Whenever you are applying for security clearance, be it from a private firm or government, travel hackers may actually attract extra scrutiny from officials! We often have interesting credit reports, are able to travel in ways that go far beyond our means, and for some more intrepid travelers, have gone to places that are on the “naughty list.”
This is a post by Avery. Avery is a special guest contributor from www.dcta.ca, (Don’t Call the Airline!) He specializes in Canadian travel hacking, and has flown all over the world in First Class and on questionably safe airlines to questionable destinations.
Security agencies use a number of factors to determine the applicant’s eligibility for clearance. Sometimes the agency will take a look at the applicant’s credit report, talk to friends and neighbors, and scrutinize the applicant’s lifestyle and travel history. The degree to which the agency scrutinizes the applicant depends on the level of security clearance required. However, the following tips will help you mitigate any negative effects travel hacking might have on your eligibility for security clearance.
Note: I do not work, nor have ever worked, in a capacity in which I granted security clearances or made any assessment recommendations. I have experience applying for one, and I have done research on the matter as well.
Many security clearances require an examination of your credit report. Generally, the assessment is trying to determine whether or not you are a security risk because you have a dubious financial record and are more easily capable of being bribed or otherwise tempted to illicitly profit from your position.
By churning credit cards, you are creating a number of inquiries and credit entries. If you churn as much as I do, your credit report might look a little funny. To the assessor who may have no knowledge of credit card churning, this can set off alarm bells.
A good way to churn is to do so cyclically. That is, every 3, 6, or 12 months is when you apply for credit cards. Not only does this pattern increase your chances of credit approval, it looks more consistent in the long run to the assessor reading your credit report. Consistency, especially over a long period, helps mitigate concern about your credit report.
Of course, they are more concerned about debt and a history of delinquency. If you are not paying your debts, you should not be in the credit card churning game anyways. Not only are you hurting yourself financially by not paying off your debts, you are risking your security clearance eligibility. Without security clearance, you are effectively barred from a number of careers.
For high-level security assessments, your friends and neighbors may be interviewed. I would suggest you talk to your friends, and especially your neighbors, about how and why you travel so much. If you are a stranger to your neighbors, they might think that it is very odd that you are always in and out of the country, and might assume you afford to do so by illegitimate ways. You would not want them sharing this (false) opinion with the interviewers, which could put your security clearance assessment at risk. By talking to your friends and neighbors and explaining how and why you are able to travel so often, you not only reduce the risk of an interview going poorly, but you may be able to convince them to sign up for a credit card under your American Express referral!
Where have you been?
Most security applications will ask where you have traveled to within the past five or ten years. This is not a section that you want to forget a destination as if they catch a missed destination, concerns will be raised.
For a travel hacker, it might be extremely difficult to remember everywhere that you have been in the last five or ten years. To mitigate the risk of you forgetting to name a country on your security clearance application, I recommend keeping a list of your countries visited, when you visited, and a short reason why (business, tourism, etc.). That way, when it comes time to apply for your security clearance, you are certain not to miss listing any destination that you have been to. This will also come in handy for some visa applications, for example to Russia, where there is highly probative questioning based on where you have been.
What if I’ve been to a “naughty country”?
Some intrepid travellers like to go to some very interesting places, like the DPRK, Yemen, etc. Although there is no official policy that I know of against going to these countries in order to be eligible for a security clearance, listing them may raise some eyebrows. Your best bet is to keep notes on why you went to that country, so when asked, you can best explain. For example, did you go to Yemen because there was an amazing fare? Or did you go to Iran because there was a once-in-a-lifetime festival? It makes a lot more sense to the interviewer to say “I went to Yemen because it only cost me $500!” over “I think it’s a nice country.” An interviewer’s suspicion will likely be alleviated if you can explain why you went to a “naughty country.”
The theme here is that the best way to pass a security clearance assessment as a travel hacker is to be completely honest, and to keep records in order to respond to any questions.