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Multi-Country Immigration Zones and World Travel

Multi Country Immigration Agreements and the Effect on Modern Travel Countries across the globe and grouping up into regional zones, federations — dare I say, teams. There are more of these regional treaties across the world than I care to count, many have acronym titles such as FTAA, ASEAN, CARICOM, OECS, OSCE, SAARC, or names [...]

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Multi Country Immigration Agreements and the Effect on Modern Travel

Countries across the globe and grouping up into regional zones, federations — dare I say, teams. There are more of these regional treaties across the world than I care to count, many have acronym titles such as FTAA, ASEAN, CARICOM, OECS, OSCE, SAARC, or names that say it all like the African Union, the Andean Community of Nations, the Arab League, the Association of Caribbean States, the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Commonwealth of Nations, the Francophonie, the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, the Pacific Islands Forum, there is even an Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization.

The teams of the world are being picked and countries are drafting themselves into political and economic affiliations with other countries. The political world map is no longer only drawn by individual countries, but by leagues of regionally assembled nations.

Where border countries once fought each other into oblivion for economic and political might, they now drop their borders and join together into regional units.

Read more at Word Comes together to Divide

Many of these agreements aim to drop the intra-regional borders between member countries and remove tariffs on trade: these agreements are often made so goods can cross borders cheaper and easier.

But there is a backlash for the world traveler that comes on the heels of these agreements: with the dropping of borders for the transport of goods, borders for individuals are also being laxed or even dropped.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? A world with less borders should be pay dirt for the traveler, but, as this movement is currently being played out, it is not.

No way.

Along with no, or laxed, border control for the transport of goods and the movement of citizens within the member states of these agreements come singular immigration policies for the region as a whole. Where a traveler once had to get a passport stamp or visa at each international border, now they only need to go through immigration when entering into one of these regional zones and then they are free to visit all of the member countries on a single visa.

Sounds good, right?


As it is being played out, the length of stay for travelers entering into these zones is drastically reduced — the visas given to tourists to enter into these multi-country zones is not the sum of their former parts. I will explain:

There are now two major regions for travel that have come together and created a multi-country immigration zone. One is the Schengen Zone of Europe, the other is the CA-4 of Central America. When entering into either of these zones, you are given a single visa good for all of the countries, it is only a pity that these visas are only good for 90 days of travel.

Schengen Zone Overview

Fortress Schengen

Among the most onerous of these political “zoning” initiatives for travelers has been the Schengen Zone of Europe. Currently, 25 (soon to be 27) European countries are part of the agreement, and they have dropped their internal borders. Citizens of this region can now travel freely from Iceland to the Ukrainian border, stay for as long as they want, and work. This agreement is great for EU citizens, it is not so good for foreign travelers.

Now when entering the Schengen Zone the traveler is given one visa that is good to visit all of the member countries. It is only a pity that they have only 90 days to do so. After these 90 days are up, the tourist must completely exit the zone for at least 90 days before returning. So that is 90 days for 25 countries, or 3.6 days in each.

Read more at Schengen Visa on Travel Help

Travelers formally received around 90+ days for each country in Western Europe, and visit runs to neighboring nations were quick and simple. USA, Canadian, Japanese, Australians, and travelers from nations with class-A passports could once live and travel in Europe almost indefinitely, now they get 90 days out of every 180.

How do you travel across the bulk of Europe in 90 days and experience much of anything? This is the question that the modern traveler must ask themselves as the world grows together just to split apart. In this world, the stop sign is being put up in front of long term travelers and expats living as perpetual tourists — you can visit, sure . . . but not for too long. This is a move which limits the amount of contact that people from various parts of the world can have with each other — I have received piles of mail from people who are in deep relationships with Europeans but have no idea how they can stay with their loved ones in lieu of these immigration policies.

Many travelers overstay their Schengen visas with nearly complete disregard. This was once an alright move, as few countries within the region would prosecute foreigners with class-A passports. But times have changed, there is a pan-regional computer database (the SIS) which logs in travelers as they come into the region, and this information is available for any immigration official in the 25 countries of Fortress Schengen as they now bust visa overstayers left and right. The typical penalty for overstaying a Schengen visa is a 3 year ban from the entire region and a possible fine

European xenophobia does not mess around.

The CA-4 Agreement of Central America


Central America Four

Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua have likewise teamed up and created a free trade/ immigration zone known as the CA-4. Similar to the Schengen zone, when a traveler enters this region they are typically given a 90 day pass that is good for all of the countries. In a region where a traveler once received 90 days for each country — with visa runs easy to do — you now get 90 days for all four.

Read more at CA-4 Visa Explained

The restrictions on extensions and visa runs vary for each country, but for most you have to exit the zone completely — to Belize, Mexico, or Costa Rica — for at least three days before returning. Guatemala will still grant extensions for a moderate fee, El Salvador doesn’t, Honduras will sometimes not honor an extension made in Guatemala, and I do not have enough information to comment on Nicaragua. Honduras will also only allow a traveler to make three visa runs out of the region before they are banned for an unspecified amount of time, but the other member states seem to allow for a virtually unlimited amount of visa renewals by exiting the region — but you now need to go all the way to Costa Rica, Mexico, or Belize, rather than just over the next border.

In point, it is still possible to live and travel extensively within the CA-4, the region is not yet as strict as the Schengen, but this immigration agreement shows a general trend that I predict will overtake the globe: regions are going to team up into trade/ immigration zones and will offer travelers short duration visas to visit all of the member countries.

