Japan has knocked Singapore off top spot on the list of the world’s most powerful passport, according to new research, while Australia remains sixth on the table.
The ranking by Henley & Partners, a citizenship and planning firm, takes into account how many countries can be visited without applying for a visa. Japanese citizens can travel to a record 189 out of a possible 218, most recently Uzbekistan, while Germans can visit 188 and Australians 183.
The latest research highlights the growth of visa-free travel in Asia, thanks to up to 40 visa-waiver agreements signed by governments since the beginning of the year.
“While Schengen Area countries have traditionally topped the index as a result of their open access to Europe, developed Asian nations have been able to secure equally high scores in recent years thanks to their strong international trade and diplomatic relations,” the report says.
The UAE, in 23rd, is the fastest climber, ascending 38 places since 2008 after securing more visa exemptions for its citizens in 2018 than any other country in the world.
The UK topped the 2015 rankings, alongside Germany, but ceded that spot after several countries relaxed travel restrictions to the latter. It was leapfrogged by Sweden in 2016, and then Denmark, Finland, Italy and Spain in 2017, but now sits in fourth alongside Norway, Austria, Luxembourg, Netherlands and Portugal.
Afghanistan and Iraq prop up the table. Their passport holders can only enter 30 countries without a visa, just behind Syria and Somalia, who each have just 32 accessible countries on their list.
Overall, 143 countries saw the power of their passport improve over the course of 2017, while seven countries saw visa-free access reduced.
Among the biggest climbers for the first quarter of 2018 were Georgia (111 visa-free countries, up from 99), Ukraine (128, up from 114), China (70, up from 60), and Indonesia (71, up from 63).
The Chinese are travelling in record numbers, bringing with them spending money and greatly boosting local economies, so it’s not surprising that more countries making it easier for them to visit.
“As the world economy has become increasingly globalised, the need for greater visa-free access has grown steadily,” said the report. “Across the economic spectrum, individuals want to transcend the constraints imposed on them by their country of origin and access business, financial, career, and lifestyle opportunities on a global scale.”
The impact of Brexit on the UK’s ranking remains to be seen. It seems likely that travel to and from EU countries won’t be hindered, but will trips further afield come with more red tape?
“We have witnessed several major events recently that are likely to have an impact on global mobility – including Brexit and the election of US President Donald Trump,” said Dr Christian H. Kälin, chairman of Henley & Partners. “Both can be interpreted as steps toward restricting movement and creating barriers to entry.”
Despite this, most of the top-ranking countries have seen significant increases in the number of visa-free destinations their citizen can visit in recent years. In early 2017, Singapore topped the table with a ranking of just 159 compared to 188 now. Australia’s ranking has climbed from 153 to 183.
Most notable among the countries to drop visa requirements for Australians is Indonesia, our second most-popular destination after New Zealand. Australians can now visit the country for up to 30 days without requiring a visa (which previously could be purchased on arrival).
Top most powerful passports
Germany, Singapore 188
Finland, France, Italy, South Korea, Spain, Sweden 187
Austria, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, United Kingdom, United States 186
Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Ireland, Switzerland 185
Greece, Australia 183
Czech Republic, Malta, New Zealand 182
Hungary, Slovenia, Malaysia 180
Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia
The least powerful passports
Congo, Iran, North Korea 43
Ethiopia, Sri Lanka 42
Bangladesh, Lebanon, Libya, South Sudan 41
Eritrea, Palestinian Territory, Sudan
Somalia, Syria 32
Afghanistan, Iraq 30