July 25, 2020
Americans Not Welcome
As I’ve prepared to move from Singapore to Ireland and juggled bank accounts in at least three countries and currencies, it’s become clear to me just how fragile it all is…
By that, I mean the entire global financial infrastructure.
While technology has advanced at the speed of sound, banks and money are stuck in the I Love Lucy era. And central banks around the world are trying to fix the problem by bulldozing it with trillions of dollars in cash.
From personal experience, the global financial system isn’t working. A few weeks ago I talked about a “Plan Z” to prepare yourself for the unexpected. But I missed a big piece of the equation…
Next Thursday, July 30, my friend Porter Stansberry is planning to explain what comes next… why he believes financial markets will soon be turned “upside down”… and how it will affect investors and savers across the world. Click here to RSVP and reserve your seat.
Of course, the major upcoming change in our monetary system is not the only massive shift happening across the globe today…
Americans are starting to realize that one of the biggest benefits of citizenship was just tossed into the discount bin.
It’s not something as important as, say, the right to buy a semiautomatic rifle that can put 30 rounds down range within seconds… enjoy a 64 ounce Big Gulp Mountain Dew Merry Mash-Up at 3 in the morning… or drive a monster SUV with a tank that holds more gas than a medium-sized village in Mali consumes in a week.
COVID-19 hasn’t touched those inalienable rights. But it has shattered something that, for some people, is far more important: Where you can travel with your American passport.
Last year, an American passport could get you into 184 countries without a visa, according to citizenship advisory firm Henley & Partners. It was the world’s sixth-most useful passport, along with those of the United Kingdom and a handful of European countries. (The globe’s most useful passports are from Japan and Singapore, with visa-free travel to 190 countries. The least useful?… More on that in a moment.)
Even when they could travel, most Americans – the 42% who own passports, at least – didn’t travel far when they left the country. Over half of the 93 million international trips made by Americans in 2018 were to Mexico and Canada, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. A bit under 20% of all trips were to Europe.
But in the Coronavirus Era, the world has gotten a lot smaller – for Americans in particular. Almost no one wants visitors from the U.S. today… An American passport will now get you into just 29 countries.
Americans can’t catch a direct flight from the U.S. to nearly all of Europe. The European Union has essentially banned visitors from the U.S. (with one important loophole… more on that in a moment.)
You can, however, still visit Albania, Lebanon, or Ukraine. If these places are at the top of your bucket list, there’s no time like the present. And Americans – or their cash, at any rate – remain welcome throughout much of the tourist-starved Caribbean.
Americans can also still visit some coronavirus hotspots that have done nearly as bad a job as the U.S. at controlling the spread of the infection… Mexico, for example, is currently trailing the U.S. in deaths per million people, but that number is gaining fast. Or the U.K., with a prime minister whose own bout with the coronavirus didn’t improve his virus-related policymaking. Of the 10 most popular tourist destinations for Americans, just four are open today.
What that means is that today, an American passport is about as respected, travel-wise, as the passports of Syria (29 visa-free travel destinations), Iraq (27), or Afghanistan (the world’s worst, at 25) were in 2019. People from countries that are, in part, actual war zones – with populations that are some of the most deprived and desperate on earth – were able to travel to as many countries last year as Americans are able to visit today.
And for the other 166 countries that people from the U.S. can’t visit right now… a visa (or a negative test result) won’t help. They can’t visit at all. While it has just 4% of the world’s population, the U.S. has around a quarter of total global coronavirus cases and deaths. There’s a new pariah on Planet Earth… and it has an American accent.
The result is a Fortress America in reverse.
The U.S. has historically been an immigrant magnet. It was built on the backs of people who came from everywhere else… “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses,” and all that. As recently as 2016, the U.S. was by far the most desired destination for would-be migrants from around the world according to Gallup. It was preferred by 21% of potential migrants – as many as the next four would-be destinations combined.
In recent years, immigrants to the U.S. – who already had navigated enough challenges to make a Rube Goldberg machine seem straightforward by comparison – have been actively dissuaded from going to the U.S. Most symbolically, the Trump administration has started building a subtle-as-a-jackhammer wall on the country’s southwestern border.
Now, the coronavirus and the American government’s mismanagement of it is flipping the narrative: Americans are walled in because few other nations will accept them into their borders.
