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#19 Their Passports

February 2, 2011

This guest post comes from Mo-ha-med, author of the blog The Traveller Within.  Follow Mo-ha-med on twitter: @TravellerW.

Feb 2 note: As we post this, Mo-ha-med is Tweeting from Tahrir Square, Egypt, as massive anti-government protests take place and pro-government regime forces are violently attacking the protesters. Be safe, Mo, be safe.

Although they seldom admit this in public, Expat Aid Workers love their passports. And of course, they love collecting stamps in their passports. The more unusual, the better. And best of all, from countries they’re not really supposed to visit. (for Americans that might be Cuba or Yemen, for Egyptians that would be Israel, for everyone you may think of Iran, etc.)

Expat Aid Worker passports are accessories to the act of establishing field cred, and so it is very common for Expat Aid Workers to want to share the stories of how they acquired particular unusual and/or forbidden stamps: “I was stuck at the Syria-Lebanon border crossing for six hours overnight and I had to negotiate in Arabic with the Lebanese customs officer to give me a visa even though foreigners can only get their visa on arrival at the airport,” for example, is the kind of hard-to-top story that immediately sets the teller apart from newbies and poseurs.

For effect it is, of course, important that the Expat Aid Worker’s passport be reasonably mishandled and the cover be somewhat wiped. A variety of security stickers on the back is a useful touch as well. A new passport might incur a haughty look from veteran Expat Aid Worker, until an apologetic “I had to get it renewed, I was running out of pages” is uttered.

But it’s not just about owning a busy passport: as with a trophy wife or expensive pet, the fun is not complete until the EAW can show off that official scrapbook.

Our Expat Aid Worker will carry her or his passport in pocket while at home, generally with the excuse that he or she has to stop by the consulate of Bouringa to see if a new visa/residency permit is ready. There’s a good chance friends will be curious enough to ask to see it, or will see that they’re burning to display it and so will indulge by asking to take a look. Either way, the Expat Aid Worker is set!

For tougher audiences – like, actual disaster zones – the Expat Aid Worker may have to get creative about showing off that passport. One great strategy is to put it in the same pocket as loose change and get it out when paying for a pack of cigarettes (another thing Expat Aid Workers like) or a stick or gum. Not very slick these days, though, as this one’s been used a lot.

A good occasion, however, to display said passport is when you’re showing ID at a club somewhere – “but i only carry my passport” automatically gives you the ‘seasoned expat’ aura.  Another solid tactic is saying things like, “pay by visa? Oh, you meant visa card? See when you say ‘visa’ I just automatically think of this time when I was stuck at the border of Lebanon…” Improperly played these can backfire and make you look desperate. We recommend using with caution.

Non-OECD-country Expat Aid Workers, who need a visa to get to virtually anywhere, have twice the advantage, as they also can display shiny EU and US visas (“Oh, that was for the World Bank ABCDE conference in Stockholm”) next to the “we went snorkeling in Zanzibar for the R&R” visas.

Those who happen to be UN laisser-passer holders are in a league of their own. And not just because it lets them stand in the diplomatic line at airports, but also because that silly inscription that “the Secretary-General of the United Nations requests all those whom it may concern to extend the bearer courtesies, facilities, privileges and immunities” in 6 languages turns out it to be useful at times.

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18 Comments leave one →
  1. trayle permalink
    February 2, 2011 10:31 am

    Don’t forget those of us who add pages upon page to our passports making them unbelievably thick. Soooo Cool.
    Oh man, I am so guilty. :)

    Take care in Tahrir square. It is getting nasty as I type.
    I am up in Maadi, staying out of the fray.

  2. February 2, 2011 12:01 pm

    So true. And while I can’t claim to be subject to the sneaky mentions of stamps in my passport, I am indeed guilty of the extra pages and filling them up way too fast.

