I am an American. I am proud of it too. I love barbeque and I am a fan of the Dallas Cowboys. However, when you are moving around Asia, the Middle East and parts of Africa; being American is not that glamorous. The “hey joe” of Filipino culture is corky but they are completely innocent compared to the looks given to us by people in Aleppo that wish harm on us based solely on nationality.
Let’s deal with the elephant in the room, shall we? In some parts of the world, being American does have its’ perks. One of these being we basically have “show up and get your stamp” status in many countries. Our passport is one of the most powerful in the world. This applies is some places like Japan and Australia. However, it is double edged sword as well. (more on that in a bit)
There is also places that we get to move around easier. This is true in places like Samoa, New Zealand, and the Philippines. We get better treatment than a local would in these places. There is no denying this fact, either. It just is the truth.
However, in other parts of the world; this is not true and sometimes, it can get downright dangerous to be American!
US Citizens have security concerns
I am currently in the Philippines and you would think of the country as being pro-America, right? It is true that a poll found that 85% of Filipinos have a positive perspective on the United States. It is also true that most Filipinos dream of a life living in California. However, there is that loud, obsessed, and dangerous 15% that outweigh the feel good experience of our “fans.”
They have been known to kidnap, murder by beheading us. They have pushed their Anti-American platform for over a century. It actually dates back to the Moro Rebellion that went on for 14 years at the turn of the 20th century. The faces changes but the paradigm remains in tact for the most part.
This is just the Philippines too. We have not even discussed Thailand, Burma, India, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria or Mexico. The truth is that moving around large sections of the world can be risky for us. In reality, we travel with more concerns than any other nationality. This is part of the reason most Americans are content to never leave the country. (Why would they? They have the tundra of Alaska and the beaches of American Samoa without leaving the United States?)
There are whole groups that want to get their hands on us to use as “bargain power” with the State Department. It might not seem that this is happening but we have many examples through history of this and some of them are not in the distant past.
American Republic (the United States is not actually a democracy) does come at a price when you are traveling the world as a hobo a generation too late.
How does visas work for American citizens?
The word on the street among travelers is that Americans get red carpet treatments everywhere we go. The problem with this rumor is that it is not true. It is actually far from true. In some cases, we get bend over the barrel pretty bad. One example of this is in India. Many countries have free entry or very cheap entry. Americans have $160 for entry and an interview. I will give you that the interview part is nonsense and last about 20 seconds. However, we still have more red tape than most people do.
The main country that likes to screw Americans on visa is, without surprise, China. They have very limited duration and they still charge us more than anyone to come and the actual condition we have for being in China is very strict. However, oddly, we do get 90 days “stamp on arrival” in Hong Kong and Macau. Personally, I prefer Hong Kong over Shenzhen.
I could on about how being American means we get screwed over by corrupt governments around the world looking to cash in by having a white guy from what is considered to be the richest nation in the history of humanity. Places like Sri Lanka and Cambodia are known in the traveler world for being bad when it comes to nonsense fees and in some cases, demanding bribes.
So while it is true, we can go to many developed countries without much problem, this is not true everywhere in the world by any means.
Practical advice for Americans
The first one goes without saying but there is some real idiots out there: check travel advisories often. I am amazed how many people make jokes and mock these reports that are put out by the military (via the State Department). I am sorry but some traveler that is fresh out of the University of Arkansas does not known more that intel officers processing information on the ground where you want to go. Kidnapping, ferry bombings and suicide bombers are not theatrics for some feature film!
The next thing I would tell them is make sure you have contact with people back home if you are in a risky area. If you are seeing the sites of Kabul, Afghanistan and carrying your bible; you might want to make sure people know you are safe when you are done. No one wants to be Heather Mercer and Dana Curry. Trust me on that one!
The final piece of advice that I can give you is try to move around in groups and if you can, have someone that is knows the area. If you have an American that lives in the area, ask them if they could show you around to make sure you do not end up in the middle of some crossfire. There are many cities that you are one block away from danger. This is not just in Afghanistan, either. It could be sad of Los Angeles and Dallas as well. Here is a handy guide I found online.
Be safe and be proud to be American!