The commonest moans and groans one hears about a Bangladeshi passport is about how inaccessible it is. And there is a lot of merit to such complaints.
Very few passports in the world (only 10) are actually weaker than the Bangladeshi passport in terms of visa-free access to countries around the world. Even the likes of Sierra Leone and the Central African Republic have much stronger passports than our beloved green.
However, in trying to make lemonade out of the lemons of our birth, where can we actually go without a visa? The Henley Passport Index lists 41 entities which accept the entry of Bangladeshi nationals without a visa or grant a visa on arrival.
But what does that mean?
Unfortunately, the list is not actually the best representation. For example, Niue and the Cook Islands are dependencies of New Zealand. There is no way to reach the islands without having a New Zealand visa already in tow.
Similarly, there are 11 countries in the Caribbean and one in South America (Bolivia) that Bangladeshis can enter without having a prior visa. However to reach the Caribbean Island nations or Bolivia, one has to travel through the UK or European airports. Both the UK and the Schengen countries demand that Bangladeshis, among a handful of other nationals, hold a transit visa prior to travelling through their airports (the condition is waived if certain criteria are met).
This makes the value of visa-free travel slightly redundant (although obtaining a transit visa is much easier and slightly than a full Schengen or UK visa).
On the positive side, however, there are quite a few other countries that allow us to have e-visas prior to travel. e-visas are visas that are applied for online and received online. It removes the hassle of having to go to an embassy and waste precious time. E-Visas and visa on arrival will be discussed in different articles.
Visa-free entry means that no visas are required whatsoever. We as Bangladeshis will just turn up and the diplomatic law dictates that we will be stamped in without any need for a visa. This is different from a visa on arrival where one has to be granted a visa by the immigration officer at arrivals.
In some countries, one has to pay for a visa on arrival as well as provide some documentation just like one would at an embassy. The following 8 countries are easily accessible from Bangladesh without any visa whatsoever.
Bhutan - The closest and one of the more recently visited. In fact, Bhutan asks for a lot of documentation from many other nationalities, but has a tremendously easy access for Bangladeshis. With beauty in abundance, and the Himalayas too, Bhutan should be visited by every Bengali who can. Druk Air flies from Dhaka.
Indonesia - The Bali craze has hit Bangladeshis in the past few years. Indonesia as a whole can be visited without a visa.
The Gambia- The Gambia is a tiny sliver of West Africa completely surrounded by Senegal. It is a popular sea destination for European travellers. No visas are required for Bangladeshis while USD $100 is charged for a lot of other tourists including Australians and Americans. Turkish Airlines fly to Banjul and so visiting The Gambia is possible via Istanbul.
Lesotho - Lesotho is a landlocked country completely surrounded by South Africa. Visiting it is the most difficult, but can still be done with a combination of Turkish and South African airlines, or Emirates and South African airlines. Lesotho has some tremendous mountain scenery and is a country based in the mountains. It makes more sense to include Lesotho as a side-trip to South Africa.
The following countries and territories are all visa-free for Bangladeshi citizens but require one to obtain visas for either the Schengen Region, UK or Australia/New Zealand at some point or the other.
However, it is important to note that if those visas are available, then all of the following territories and countries are supremely beautiful. Many of them are island paradise destinations that are very much worth the visit. (Niue and Cook Islands are New Zealand territories. British Virgin Islands and Montserrat are British Overseas Territories).
Niue - Cook Islands - Micronesia - Vanuatu - Fiji - Bahamas - Barbados - British Virgin Islands - Dominica - Grenada - Haiti - Jamaica - Montserrat - St. Kitts and Nevis - St. Vincent and the Grenadines - Trinidad and Tobago.
All the Island nations in the South Pacific (Niue to Fiji in the list above) are famous for beautiful white sand beaches and a lot of water sports. For Bangladeshis living and working in Australia or New Zealand, these countries are some of the best places to go on a short trip without the need for a visa.
For European or America/Canada based Bangladeshis visiting the Caribbean and Bolivia is an option. Bolivia is becoming more and more of a tourist craze due to the splendid beauty in its different landscapes. I missed out on Bolivia simply because they had a very strict visa rule for Bangladeshis when I went to South America in 2017. Things have eased, and I’d happily go again.
Having visited the Caribbean, I can say that each island is a special entity on its own. From the beaches to the jungles to the mountains, beauty abounds in the Caribbean.
Benefits of USA visa
Moreover, if one has a multiple entry US visa, or a residence permit, a lot of countries waive their visa requirements. Costa Rica, Panama, Mexico and Belize are usually very difficult to get visa access to, but waive all visa requirements if a valid US visa is present on one’s passport. There are multiple other countries that accept the US Visa as a substitute visa, but that is beyond the scope of this article
Benefits of the Schengen visa
The Schengen is already an amazing visa in that it gives access to 26 countries in Europe. However, it can give rise to more. Having a multiple entry Schengen visa gives access to multiple Eastern European countries that are very beautiful. The list includes Bulgaria, Romania, North Macedonia, Albania, Kosovo, Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia and Cyprus. Living in the Schengen zone with a “D” visa also gives the same benefits.
* Raiiq Ridwan, a physician by profession, lives and works in the UK. A travel enthusiast who wants to travel to a 100 countries on the Bangladeshi passport, the author blogs about his travels on raiiqridwan.com