The Central American Passport

written by A. L. Hart Havens on June 15, 2021

El Salvador’s recent announcement that Bitcoin will be accepted as legal tender is a move that could have a domino effect throughout Latin America and other parts of the world.

In addition to eliminating taxes on cryptocurrency gains, Salvadorian president Nayib Bukele proposed offering permanent residency permits and potentially even citizenship to certain crypto entrepreneurs, thus setting up the tiny impoverished nation to solidify its position as an international trailblazer in the crypto‑citizenship arena.

Unsurprisingly, interest in Latin American and Caribbean citizenship has risen sharply over the past two weeks in the wake of this groundbreaking turn of events. Even before the announcement, however, Central America had long since been on the radar of English‑speaking North Americans seeking refuge from their home governments’ increasingly burdensome and draconian social, economic, and taxation policies.

This article sheds light on a bloc of four Central American countries including El Salvador that has taken great strides to considerably reduce obstacles to freedom of movement throughout the region, including the introduction of a standardized passport.

The Central American Four

Political and economic integration efforts across Central America reached a milestone in 1991 with the creation of an intergovernmental organization called the Sistema de la Integración Centroamericana – the Central American Integration System.

The organization’s eight members encompass all seven Central American countries – Costa Rica, Panama, Belize, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras – plus the Dominican Republic. Its primary institution is the Guatemala City‑based Central American Parliament (PARLACEN).

In 2006, four of the organization’s members agreed to deepen political ties with the enactment of the Central America-4 Free Mobility Agreement, which brought about the lifting of visa requirements throughout the bloc for each member country’s passport holders. These four countries – Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador – together have come to be known as the Central American Four (CA‑4).

The CA-4 is similar to Europe’s Schengen Agreement in many significant respects, as it sets out the free movement of people across borders without visa restrictions or border checks. Interestingly, foreigner visitors to and legal residents of any of the CA‑4 countries are permitted to cross the shared land borders of the four signatory countries under the same rules applied to CA‑4 citizens.

Now, skeptics will certainly argue that the three Central American countries which are not party to the CA‑4 agreement – Panama, Belize, and Costa Rica – happen to be the most desirable destinations in Central America due to factors such as safety, stability, modern amenities, relative economic prosperity, and longstanding expat communities.

While this may currently hold true to a certain extent, prices in Panama, Belize, and Costa Rica have risen considerably in recent decades with the influx of North American and European expats and investors. By contrast, the largely uncharted territories of Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador beckon the more the more adventurous of freedom‑seekers with lucrative opportunities and a lower cost of living.

Decent Quality of Passports

The CA‑4 countries issue a uniformly designed dark‑blue passport showing Centroamerica at the cover’s top above the country name. And instead of a national coat of arms, the center of the passport features an outline map of all seven Central American countries with the issuing country’s territory shaded gold.

It may come as a surprise to learn that the passports of Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador allow for fairly good mobility throughout the world. Citizens of all four countries are afforded visa-free access to the entire European Union and Schengen Area as well as to the UK, Russia, Japan, Turkey, and nearly all of South America. However, none of them offer visa‑free access to the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, or China, which is a reflection of those countries’ generally restrictive visa policies.

The 2021 rankings of the world’s 199 passports from most powerful (#1) to least powerful (#199) show El Salvador at #73, Honduras at #74, Guatemala at #75, and Nicaragua at #82. By comparison, Costa Rica comes in at #61, Panama at #69, and Belize at #97.

With all seven Central American countries placing in the top half of the worldwide passport rankings, acquiring citizenship in one of them could serve as a valuable addition to the repertoire of a politically diversified individual.