these issues. As someone who holds an Indian passport and is currently staying in the US, I can understand your point of view – especially when people are ignorant and think everyone in third world countries is poor. Loved your post.

    • Expat Panda August 17, 2017 at 10:11 pm

      Thanks so much for your comment Shamira! Its heartwarming for me to realise that so many people around the world resonated with this post 🙂 Nothing we can about the ignorance except try to educate and show people the truth hey!

      • Smiling Notes August 17, 2017 at 10:16 pm

        I know, right?! Hopefully people think twice before asking annoying and ignorant questions.

  • simplymesmc August 18, 2017 at 2:13 am

    First, Im envious bec you get to travel in so many countries in before you turned 30. My first travel abroad was on my 30th.
    2nd, I know how you feel being in need of big amount of money to travel. I’m from the Philippines. I only travel to countries nearby once a year bec I cant afford to do it multiple times a year.
    third, I am sorry you had to experience that in PH immigration, I hope yor stay in our country made it all worth it. I admit we have a lot of improvemnts to do in Airport/ travel/ immigration dept.
    Lastly, Thank you for sharing this. I pray that travelling for people like you and me who are brown, and came from third world countries wont be that hard in the coming years. And I sincerely pray, discremination will no longer be a thing in this world. Bec we are all human being. I love your piece. Thank you.

  • Uzoo August 18, 2017 at 5:38 pm

    I love ur blog and this post relates very well with me as am a Nigerian. SA has more visa free countries to than mine. Me and my husband have been pulled aside at Singapore and china immigrations on our trips. Just like u n fox we lived in South korea for 2 years

    • Expat Panda August 19, 2017 at 2:58 pm

      I know how difficult it is to find African writers writing about their experiences worldwide which is one of the primary reasons, I began my blog. I am so happy that you found me and that you identified with this post. South Korea was amazing wasn’t it? I always think of moving back there rather than to my home country 😀

  • justbluedutch August 19, 2017 at 1:09 am

    Another bullseye Panda! You certainly nailed it.
    I commend you for achieving your goal, you are a great inspiration.
    I am commenting for 2 reasons;
    First, because I LOVE this post and its content, very true and straight forward.
    Secondly, because I can totally relate to everything that you’ve written. I am a holder of a passport of a Third-World Country and although I am married now to a European and has a daughter with a privileged passport, and living in the land of the most powerful passport in the world—- I, on the other hand for many reasons have felt the stiff, stingy struggle of having a “less-privileged passport”. I felt like I was being interrogated as a terrorist when I am applying for my residence permit here in Germany. It’s not a comfy feeling.
    Back then in Kw, the German embassy couldn’t believe that I am going to Germany, as if it was really unbelievable! Crazy!
    Nevertheless, I took it as a challenge and stayed positive in my visa applications.
    Yes, sometimes your skin color dictates your privileges, but traveling gives us freedom.
    Looking forward to hear more of your wanderings around the world!

    • Expat Panda August 19, 2017 at 3:04 pm

      Christina! Its so great to have your perspective as someone with a third world passport but now living in the EU. I think it must be hard when your loved ones don’t have the same stresses that you do when you are traveling. I’m sorry to hear about your experiences at the German embassy in Kuwait but believe me I practically had to bribe and flirt my way into getting my Schengen. Hopefully things will improve for both of us 🙂

  • MiMi August 19, 2017 at 4:35 am

    For the longest time, I’ve been searching for African voices shedding light on the way Africans are treated and the unfairness of it all. And OH MY GOD, Canadian visas as the absolute worst and many of my Nigerian friends are having issues with school because of them! American visas aren’t too bad and neither are UK visas really, but you never know sometimes with people. It’s horrible what you’ve been through, but hopefully things will get better!

    • Expat Panda August 19, 2017 at 3:02 pm

      I am so glad that you found my blog because it is terribly difficult to find African bloggers writing about their experiences! The Nigerian passport is not without its share of headaches and I can imagine what a nightmare it must be when you want to travel anywhere! My experiences have shaped me and made me resilient so I have no regrets! Just hoping I can combat some of the ignorance out there in the world!

  • Alexis August 19, 2017 at 11:46 pm

    This is such a vital blog post – I travel on a US passport – not the king of passports, but I definitely have it good compared to many, and I had no idea that a South African passport was so restrictive. Thank you for writing.

    • Expat Panda August 22, 2017 at 6:19 am

      Thank you for reading Alexis! By writing this, I didn’t mean to have a rant, I just wanted to educate people who weren’t in the know- so I am glad you learnt something!

  • […] good friend, Expat Panda, wrote a post regarding traveling without a passport of “privilege”. It’s so […]

  • Danielle August 30, 2017 at 5:46 pm

    I’m so glad I stumbled across this post! I recently did a tongue-in-cheek post about things Americans take for granted but I was serious when I put our passports at the top of my list. Still, I don’t think I’ve ever read someone’s experiences about the difficulties of traveling and stigmas and stereotypes that come with a less privileged passport. You shared something so important here (and also inspired others to share) and I hope it finds a wider audience!

    • Expat Panda August 30, 2017 at 6:26 pm

      Thank you for this comment! Yes I loved your post about the things you appreciate about America especially after living abroad and gaining perspective. I think everyone feels this way about a lot of things about their home country and yet, we don’t want to move back haha! Passport privilege is a very real thing and it’s great when those who are privileged can recognise and empathise with those who aren’t!