The Future of Travel in the Regionalizing World


World immigration zones and predicted zones

I can easily imagine a world where all of the countries of Southeast Asia group up into a single immigration zone, just as I can envision this happening in West Africa, Andean South America, Central Asia, and maybe even some parts of the Middle East. The world is growing together into regions which stand at drastic odds with other regions, and the world of travel is changing.

If these multi-country immigration zones offered travelers 180 day to one year visas on arrival to explore and experience the various countries of their region then I would call these agreements politically beautiful things. But they don’t. These immigration zones that are popping up around the world seem to breed xenophobia and an iron clad insider/ outsider type of regionalism. While the individual nations of these zones are growing together and the various cultures are free to congeal, the message is clear to outsiders: come, visit quickly, spend money, then leave, we don’t want you to truly experience this place, we don’t want you to get too close to our people. As an Orwellian prediction blossoms to life, the world is dividing itself up into massive political entities that are primed to stand at odds with each other as the globalization trend begins to truly manifest itself.

As borders drop between countries huge fences are being erected around regions. I see this being played out in relation to international travel, but I fear that it could someday be played out with pan-regional armies.

Multi-country visa agreements are doing their part to exterminate long term travel


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Filed under: Geography, Perpetual Travel, Politics, Travel Lifestyle, Visas

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3720 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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8 comments… add one

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  • bicycle luke September 30, 2010, 3:45 am

    Yeah that bloody Schengen Zone is the bane of the bicycle travellers existence! 90 days is hardly enough time to pass through a handfull of european countries. Very worrying this trend if it keeps growing.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com September 30, 2010, 10:17 am

      I really hope that these multi country immigration agreements do not continue as well. It seems like a good idea — who likes crossing borders? — but they simply do not give you enough time. It just seems to be a motion to encourage short term tourism at the expense of travelers on long journeys.

      Getting excited for your trip, take of time is what, only a year more?

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      • craig | travelvice.com September 30, 2010, 6:19 pm

        Seems very ridiculous for a group of nation states that not only capitalized on but essentially romanticized the notion of self-discovery via extended travel outside your home country.

        I guess it’s OK for Europeans to wander abroad, but foreigners: DON’T YOU DARE try to do it in our region any longer.

      • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com October 1, 2010, 10:24 am

        The inter-cultural barrier that has been set up by the Schengen immigration policies are vast. No longer can people from outside of the region really develop a deep relationship with Europeans or Europe legally. You use to just have to skip across a nearby border to have the right to return to whatever country you wanted to really get to know, now you have to travel across an entire continent and wait 90 days.

        This could be the great era of inter-cultural communion, communication, learning, consolation, and unity. Too bad xenophobia is beginning to raise its head and fences, walls, and gates are being built up to keep “us” inside and “you” outside.

        This is probably one of the most interesting times in recent history to be traveling.

    • craig | travelvice.com September 30, 2010, 6:15 pm

      I’ll hold my breath for the creation of a special extended-stay tourist visa… maybe for the right price they’ll let you stay the full 180 days w/o chunking it up, or even longer.

      Since the computers are doing the number crunching on days (and assuming they can correlate not just passport numbers, but bio data such as birth date and name), why not a visa that allows tourists to spend up to X days inside the Schengen Zone, but forfeit the ability to return for some larger period of time after you leave? (perhaps days compounded some multiplier, x1.5, x2, x3) Spend 200 days inside? …ok, but can’t come back for 600.

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      • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com October 1, 2010, 10:33 am

        I will also be holding my breath. It seems as if something should be cooked up to allow travelers at least 180 days out of 9 months or something like that. I am surprised that the tourism boards of some of the less traveled Schengen countries are not raging about this. 90 days is going to force most would be long term tourists to just visit France, Germany, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, the big name Western European countries while leaving the others by the wayside.

        But I suppose this move seems to want to discourage long term travelers on long trips — they want the quick week long tourist dollars. I don’t understand why they don’t want both: backpackers spend A LOT of money in Europe.

        When I was working in hostels in eastern Europe it was insane to me how much money these young tourists with backpacks were spending — we are talking in excess of $50 to $100 a day. That is big money everywhere when someone is putting directly into the “on the ground” economy.

        But I do believe that these restrictions are designed to keep foreigners from working. It is difficult to work a real job when you can only be in the country for 90 out of every 180 days. I wonder who is teaching these Europeans English now haha.

        Though I do have hope that this policy will be reformed as the Schengen region continues to congeal — hopefully the reform will prove to be for the better.

  • the candy trail ... October 7, 2010, 10:03 am

    Scary … I had absolutely no idea about this visa restriction on A-class passports (since I haven’t spent that much time in Europe these past decades). And as for C-4: I’ve just spent 9 months in this region including all neighbors(2009-10) and it was a case of return journeys to Mexico or Belize, for a continuation of the trip south.

    Yes: I have thought about this. Regional Power Blocs. Resource & ego struggles. Conflicts. Same shit. History repeats itself … I wrote a post that hints at this and the state of the world, generally

    I’ve always said / warned people – those that could so – to travel, now … before it’s too late. As this was/is a golden age to travel before the masses discover it (further), before regional water / resource wars break out; before new viruses kick in; before it’s too expensive and restricted (EG: the nature of all your excellent related posts on our endangered species); before great social unrest/terrorism/direct threats to tourists increase …as I see it, sadly, it’s all on the cards.

    Regards – MRP| the candy trail … a nomad across the planet, since 1988

    Link Reply
    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com October 8, 2010, 12:47 pm

      Good link, I suggest everyone to follow it and read this story.

      We are traveling in a very interesting time, we are able to watch major global transitions from the ground as they are happening. I, too, suggest that anyone who can to get out and watch this show, find a good place to hide haha.

      Thanks for these comments,


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