Simply, some passports are more powerful and easier to travel with than others, without the need for a visa. So which ones are the best? A U.S. passport is one of the world’s ten best, but not the best.
The most powerful passport award goes to Japan, according to the Henley Passport Index, a global ranking of countries according to the travel freedom enjoyed by the holders of that country’s ordinary passport for its citizens.
For the fifth year running, a Japan passport crowns the index, which is based on exclusive data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and ranks all the world’s 199 passports according to the number of destinations their holders can access without a prior visa.
Japanese citizens can visit 193 destinations out of 227 visa-free, while those of South Korea and Singapore, which are tied in second place, enjoy a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 192.
Germany and Spain tie for third place, with visa-free access to 190 destinations worldwide.
The U.K. and the United States remain in sixth and seventh places, with scores of 187 and 186, respectively, and appear increasingly unlikely to regain the top spot both countries held nearly a decade ago.
What it means for US passport holders is this – You need a visa to visit Bhutan, Australia, Egypt or China, but not for their next-door neighbors Nepal, New Zealand, Israel or Taiwan.
A passport from Ukraine is more valuable than one from Russia, which is facing international economic and travel sanctions due to its invasion of Ukraine, and the ability of Ukraine passport holders to travel freely to EU countries to live and work.
Least Powerful Passports
The bottom of the list should surprise nobody.
Afghanistan remains firmly at the bottom of the Henley Passport Index, with a score of just 27 visa-free destinations. That’s 166 fewer visa-free destinations than Japan, and it’s the widest global mobility gap in the index’s 18-year history. Passports issued by Syria, Iran, Iraq and North Korea are slightly better, but not by much. And Pakistan is close to the bottom of the list, too, but not India.
Passport ratings have a firm connection with success in the global economy, according to Dr. Christian Kaelin, chairman of Henley & Partners.
“For global citizens, a better measure of economic mobility and fiscal opportunity afforded by their passports is to look at the percentage share of global GDP accessible to them visa-free,” Kaelin says in a press release. “Our latest research into how much global economic access each passport provides is a useful tool for investors and gives new insight into the ever-widening inequality and wealth disparity that defines our world.”
The study reveals that just 6 percent of passports worldwide give their holders visa-free access to more than 70 percent of the global economy. And only 17 percent of countries give their passport holders visa-free access to more than four-fifths of the world’s 227 destinations.
The Japanese passport gives visa-free access to 85 percent of the world and, collectively, these countries account for a whopping 98 percent of the global economy (Japan’s own GDP contribution is around 5 percent).
In contrast, the Nigerian passport at the lower end of the index provides visa-free access to only 46 destinations (20 percent of the world), which account for just 1.5 percent of global GDP. The lowest ranked Afghanistan passport provides visa-free access to just 12 percent of the world and less than 1 percent of global economic output.
Passport Access & Economic Development
Dr. Areef Suleman, director of economic research and statistics at the Islamic Development Bank Institute, says cross-country visa-free access to more stable economies helps investors mitigate risks in accessible countries.
“In general, greater access to the world’s economic output is advantageous as it expands the basket of products available to any individual,” he says. “While this is also attainable through international trade, the options with physical access are far greater, extending to the use of services that are non-exportable such as better-quality education and healthcare.”
In terms of percentage of global GDP, the U.S. and China share nearly half the world’s GDP, with 25 percent and 19 percent, respectively. But U. S. passport holders can access an additional 43 percent of the world’s economic output visa-free, bringing their total to 68 percent, while Chinese passport holders can access only an additional 7 percent visa-free, taking their total to just 26 percent of global GDP.
Looking at another set of comparisons, South Korea and Russia have similar national GDPs of around 1.9 percent of global economic output.
But South Korea has a visa-free score of 192, giving its passport holders access to 81 percent of global GDP, while Russia has a score of just 118, providing its passport holders with access to only 19 percent of the world’s economy. India fares even worse, despite having the world’s fifth-largest economy: its passport holders can access just 59 destinations worldwide and only 6.8 percent of global GDP, of which the country’s own GDP accounts for around half.
Prof. Trevor Williams, former chief economist at Lloyd’s Bank Commercial Banking, says the research proves the relationship between the ability to travel, foreign investment in a country, increased trade and economic growth. “Skills and talent go where there is the ability to work, invest, and travel, attracting others wishing to do the same and creating a positive loop.”
Effects of the War in Ukraine
According to Henley & Partners, the Ukraine war is yet to have a significant impact on the Henley Passport Index scores of Russia and Ukraine, with both countries retaining roughly the same position ‘on paper’ since the invasion nearly a year ago.
Russia is currently ranked 49th with a score of 118, while Ukraine sits 13 places above, ranking 36th with a score of 144. However, due to airspace closures and sanctions, Russian citizens are effectively barred from traveling throughout most of the developed world, with the marked exceptions of the UAE and Türkiye, which have become focal points.
Also, sanctioned Russian oligarchs can get around the restrictions by buying a “golden passport”. Nearly one-dozen countries offer investment in return for a passport. Fees range from around $100,000 in some Caribbean islands to $9 Million in Austria and a bit less in Malta.
Ukrainians, on the other hand, have been granted the right to live and work in the EU for up to three years under an emergency plan in response to what has become Europe’s biggest refugee crisis this century.
Already one of the biggest climbers on the Henley Passport Index, moving up 24 places over the past decade, Ukraine would likely break into the top 10 most powerful passports in the world if it were to join the EU. Negotiations for membership are due to begin in earnest in the next few months after the EU approved Ukraine’s application for EU candidate status in record time last June.
Leading financial journalist and author Misha Glenny says it’s hard to overestimate how the continuing conflict will dictate global politics and the economy throughout 2023.
“It’s a brutal ground war in which one combatant possesses more nuclear warheads than any other country on the planet,” he says. “The Russian and Ukrainian economies exert a huge influence over two vital sectors of the global economy—energy and agriculture. This has been reflected in steep price rises, turning a manageable inflationary struggle into a dangerous one.”
Gulf State Passports Becoming More Valuable
While Asian countries still dominate the very top of the index, the growing passport strength of Gulf states has been identified as a key trend in the coming year.
The UAE has climbed an astonishing 49 places over the past 10 years. Ranking 64th in 2013, with a visa-free score of just 72, the UAE now sits in 15th place, with a score of 178 and access to nearly 70 percent of global GDP.
Analysts anticipate that Kuwait and Qatar will sign a visa-free deal with the EU this year—a move that will dramatically enhance their Henley Passport Index scores.
For more information, visit www.henleyglobal.com.
Here’s the link to the PDF of full rankings.