But there is one loophole…
One of the 29 countries that is still letting Americans visit, virus notwithstanding, is Ireland.
The European Union has banned people from the U.S. from entering. But individual member states have some leeway to tweak the rules.
This potentially renders the entire EU ban as holey as Swiss cheese. You can cross national borders within most of the EU without needing to show your passport at all – so once you’re in Ireland, you can go anywhere from Malaga to Warsaw to Vilnius.
The minor hitch is that Ireland requires visitors from the U.S. (and most other countries) to self-quarantine for two weeks.
Here in Singapore, where I still live for the next week at least, returning residents are required to stay at a government-mandated hotel for two weeks of an enforced quarantine. Your temperature is taken at regular intervals, meals are left outside the door, and you don’t leave the room. A friend who recently returned to Singapore reported pacing a daily half-marathon in his room… and catching up on several seasons of Netflix shows.
Right now, all 2,561 rooms of the iconic Marina Bay Sands resort – a three-tower structure topped by what looks like a big surfboard that makes an appearance on the Instagram feed of anyone who’s ever visited Singapore – are occupied with people in quarantine. It’s a step down from its co-starring role at the end of Crazy Rich Asians… but some revenue is better than none.
Quarantine is different in Ireland, where visitors are asked to keep to themselves for two weeks at an address that they provide upon arrival. The Irish government doesn’t want potentially infected people wandering the country. But not everyone takes to the honor system – especially, as it happens, visitors from the land of the free, where “mask shaming” is happening for folks both wearing a mask and not wearing one. Only in America.
For most people in Ireland, Americans are like the neighbor you’re always happy to see. Pretty much everyone has a brother or a cousin or an aunt in America. Some towns even have parades, fireworks, and charred hotdogs on July 4.
When an Irish person hears your American accent and asks you where you’re from, she’s asking you what state you’re from – she already knows you’re American. Non-native English speakers often have a difficult time telling whether you’re from Aberdeen or Amarillo or Auckland. For example, when I visited Iran several years ago, I told shopkeepers that – like my travel companion Sam – I was from Australia… although to me our accents are as different as jazz and classical.
Americans have to work hard to earn the ire of the Irish. And that’s what they’re doing today by violating the relatively mellow quarantine rules in Ireland. Some are giving false addresses so that they can’t be traced and contacted if necessary… and they’re not staying inside during quarantine. “A lot of people here are really annoyed with Americans here,” an American friend who has lived in a small town north of Dublin for the past 25 years told me last week.
Nonetheless, we’re taking our chances…
Next week, my family and I will be leaving our empty house in Singapore to move to Ireland. We’ll be self-quarantining as per the Irish government’s requirements… wearing masks… and when once we’re in public, adapting a Muppets’ Swedish chef accent to avoid detection as possible American coronavirus spreaders.
Now here are some of the stories we’re reading…
Where Can Americans Travel Right Now? A Country-by-Country Guide
Countries around the world are starting to welcome tourists back. Unfortunately, due to an uptick in coronavirus cases and varying levels of restrictions throughout the nation, many countries have blocked Americans from visiting.
U.S. Bond Markets Are Driving Force Behind the New Gold Rush
Deepening negative real yields in the U.S. Treasury market are fueling a frenetic rally in gold that’s boosting the precious metal toward a record.
Video: Want to Know Where Covid-19 May Hit Next? Watch the Apple Store Closures
Apple has consistently been one of the first retailers to close its doors in areas of the U.S. just as they see a surge in Covid-19 cases. WSJ tracked hundreds of store closures, coronavirus statistics and lockdown measures to piece together Apple’s shutdown strategy.
Froth Returns to China’s Stock Market, Echoing the 2015 Crisis
Chinese stocks are surging. Foreign investors have rushed in. University graduates and factory workers are opening up trading accounts. Is disaster on the horizon?
Layoffs: 1.4 million workers file for unemployment as COVID-19 surges, and some benefits near end
That most recent stream of claims means that in little more than four months, a staggering 52.7 million have sought unemployment aid for the first time.
And let us know what you’re reading at [email protected].
May you find your way through the chaos,
Chaos Chronicles Editor, American Consequences
With P.J. O’Rourke and the Editorial Staff
July 24, 2020