Simon Calder: Where passing 'without let or hindrance' is an empty hope, starting with the US
Simon Calder’s career in travel started at Gatwick Airport, where he cleaned aircraft for Laker Airways and later worked as a security officer. He became The Independent’s Travel Correspondent in 1994, and is known as “the Man Who Pays His Way” because he does not accept free travel facilities. He writes across the Independent titles, as well as for the Evening Standard.
Wednesday 02 October 2013
Road-weary travellers trying to untangle the red tape involved in a trans-African journey or a rail trip from Moscow to Beijing have long mocked the self-important demand contained in every British passport: "Her Britannic Majesty's Secretary of State requests and requires in the name of Her Majesty all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance".
Evidently, though, the good work of William Hague and preceding Foreign Secretaries enable us to scythe through red tape as easily as citizens of those nice, neutral Nordic nations, Finland and Sweden. The latest Visa Restrictions Index shows UK passport is, well, a passport to the planet, or at least earns an open invitation to 79 per cent of its nations.
Being British, long seen internationally as a plea of mitigation for eccentric behaviour, is regarded favourably by almost four out of five countries. But just because you can cruise through the Caribbean with each island's immigration officials barely bothering to look beyond the burgundy cover does not mean that a British passport will open the most alluring doors.
Look beyond Europe: most of the places that most of us want to visit the most require a visa - or something that looks a lot like one. The US demands that holidaymakers jump through a series of online hoops to pass the Electronic System for Travel Authorization, and pay $14 for the privilege. That fee is negligible compared with the cost of reaching the two most populous countries. The cost of getting through passport control into China and India is getting close to £100, with India doubling the cost of a visa earlier this year. That looks more like a tax than a reflection of the costs involved.
African countries are prone to extract as much hard currency as they can from visitors, with barely a thought for the impact on tourism.
Ukraine and Georgia do not usually appear in the same sentence as the term "enlightened nations", but these former Soviet republics realised that ending complex visa rules (including the endearing demand to pay in Postal Orders) would transform their appeal as tourist destinations.
Sadly the wrong kind of passport, as issued in Islamabad, Mogadishu, Baghdad or Kabul, remains a bureaucratic millstone. Perhaps they need to enlist the help of Her Britannic Majesty's Secretary of State.
The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations
- 1 The BBC has just done more to eradicate ‘terrorism’ than all our wars since 9/11
- 2 Dog thinks owner is drowning in lake, dives in and tries to pull him out
- 3 Thank heavens for Louise Mensch and her foul-mouthed tweets to world leaders
- 5 Phil Neville backtracks on Tomas Rosicky 'I'd smash him' comments from Match of the Day 2
Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
Inside Travel: Greece 2015 Q&A - should we cancel our Greek holiday? Are our flights safe? And what will we be spending there?
The 10 Best lightweight luggage
The 10 Best hiking boots
Australia Day 2015: Best alternative places to visit
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
Islamic history is full of free thinkers - but recent attempts to suppress critical thought are verging on the absurd
Leaked documents show Ukip leaders approve NHS privatisation once it becomes more 'acceptable to the electorate'
£21000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...
£26 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Email Marketing Specialist is needed to join...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join a is a...
Unpaid voluntary work: Old Royal Naval College: Join our team of friendly volu...