Why Thailand’s passport power ranking is so low?

By | Tue 17 May 2022

I like to travel overseas as a lone wolf. There is a sense of adventure, freedom, and unpredictability to it.

One day, I travelled to South Korea. Once I arrived at Seoul’s Incheon International Airport, the immigration officer, upon learning I was from Thailand and travelling alone, queried me longer than usual. His suspicious eyes were locked against mine. I also noticed there were a few lone Thai female passengers on my flight. Some of them were led to a private interview room. And apparently, some were refused entry to the country.

After entering the city, it dawned on me that the officers may have (erroneously) suspected I was a pimp taking those Thai girls to ply the oldest profession in the world. Or up to no good.

It was a brief humiliating experience for me.

The last time I checked I wasn’t on the FBI wanted list (wink).

Realize this: When we are travelling abroad, our passports – our nationality – means a great deal, as evidenced in my above anecdote. A ‘first-rate’ passport means more respectability and trustworthiness on the global stage. The authorities overseas treat you better. Whereas a ‘third-rate’ passport will put you through various hurdles and interrogation to enter a foreign country.

Passports, in this sense, do have power, after all.

Each year Henley Passport Index (HPI) and Global Passport Power Rank (GPPR) compile the world’s passport ranking. Higher scores (better ranking) mean you can travel freely to more places with ease and fewer restrictions. The world is your oyster.

Where does Thailand stand? Let’s look at the HPI 2022 first.

HPI’s ranking methodology is straightforward. The more a country’s passport holder can travel to other countries visa-free or visa-on-arrival is scored ‘1 mark,’ and so forth.

Of the total 199 passports, the number 1 ranking this year is Japan, with a score of 192. Germany and South Korea come in 2nd at 190. The UK is 5th; New Zealand and the US are 6th. Canada is 7th.

Of note is Thailand’s 66th place, with 79 scores. In terms of Thailand’s passport power, Tonga, Venezuela, Russia, Belize, and Guyana fare better than us. Which is rather disappointing.

Interestingly, our ASEAN neighbor Malaysia is ranked 12th in the world. Its citizens enjoy travelling visa-free or visa-on-arrival to 179 destinations, which is very impressive.

Let’s explore the GPPR 2022 ranking to get a better picture. Thailand ranks 53rd, with a ‘mobility score’ of 84. Specifically, Thai citizens can travel to 35 destinations visa-free, 49 other destinations visa-on-arrival, and will need a visa to another 114 destinations.

As a comparison, Singaporeans (ranked 5th, mobility score 161), our ASEAN member, enjoy 125 destinations visa-free, 36 visa-on-arrival, and only 37 countries where a visa is required.

On the GPPR ranking, Thailand’s ranking and score are below the world’s average.

The question is why Thailand’s passport power is relatively low? Here are my observations and recommendations.

(1)  Bi-lateral cooperation between nations. Visa entry requirements for each country’s citizens are contingent on the agreement between the two countries’ policies and their relationships. Thus, the more the Thai government can reach an agreement with the other 198 nations’ governments, the better it is for Thai outbound travellers.

(2) Thailand is more a producer than a consumer of tourism. In 2019, prior to Covid, approximately 10 million Thais travelled overseas. In contrast, in that year, 40 million foreigners visited Thailand. In other words, more people enter Thailand than Thais travel overseas. This has to do with income level. The more income Thais have, the more they will vacation overseas due to a greater discretionary budget.  My hope is that as more Thais can afford overseas vacations around the world, this will push recipient countries to adopt more visa-free or visa-on-arrival benefits for Thais.

(3) “Robinhood.” Here comes the crunch. The truth is many Thais have been known to overstay their visas and travel overseas to first-world countries with the expressed intention of not returning. The latter are called “Robinhood” in Thai slang.

I personally know a Thai woman in her 50s who had successfully applied for and was granted a US visa. She never had the intention of returning, but wanted to find work and send her son greater paychecks than she could earn in Thailand.

Obviously, if caught, she would be blacklisted from entering the US. If enough Thais are blacklisted, Thailand will be downgraded, which doesn’t serve our collective interest.

(4) Prostitution. Let’s be adults here and not pretend they don’t exist. Some of the female travellers aboard the plane to Seoul that I was on were plying the oldest profession. I personally believe prostitution is a job and should be legalized accordingly. Crucially, overseas sex work pays much more than local sex work. Many Thai women could earn in excess of 200,000 baht working in karaoke bars overseas – twice or thrice the earnings locally. Granted, if they are in the hands of overseas human traffickers or transnational organisations, however, then it’s another ballgame altogether that the authorities must deal with.

With “Sexbots” in the future, there won’t be a need for Thais to ply trade overseas. (Pic from Indiatimes.com)

Now, before the Thai government starts cracking down on them (again), ask yourself this: You ban them overseas, then what? They will still ply their trade locally, earning far less for their family.

Reasons (3) and (4) arise out of economic necessity. That’s why you won’t see me going on a moralistic crusade. People everywhere in the world will move to countries that accord them the highest salaries.

Incentives matter.

Deal with poverty and standard of living, and there will be fewer Thai women entering this profession. After all, I have yet to see a PhD Thai female physicist selling flesh. She will be more into E = MC2 than looking for male clients at a bar.

The bottom-line: Deal with the above issues and ensure that outbound Thai travellers obey their visa conditions and the host country’s laws, and I’m certain Thailand will move up the passport power ranking.

Citylife interviewed Edward Shinapat on his thoughts about Thailand politics and culture to view: https://youtu.be/ojcKlSDSjpo