hidden europe 38

Stamp of approval: To travel or not to travel

by Nicky Gardner

Picture above: Photo © Nikita Zabellevich / dreamstime.com


Border police at some of Europe’s toughest borders have delegated to them the power to make life-altering decisions about the fate of travellers. We take a look at how visa regimes undermine human mobility.

It is now possible to travel from Lisbon to northern Norway without once having to undergo any border formalities. Similarly, many travellers can take their pick of routes from Iceland to Greece without any worries about passports or documentation. In the post-Schengen piety that prevails in Europe, the majority of us enjoy a freedom to roam that is largely unfettered by governments.

To make the most of that freedom, we just need to be sure that we do not fly — for airlines still often insist on passengers providing confirmation of identity. For flights within Europe, this has more to do with airlines protecting their revenue (by preventing resale of tickets and allowing carriers to levy a hefty fee for authorised name changes on tickets) than any requirement imposed by governments.

We also need to ensure that we avoid those countries outwith the Schengen area which still operate tough border controls (often backed up by complicated visa regimes) — the Russian Federation and the United Kingdom are two obvious examples.

Many travellers jet around Europe and beyond, book weekend breaks in far-flung cities and savour the sun on the shores of many different seas. How often do they pause to reflect that the freedoms they take for granted are not available to all? Mobility is determined by wealth, attitude and the colour of your passport.

The freedom to roam

The privileged holders of Danish passports enjoy greater potential mobility than any other inhabitants of our planet. It is the gold standard for the traveller who does not want to be troubled by visas. Danes get to travel visa-free to more than six times as many countries as holders of Afghan passports.

The consultancy firm Henley & Partners (H&P) publish regular global rankings of freedom to travel. The latest listings, released in August 2012, confirm that we still live in a divided world, where an accident of birth can dramatically affect one’s freedom to travel later in life. No surprise there perhaps, but we were struck how even within our home continent some Europeans enjoy hugely greater mobility than others.

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