I am a Nigerian who not only loves to travel, but also travels with her Nigerian passport. The common misconception is that people who travel are mostly citizens of USA, Europe or Australia. This is due to the fact that they possess the passport from those countries, making it easy for their citizens to travel to a large majority of countries visa free.

Well here I am, an exception to the norm.

Traveling for me definitely requires a lot of planning and strategy. Most people tend to assume that I am an American citizen. It only makes sense, I tend to make traveling seem easy. It has definitely not been the easy especially because of my passport. When I eventually tell them I am not a citizen, and I also travel with my Nigerian passport, they become surprised.

“How are you able to travel so much?” is the most popular question.

This question is warranted because with a Nigerian passport, I can only travel to about 45 countries visa free or with visa on arrival. Whereas, with citizens of countries like USA and some European countries, can travel to over 150 countries.

I am a US permanent resident which might make it seem easier for me to get a visa to countries I am interested in. It is definitely not. When I go to a country’s consulate, they only see my Nigerian passport. They do not care that I am a green card holder. This happened recently at the Chinese consulate.

My hopes visit China, Hong Kong and Macau at the end of May 2017 was shattered by the respective country’s visa requirements. I was told I had to get an invitation letter from China to get a visa, and for Hong Kong, they have to send my passport to Hong Kong therefore, getting visa will take 6-8 weeks. I told the consular that I had a green card and she said it did not matter because I had a Nigerian passport.

Whoops!

This same requirement of course does not apply to people with American passports. An American citizen can get a visa to China in less than 1 week. No invitation letter required. American citizens can also visit Hong Kong and Macau visa free.

First page of the Nigerian passport

I was very upset but I have been a US permanent resident for 10 years so I could have applied for American citizenship after the 5th year. I only started caring about it now because I want to travel often and the price of getting visas adds up. Though I lack my American passport, I have still been able to travel to 11 countries since I started traveling in March 2016. I have learned that as long as you have a Nigerian passport whether you are a student or permanent resident like myself, very similar rules apply when trying to get a visa.

Schengen visa. With this visa, travelers can visit 26 different European countries. The visa cost  $65

Traveling with a Nigerian passport has been tough. I get scrutinized by the consular when I apply for a visa in the country of interest’s consulate in America, and at the port of entry when I arrive at the destination. I have a lot of confidence when I speak to the consular and immigration officials because I always have all my travel documents and I make sure they are up to date.

Popular questions include my purpose of visiting the country and the address of the hotel I plan to stay. At the port of entry, immigration officials usually ask me to show them a return ticket. They always want to ensure that I am returning to my origin, and within the time frame allowed on my visa. This brings me to my first point of traveling with a Nigerian passport.

1) Make sure all travel documents are complete and up to date

This is self-explanatory. Before thinking of applying for a visa, all your travel documents must be intact and up to date. Your passport must also be valid for 3-6 months after the date you intend to return from your trip. For some countries, the 6 month requirement is mandatory.  Travelers who wish to travel to Schengen member states need to have 3 months passport validity after the date the traveler departs from the last Schengen country they intend to visit. Also, it is important to have enough  blank pages left in your passport for the visa to be issued.

Having several blank pages increases the chances of getting a visa.

I renewed my most recent passport 6 months before it expired because I did not want the passport to be the reason why I will be rejected for a visa.

If you have an expired document and still intend to travel, research an alternative, if any. If no alternatives, it is advisable to postpone travel plans. My green card expired in February 2017 and after a lot of research, I found out I could get an i-551 stamp in my passport which serves as a temporary green card.

i-551 stamp which extends permanent residency

2) Know the country’s visa requirement before purchasing an airplane ticket

This prevents disappointment. Every country’s consulate has the right to deny a visa application at their discretion. It is advisable to research the visa requirement of the country or countries you plan to visit before purchasing a ticket. The requirements of the Chinese consulate came as a shock to me. Imagine my disappointment when I found out I needed an invitation letter from China in order to visit. Since I don’t know anyone in China, my tickets to China were exchanged for another country.

I got asked a lot of questions before I was given a visa to Taiwan

3) Apply for visas FAR in advance

A lot of visas have 3-6 months validity depending on the country. This means you can travel between 3-6 months after getting the visa. Knowing this information, I try to apply for visas 3 months before I travel. It is more challenging however when planning a trip to different countries. My most recent trip in April 2017 took me to 4 countries therefore; I had 3 months to apply for 4 visas. It seems like a lot of time but some consulates take longer than others to issue a visa. Australian consulate, for example, takes up to 2 months because the passport has to be sent to Australia. This criteria also applies to Hong Kong.

1/4 countries I visited in April 2017: Thailand. The visa was free

2/4 countries I visited in April 2017: Vietnam (left). The visa cost $110. Very costly! I visited South Korea (right) last year and the visa cost $50

3/4 countries I visited in April 2017: Singapore. The visa cost $22

4/4 countries I visited in April 2017: Malaysia. The visa cost $10, and it was issued in 2 days.

I was able to apply for all my visas in time before I traveled in April because I started applying 8 weeks before the trip.

My Singaporean visa was processed in 5 days, even though it usually takes 7-10 days. The consulate sent my passport to my house overnight via USPS. There was a rainstorm in the Midwest on the evening that my passport was supposed to be delivered to me from the Singaporean consulate in New York the afternoon I was scheduled to fly out of Chicago. The storm caused delivery delays, and I missed my flight because I did not have my passport.

Due to the rainstorm, I did not get my passport till the next evening therefore, I had to buy another ticket. It is therefore advisable to apply for a visa at least 3 months ahead so that all travel documents are delivered in time.

4) Having a bank account that reflects a certain amount constantly

The consulate of the country of choice likes to ensure that the visitor can fend for themselves when they visit their country. They usually don’t like to see a sponsor on an application and would rather the applicant sponsor themselves (except if the applicant is a kid of course). Having an account that reflects a consistent amount in the statement helps facilitate the issuance of a visa. The countries I have applied to ask for 3 to 6 months bank statement, and I have a separate account that I provide to them. It shows consistent balance over the past 3 to 6 months therefore, they are aware that I can take care of myself when I go to their country.

Japan single entry visa cost $27

UK multiple entry visa cost $145. I have not used this visa. I provided Japan and UK with 6 months bank statement

5) Travel with all your documents

Yes, all the documents mentioned above. Just in case the immigration officials have questions when you get to your destination.

6) Lastly, always have your job offer letter at hand

As a traveler with my type of passport, my job offer letter has become my best friend. Non US citizens tend to have a hard time while attempting to obtain travel documents due several reasons.

A major reason is the fear that the individual will not return to the country of origin. With a Nigerian passport, a lot of people automatically assume I will be flying from Nigeria. When I apply for a visa, I have my offer letter at hand showing them that I have no intention of settling illegally in their country, and that I have a job to return to.

The offer letter also reflects my salary which is an indication that I am capable of caring for myself while on vacation.  It should be provided whether the consular asks for it or not. The offer letter goes a long way in ensuring the issuance of a visa.

Other visas:

Colombian visa cost $132. I had a good time in Colombia and I would definitely go back.

Turkey visa. I got this visa on arrival in 2010. Now, Nigerian passport holders have to apply in advance for an e-visa.

Following the points listed above has ensured the success of my travels, and I still go by them till date. I have realized that with my passport, I can travel to a large majority of countries with proper planning and time management.

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