Passportism In Singapore

I just arrived in Singapore and had a 8 hour transit on the way to Sydney.  I was just thinking through how to kill the 8 hours when I see a little “Free Singapore tours” sign.  I asked the lady and yes they have a 2 hour cultural tour of the city.  For free.  And I should be able to make it back in time for my connecting flight (insert mandatory  “inshallah” here as I have just come from the middle east).

I don’t have a visa.  But I do have a British Passport.  “No problem, just fill in this little piece of paper with your name and passport number. And enjoy the free tour of my beautiful city” says the polite tour lady.

The guy behind me comes and has a 24 hour layover.  He has a Pakistani passport and his Singaporian visa expired 3 days ago.  Too bad.  No free tour.  No entry.  Please enjoy the Starbucks in the airport terminal.

So I take a look at the list of the countries that have this “visa” issue.  Its a list of about 20 or so countries – its the usual suspects:  Bangladesh, India, Egypt, Morocco, Iran, Iraq, Yemen….

I don’t blame the Singaporeans.  They are smart bureaucrats.  For instance, as I happen to have a rich country passport, I get a FREE tour of their country.  They hope that I go away with a good feeling about Singapore and bring some business there someday.  Or perhaps I buy some lunch at a restaurant.  Or spend a few dollars on a few souvineers. Or the best would be if I start doing some business with a Singaporean businessperson (which eventually leads to a good tax income for the government).

The poor of the world, will continue to get poorer.  The rich will get richer. Why?  Because now as a “British” guy I can go and get some ideas of how other people in the world live.  Whats happening and fresh in Singapore thats not happening in the Arab/European world.  How can I benefit from geo-arbitrage (the fact that the different parts of the world innovate in business/life at a different pace)?   I simply have to figure out what ideas I can ‘export’ to the other countries.

The “Pakistani” guy will have to stick with hanging out with other Pakistanis.  He won’t get the exposure to take back to his country.  I get the international contacts and international ideas.  He will have to stick to seeing the world on facebook – where there are no passports and no politics and no visas.  Obviously, seeing the world in other peoples photos is not as cool.

Singaporeans are smart.  They had built their brand way before the emergence of cities like Dubai.  Here at the airport I have free wireless internet.  And free computers with internet access (where I’m writing this post).  A lot of countries don’t even manage this.  They make it sooo expensive to go online that you think you will stick to reading the tabloid papers and learning what the David Beckhams of the world are up to.

Passportism is something that I care a whole lot about.  Simply as I see it randomness of it all.  I just happened to be born in a geographic location that at this time in history happens to be doing well (being born in the 1927 might not have been that much fun).

People are getting smart about the passportism and finding the loopholes for their kids.  I have a Lebanese friend that flew to the US a few weeks before giving birth, so her daughter would get American citizenship.

My advice is go for a dual nationality if you can for your kids.  You don’t know what the world will be like.  My father didn’t have issues going for his Phd in the UK (where I happen to pop out from my mother).  It was easy to get citizenship in those days, but he didn’t bother as it wasn’t a big deal back then.  Yes – Pakistan wasn’t branded as so “backwards” as it is now.  I got the nationality automatically through pure chance.

Brands change over time.  No one had heard of Dubai back then.  And now they have.  Kabul was actually a happening place where the hippies liked to go and smoke their dope.  Its not so attractive these days.  Korea didn’t have the Samsungs of the world and was in its development stages.

The strategy for the Pakistanis/Iranians and the rest these days is to do a few year stints in the Canadas/Australias of the world.  Get their passports and then go back to their countries.  Where they now know they can travel and see the world.

If you have a “good” passport – enjoy it.  If you don’t, do something to make your part of the world a better brand so that more countries will welcome you.  And if you do manage to create a better brand – you’ll also start enjoying free tours where countries will be making a real effort to welcome you (and your money) to their part of the world.

About the Author

Amir Anzur


  1. AD

    loved this posting!! i wholeheartedly agree, being lucky enought to have an acceptable passport….

  2. AD – thanks for the kind comment….


  3. Penninah (dubai)

    Hey well said Amir you are reading my mind loudly…it happens here in dubai ..wen u go for an interview ..I am kenyan with a kenyan passport and i m experienced ..but the first time i came to dubai ..they told me they are looking for people with European passport despite my experience ..i bet u have seen it on gulf news too ..European nationalities only …at first i got so furious until i got used to it ..and i said this is dubai and enything is possible me this is Racial profiling ..but well passportisim is a better name ..well said

  4. Hey Penninah, in the middle east its more open the profiling. In the US you can’t ask for nationality etc. Passportism will slowly disappear someday just as racism (on color of skin) is slowly being removed. As the world gets to see the other side and realize that we are not so different from each other – either by skin, passport, hair or whatever.

    This is why I LOVE the internet. It doesn’t care who you are. You could have been an American responding to my post or a Kenyan – I’m just as grateful for you to take out the time to comment on my blog!

    Catchup again soon!

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