South Asia is a rapidly developing region in the world, but thanks to the power of passport privilege—a.k.a. how many countries your citizenship automatically grants you a tourist visa to enter—all South Asian countries' passports are ranked towards the bottom end of the Henley Passport Ranking list. This lower ranking makes it harder for us South Asians to visit most of the countries visa-free, extend our stays, or plan multi-country trips and the dream of becoming a digital nomad with a South Asian passport seems farfetched.
The hassles of becoming a digital nomad with a weak passport are plenty but after a lot of trial and error, I have found the secret recipe to country hop or staying an extended period of time in one place while dodging the visa and immigration laws like a pro. So far I traveled extensively across the Middle East and Asia on my Pakistani Passport. I also managed to get a visa for the UK and Canada, which are notorious for visa rejections for weak passport holders. While the requirements and obstacles vary from country to country, here’s how you can strategize and achieve your dream of becoming a digital nomad with a South Asian passport.
Start With Easy to Visit Countries
As a rule of thumb, start your digital nomad journey with the easiest to visit countries on your passport. For South Asian passport holders, it is easier to visit the South East Asian countries that are either visa-free, by visa on arrival, or with an e-visa—and it is comparatively easier to extend your visa in SEA than anywhere else in the world. I got my Malaysian and Thailand e-visas within thirty-six hours after a pretty straightforward application process. I have plans to visit Bali this year and potentially set my base there as the island is one of the top-rated places to live for digital nomads.
Organize Your Documents
When your chances of getting the visa are slim due to your passport’s ranking, document preparation is the key to making your case stronger. Submit as many supporting documents as you can with your visa application. Any documents that strengthen your ties with your home country are very important. This includes anything from a financial statement, property documents, money bonds, fixed deposits, and employment certificates that will help in convincing the visa officer that you have sufficient reasons to return to your home country.
Take Shorter Trips First
Maintaining a good travel history before taking the plunge to become a digital nomad is crucial to not only securing the visas—it also adds tons of practical traveling experience to support your nomadic endeavors. I recommend taking multiple short to long trips for at least a year or two before transitioning into a digital nomad. A strong travel history is also a positive indicator for the visa officer as it affirms that you are an avid traveler and you have maintained a good traveling reputation by never overstaying or breaking any international travel laws.
Make Sure You Can Get a Refund
One of the biggest uncertainties South Asian digital nomads face is visa approval. To get the visa approved, it is mandatory to submit confirmed returned flight tickets and booked accommodation copies along with the visa application. However, never ever make such a big financial investment unless your visa is approved. The best practice is to use the ‘freeze fare’ option for booking airline tickets, which helps you to get a temporary booking at a small cost. For the hotels, look for the ones that offer free cancellation.
Being a digital nomad gives a lot of freedom of movement and working flexibility. Though the added stress of becoming a digital nomad with a South Asian passport may sometimes deter your motivation to take the plunge, if you do your research well and plan ahead, living the digital nomad life with a South Asian passport is very much possible and enjoyable.