Dear Field Notes reader,
Uncle Sam presented me with my first passport when I was 9 or 10 years old. Forty-plus years later I still remember the number: DO30591. I’m gonna say that little blue booklet clearly imprinted on me.
I’m now on passport #6. The last one—before the State Department changed the rules—had been expanded to the point that it held 104 pages. Almost all of them were filled by the time I applied for my current passport in 2016—which itself has just nine of the 51 available pages remaining. (Reminder to self: apply for a new passport soon.)
As useful as my U.S. passport is, I’ve long wanted a second passport. When I first started with that desire many years ago, I just thought it was cool—admittedly in a bit of a hoity way. I just wanted to be able to say, “Look—I have a passport from X.”
Older, wiser, and far more experienced, I see a second passport nowadays not as a cool accoutrement, but as a practical tool for living a modern life.
As the pandemic has laid bare, the status quo is anything but quo. Uncle Sam’s travel document was at one time a golden ticket. And to a certain degree it remains a coveted document for much of the world. But a U.S. passport is not the golden ticket it once was. It has degraded to the point that it now ranks 18th in the world, according to passportindex.org. There was a time (let’s call it 2019), when our passport ranked third.
Yes—I’m certain the current situation will improve once normalcy returns to border crossings. But that misses the point: the fact that a U.S. passport tumbled precipitously in the first place, when most of the rest of the Western world did not.
If it happens once, what’s to prevent a repeat?
I like options in life. In global terms, I find value in mobility—particularly in moments of crisis. I am a student of history. And I know history likes to sing the same songs over and over, just with different words.
Where will the next crisis emerge? Could be anywhere (except maybe New Zealand). Maybe it’s an immigration crisis that sees Europe tear itself apart into nationalist tribes again. Maybe it’s the social and political cleavage I suspect is in America’s not-so-distant future.
Wherever, whenever, and whatever it is, I want some degree of certainty that I can move about freely and, more importantly, settle someplace sheltered from the tempest. There’s peace-of-mind in that.
And if the tempest never manifests…
I still have far greater freedoms to pursue the lifestyle I enjoy.
To that end, I’m nearly halfway through the five-year process of obtaining permanent residency in the Czech Republic, which would allow me to apply for citizenship and a Czech passport (while keeping my U.S. passport). A Czech passport, currently ranked #5 in the world, is a European Union passport, which will allow me to live and work across a huge swath of Europe without mucking about with long-term residence visas.
That gives me significant mobility freedoms. It also gives me greater financial freedoms since Americans are geo-fenced out of much of the world. (Financial services companies do not want the hassle of reporting to American regulatory agencies.) That opens up a lot of opportunities Americans cannot access.
There are financial accounts in Europe, Asia, and elsewhere that can provide access to safe, high-yield investments you can’t find in the U.S. There are opportunities in the crypto market you can’t access as an American (small example: An Asian crypto exchange I follow was, for one day only, allowing clients to buy bitcoin at half the market rate—unless you’re an American). Simply having a regular bank account outside the U.S.—increasingly a challenging proposition—diversifies your political and financial system risk.
Again, it’s all about options. I’ve noted in previous dispatches that I aim to pursue a Uruguayan passport as soon as I can travel to South America and begin the residency process there. Uruguay is a stable, pretty, exceedingly livable coastal country, with the largest middle class, per capita, in all of the Americas. I always feel like I’m home when I’m there.
Why a third passport? Like I said, I can’t be sure where another crisis erupts. History has certainly had her fun messing with Central Europe over the centuries, and I won’t discount the possibility she has more in store.
Just in case Europe and the U.S. are in crisis together—or the Western world is slip-sliding through a socially destabilizing debt or currency crisis—Uruguay is my choice for safe, secure, happy living.
I’m not trying to sell you on Uruguay or the Czech Republic…or any particular country, for that matter. I’m just hoping to put a little bug in your ear. The past year has shown us what’s possible. It won’t be the last time any of us wish we had a second passport…
Jeff D. Opdyke
Editor, Field Notes