  • phillygirl77 September 7, 2017 at 12:38 pm

    I love the picture of you in the Philippines. Simply Gorgeous! Traveling makes you aware and I have become aware of my American privilege passport and also others life privileges due to their nationality like true Qataris are rich just because they’re Qatari. We could write a book on life privileges but I believe the point is to be aware. Life is a privilege.

    • Expat Panda September 7, 2017 at 5:08 pm

      Thank you and yes I totally agree that everyone has some sort of privilege in one form or another. What is important is that recognise it and don’t belittle others for not being as fortunate!

  • agnuswalters September 18, 2017 at 11:18 am

    Ayi yayi yayi! For some reason when you described your experience in India, it reminded me of the movie, “The gods must be crazy”.. I am sorry to hear that you were interrogated that way but I can’t understand why you didn’t take the chips packet! That was a nice flavour too! And when you showed the map referring to Indian access to other countries, I wanted to shout from the rooftops, “SEEEEE! SHE GETS IT!!!” forget other countries, we find it hard to travel from state to state itself without burning huge holes in our pockets. I wish travel were free! (just like I wish food was too)

  • wwornheels November 14, 2017 at 9:35 am

    I’m Nigerian and I’m with you 100%. Not many people get it. I often just refer to myself as a professional visa applicant. Traveling with a Nigerian passport is not a walk in the park but it is possible. I’m pulled aside for questioning many times. 40+ countries in, and I have no plans to stop!

    In all of this, like you I recognize that I’m still privileged compared to many. I’ve been denied visas a few times, but most of the times I do get the visas perhaps because I live outside Nigeria and I’m judged to be ‘okay’ or because I have visas to places like the UK, US, Schengen states etc.

    We travel despite the challenges and I don’t take this privilege for granted

  • […] to everyone. Sure, there are ways to scrimp and save money, but what if you don’t have a privileged passport? It’s a thought that doesn’t register for most of those from the EU, UK, US, or Australia but […]

  • […] my Instagram and this blog, I have opened up about my divorce, job loss, my ethnicity and the struggles of traveling with a passport from a third world country. It still continuously surprises me how kind and supportive people can be when you open yourself up […]

  • […] more on passport privilege, my friend and fellow expat blogger, Aneesa of Expat Panda, has a great post on her travel experiences as someone from South […]

  • […] and personal struggles. I have opened up about my divorce, job loss, my ethnicity and the struggles of traveling with a passport from a third world country on my […]

  • ramblingbee January 5, 2019 at 4:45 am

    Not to dispute how you chose to deal with it :), but regarding the words “expat” and “immigrant”, as a matter of principle I decided to go the other way and call everyone immigrants.

    A German living in Norway, immigrant. A Brit living in China, immigrant. Someone from the Philippines living in India, immigrant. I’m an Australian living in Europe, I am an immigrant. When a certain type of other immigrants talk to me about how we’re “expats” I tell that we’re immigrants. That is why we have to apply through the immigration department of this country, it’s not the “expat department”, it’s the “immigration department”, because we are immigrants.

    Sometimes these “expats” (usually American/Canadian/Australian/New Zealander) are surprised when they can no longer renew a visa because the rules got harsher, but they wouldn’t have been so taken by surprise if they hadn’t forgotten they are immigrants.

    • expatpanda January 6, 2019 at 3:22 am

      This is an interesting way of looking at it and I agree with your approach. In this part of the world, there is no ‘immigration’ departments or concepts of a long term move (because people can never gain citizenship), rather they are called departments for ‘foreigners’ and when I lived in South Korea we were referred to as ‘aliens’.

  • Marcella April 4, 2020 at 5:51 am

    Such a great read! I have an American Passport AND a Colombian passport, but I have yet to use the Colombian one. It’s strange because on the one hand, it is not a passport of privilege, but on the other hand, if I am in Colombia it will likely make it very easy to get to Cuba! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this topic.

    • expatpanda April 4, 2020 at 3:44 pm

      You’re most welcome. You are indeed most privileged to have more than one passport 🙂

  • Cecilia May 15, 2020 at 4:24 pm

    I read your post imagining you telling me the story and every 2 minutes I replied: yes, exactly! Girl I get you, right?!
    Now, imagine a girl with a passport like yours, traveling alone so nobody to ‘delay’ and after the whole passport drama gets asked: traveling alone? And then pity looks, asking again if I have someone waiting for me in that country, if my boyfriend/husband couldn’t come with me…making me emotionally and mentally exhausted!

    • expatpanda May 17, 2020 at 1:43 pm

      I mean honestly, that is just as irritating and demotivating as the whole passport drama. Just let women travel alone without asking a ton of questions!

  • Len Kagami May 21, 2022 at 7:33 am

    Such an inspiring post! As someone who has a third-country passport, I feel much related to your situation. I remember I was singled out for visa-check on my train from Germany to Denmark, just because I have a green passport (Europeans have red one). So fed up with these Western-values 🙂

  • Let's converse with a comment!

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

    Blog Stats

    • 534,759 visits

    Follow with Wordpress

    Follow Expat Panda on


    Delve into the archives!