  3. Mzee permalink
    February 2, 2011 4:16 pm

    Of course having 2 travel documents can be a trap for young players. Having a one sided screaming match with immigration officials in Somaliland is not a good look especially when you have a) dissed their country by telling them that they’re not recognized by anyone and b) told them that a visa for Somalia should be acceptable and c) accused them of not handing back the UN laisser-passer. Further embarrassment (at least to onlookers) inevitable when airport security locates said documents in in one of the 38 pockets in ther special sleeveless UN jackets.

    Casually being able to mention that you have to have 2 national passports so you can travel and apply for your visa for your next trip is kinda cool

  4. February 2, 2011 11:31 pm

    As a former UNLP (the official name for the UN passport: United Nations Laissez-Passer) holder, I sadly have to say that it does not automatically confer diplomatic status; it does so only if you have a diplomatic visa in the relevant country (or if you have one of the coveted and very rare red UNLPs, which are equivalent to a diplomatic passport).

    On the other hand many people, including immigration control and customs officers, do think it does give you diplomatic status, so you are not unlikely to be treated as diplomatic royalty anyway.

    • brewer permalink
      March 25, 2011 8:16 am

      Bad news- no passport or visa provides “immunuity”- only recognition of the host government that the bearer is entitled to immunity does so.

  5. Stefan permalink
    February 3, 2011 12:22 am

    Actually, rather than carry the passport around, the seasoned EPW will carry a photo copy of the passport, calmly and confidently saying that you should hand over your passport to anyone… it is much better to keep the passport safely tucked away in the safe in you room at the Holiday Inn .

  6. Robert permalink
    February 3, 2011 1:54 am

    You nailed me with this one! The only thing better is my Mongolian drivers license. They have no expiration date, and nothing gives you field cred like renting a car at Hilo airport and presenting your driver’s license. While the rent a car agent could not care less, your traveling companions will be in awe.

  7. February 3, 2011 6:02 am

    Must admit I am extremely proud of having an Indian passport issued in Colombia, because my normal one was stolen in a country which has no Indian embassy.

    I also proudly claim bonus points because my passport is handwritten and not printed like those issued in Delhi. Booyah.

    (where I lose out: passport was stolen in Costa Rica during vacation because I fell asleep on a bus…subtract 10 points).

  8. incompetantcrew permalink
    February 3, 2011 7:20 am

    Forget the visas, how about Ex Yugoslavian, new Serbian and LP passports (color code of deep blue,bordo and light blue) in a bundle while at the airport check-in traveling to some deep field place …or simply in the bank even though I KNOW one document is enough! It just gives me that Clint Eastwood/Chuck Norris feel :))) Guilty guilty and guilty of all of the above :) BRAVO seawl!

  9. Kali permalink
    February 4, 2011 3:45 am

    That’s soo well spotted! .. but even better, the real Somali passport you got done on mission for 20$, that states your father’s first name as your family name. I love that one. One day I’ll go retire in Mogadishu… my new homeland.

  10. Mag la crepe permalink
    February 4, 2011 4:29 am

    situation a UNLP is not helpful: entering the US!
    fun stuff to own: passport from Somalia, Afghan driving licence and visas from the axis of evil on one page!

    • Michael permalink
      February 9, 2011 2:33 am

      “situation a UNLP is not helpful: entering the US!”

      …or entering Switzerland! Totally ironic that countries hosting the UN HQs do not accept the UNLP at entry points — at least without a previously issued visa….

      (Though I think that may have changed recently…I think I read that Switzerland will now allow UNLP holders in without a visa.)

  11. Andrew permalink
    February 17, 2011 1:08 pm

    Some countries, such as YooKay, allow really serious travellers to have two passports. This means that you can be v. cool and say ‘I’ll just have to see which passport my visa is in’ or ‘Sorry, I gave you the wrong passport’ . . .

  12. July 30, 2011 2:05 pm

    The shame, the shame! I just had to renew my passport and accepted an 18 month mission in *one* country, i.e. I will not be able to ill my passport with stamps any time soon! what’s worse: the two borders which are close to my duty station can be passed without getting a stamp (or visa or passport). What can I do? This way I will never get field cred!

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