Gullfoss Iceland

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I'm an expat whose goal is to visit every country in the world.

85 countries and counting!  

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Trump and the Future of Travel

Passport Map

When most people who are American citizens travel abroad, they often do not think about all the reasons of why we are able to travel to so many places with hardly any hassles or problems, and why we can travel pretty much wherever we want with relatively few exceptions.  As Americans, we are definitely blessed and fortunate with the amount of travel freedom we are granted.  According to Henley and Partners, the United States ranks #3 in terms of visa-free travel since citizens of the US can currently visit 174 countries (as of January 2017).  However, Germany has the most powerful passport in terms of visa-free travel since citizens of Germany can visit 176 countries.

As Americans, we are extremely lucky to have such a powerful and respected passport even if it is not the most powerful.  A vast majority of countries do not come anywhere close to the amount of places citizens of the US can visit relatively easily.  Places where Americans and many Europeans can easily go might require a lot of paperwork, interviews, and significant cost for citizens of many other countries, and oftentimes citizens of many other countries go through all the administrative hoops only to have their visa requests denied for a variety of reasons.  In fact, citizens of Iraq, Syria, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, and Afghanistan have the least travel freedom since citizens of those places are permitted visa-free entry to only about 30 countries out of 218.

As a relatively frequent traveler and expat, I have been keeping an eye on the how the presidency of Donald Trump will effect travel, and so far I have not been optimistic.

By all accounts, President Trump has shown himself to be and isolationist and his commitment to long-standing international agreements, such as NATO has been questioned.  Most recently, President Trump made the terrible and unwise decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement which every country in the world aside from Syria (due to civil war) and Nicaragua (penalties did not go far enough) has signed on to.  This has essentially been the US telling the world "We do not want to lead anymore."  The long-term implications of this decision remain to be seen, but I cannot imagine it will be good.

In addition, Trump's behavior with other foreign leaders has been dismal, odd, and embarrassing at best.  For instance, he shoved the Prime Minister of Montenegro in order to be in front for a picture while he was in Europe, he badmouthed the Australian Prime Minister, and he tried to rip off Emmanuel Macron's hand during an awkward handshake.  It is hard for me to believe all of these things have happened before the halfway point of his first year of a four-year term.

Barbed Wire

Of course, those episodes pale in comparison when compared to his proposed "Travel Ban". Prior to being cleaned up in its language in order to make it not sound so blatantly discriminatory, it was widely classified and still seen by many people as a "Muslim Travel Ban" since the people it would most affect would be citizens from countries which just happen to be predominantly Muslim.

Based on all these events, it is hard to see how the United States will maintain respect in the world under President Trump.  We are not even halfway through his first term, and Trump has already had more gaffes, awkward exchanges, and faux-pas than most presidents have in two terms. It is difficult to imagine how many more gaffes or embarrassing things will happen with his remaining term or second term if he gets reelected.

The ability for a person of a country to travel depends on a lot of things, such as relationships between countries, visa reciprocity, economic issues, and security.  In the past, the United States has had relatively positive albeit occasionally tense relationships with most countries in the world in the past, and so these countries have permitted US citizens visit.  However, Donald Trump has been seemingly content tearing these carefully-built relationships apart in an effort to make America great again although he has been doing things that do the exact opposite. 

As a result of all these things, I often wonder how the presidency of Donald Trump will affect travel for US citizens?

I am not a political analyst or expert on international relations, but with my best educated guess, I would say one of two things or a mix of these two things will happen sometime during his term.

The First Thing - Nothing Major Happens
Donald Trump often claims to be a "tremendous" expert on seemingly everything.  In my personal opinion though, the only thing he is an expert in is embarrassing himself and America in front of the world.  Despite Trump's ability to do embarrassing things, the United States is still an extremely powerful and influential country with very complex and deep relationships with countries throughout the world.  In addition, the United States has various agreements and programs (security, trade, military, education, development, etc) with many countries.  These relationships, agreements, and programs for the most part have been established and built up over decades, so it is unlikely a foreign country will suddenly decide to cut ties with the US, especially if the two countries have an extensive history of working together.  Plus, even though many people in foreign countries have a strong dislike for Trump, they also realize that tourism and investment from the US is a big business and even a necessity in some cases.  When it comes to cutting a potentially vital economic lifeline due to a dislike of a sitting US president, most countries might grumble but not lash out irrationally since they will still watch out for their own country's interest.

Most likely, even though the leaders and people of many countries may have a disdain for Donald Trump the person, they will still want to maintain a positive relationship with the United States since those relationships and deals still provide a mutual benefit to both countries in economic, social, and cultural terms, and the leaders of these countries know Donald Trump will not be president forever.  Furthermore, most people in these different countries know to differentiate between the people of a country and a government.

Personally, I think this option is probably the most likely.  Americans may get the occasional jibe regarding why people in the US voted for Trump, but I don't really think countries that have long-standing relationships with the United States will suddenly cut ties due to President Trump's lack of knowledge or finesse.

The Second Thing - Americans Lose Visa-Free Travel
A large part of the reason why people can travel visa-free to places is because of the relationships between the countries.  Generally, countries that are on friendly terms with each other let their citizens travel to each other's countries without any major hassles.  However, if relations sour to such a point, it is possible for countries to impose visas on each other or in extreme cases, completely ban people from entering.

US Passport and Europe

There has already been talk of requiring visas for US citizens in the EU.  Currently, most countries in the EU have visa-free access to the US aside from Bulgaria, Poland, Romania, Croatia, and Cyprus due to the fact these five countries are not as wealthy as the western countries in the bloc, such as France and Germany.  There are also concerns that citizens from those countries who travel to the US might try to overstay and not return to their home countries. As a result of this unfairness of allowing some EU members be visa free and requiring visas for other members, the EU Parliament has been urging the European Commission to require Americans to apply for visas before visiting the EU since the full principle of reciprocity is not being fulfilled.  To be fair, this was an issue before Donald Trump became president, but it could still be exacerbated by him.

If Donald Trump continues his boorish, uncouth, and embarrassing behavior, it is entirely possible that countries will go to such a length to stick it to the US by requiring visas for US citizens.  This is their right to do as sovereign nations, but it would be a double-edged sword.  On one hand, it would turn Americans off from wanting to travel overseas, and that would lead to a lack of cultural exchange which is now needed more than ever to combat ignorance.  It is better to build bridges than to destroy them.  On the other hand, many countries have economies that are heavily dependent on tourism.  For example, tourism makes up 60% of the GDP in the Bahamas and in France, international tourism accounts for 30% of GDP.  Even though China is definitely rising in the number of Chinese who are traveling abroad as part of tour groups, Americans still contribute to the local economy in large numbers and will continue to do so, especially now that the summer travel season of 2017 is in full swing and that the US Dollar is stronger than it has been in the past.  If travel is made more difficult, that would have a devastating effect on not giving Americans more exposure to foreign cultures and ideas, but it would also hurt the economies of countries which depend on tourism.

I think this is probably the more extreme possibility of what could happen, but I don't think it is particularly likely to happen.  In the end, money talks and even countries that do not necessarily agree or like each other still engage in trade and other financial activities, so I doubt a country will cut off a key economic lifeline that many of their citizens depend on for the sake of personal politics.

Ultimately, I am not entirely sure how the presidency of Donald Trump will effect travel for US citizens abroad, but I am definitely keeping an eye on it.

What are your thoughts on the matter?

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