How much is your passport worth?
The still-ongoing mystery surrounding the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight 370 has brought into focus numerous aspects about airport and in-flight security. The saga has taken numerous twists, with the latest reports revealing a change in flight path and speculation that the airplane may have traveled over 300 miles after disappearing off civilian radar. But among the early leads that authorities were investigating were reports of two individuals found to be traveling on stolen passports.
The passports in question, that of Austrian Christian Kozel and Italian Luigi Maraldi, were used by two Iranians for travel to Europe. Authorities have since determined both individuals as not having links to terrorism and have said that the use of stolen passports was for the purpose of illegal immigration. While both individuals have been ruled out as possible causes for the disappearance, the incident has highlighted a growing illegal trade in which passports from mostly Western countries are stolen or sold and then purchased by individuals from other countries seeking to travel. The buyers often come from countries where visa restrictions are tight and citizens have limited access to travel to other countries.
So just how much are passports worth?
It depends on what country you’re from.
The primary goal of buying a passport declared as lost or stolen is to give the buyer visa-free access to several countries. The residency and travel consulting firm, Henley and Partners, releases an annual index on Visa restrictions per country. The index compares the number of countries a given passport can access visa-free.
As it turns out, the passports of Austria and Italy rank very well according to the index, with Italy ranking 3rd and Austria at 5th. The Philippines ranks 69th on the list, with access to 58 countries. It is ranked above neighboring countries like Indonesia (73) and Vietnam (81), but well below Thailand (60), Taiwan (25), Hong Kong (14), Malaysia (9), Singapore (6).
A French tourist once reported he was offered $240 for his passport in Thailand, while other Western tourists can get up to $500 for giving their passport and declaring it as lost. These passports are then resold to travelers seeking access to Europe or elsewhere. Going rates for passports from countries with almost-global access run anywhere between $1,000 to $3,000. In a report in the Guardian, Israeli passports, which are easier to tamper and forge, fetch up to $2,500.
As for the Philippines? Being lower on the index makes it less valuable by comparison, but that doesn’t mean it’s totally worthless. Incidents involving forgeries and fake Philippine passports have been reported in the past, with most incidents related to citizens from countries ranked even lower on the index attempting to use the Philippine passport for access to countries in Southeast Asia. A report by the Philippine Star also revealed the use of Philippine passports by Chinese citizens as a means to avoid paying taxes while traveling between Hong Kong and mainland China, with one man paying up to $6,000 for the fake travel documents.