World’s most powerful passports: Japan and Singapore top travel ranking

Countries in the global north with high-ranking passports have enforced some of the most strict inbound COVID-19-related travel restrictions. Photo: Getty Images
Countries in the global north with high-ranking passports have enforced some of the strictest inbound COVID-19-related travel restrictions. Photo: Getty

Japan and Singapore came out on top in the Henley Passport Index, which ranks 199 countries based on the number of destinations that passport holders can access without a prior visa. Japan and Singapore passport holders can head to 192 countries without waiting for a visa.

Iraq and Afghanistan languished at the bottom of the table. Their citizens can only go to 28 and 26 countries, respectively, without the burden of filling out forms and applying for a visa.

The UK came in joint number seven, along with Greece, Malta, Norway and the US. Citizens of all these nations can go to 185 destinations with ease.

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The Henley Passport Index is updated every quarter and claims to be “the only one of its kind” based on exclusive data from the International Air Transport Authority.

“The latest results and research from the Henley Passport Index show how proliferating barriers to entry over the past 18 months of the pandemic have resulted in the widest global mobility gap in its 16-year history,” said investment advisory firm Henley & Partners, creators of the index.

Top countries on the Henley Passport Index.
Top countries on the Henley Passport Index. Photo: Henley Passport Index

The index shows that countries in the global north with high-ranking passports have enforced some of the strictest inbound COVID-19-related travel restrictions, while many countries with lower-ranking passports have relaxed their borders without seeing this openness reciprocated.

This has created an ever-widening gap in travel freedom even for fully vaccinated travellers from countries at the lower end of the passport power ranking.

The report said this gap is likely to increase, as pandemic-related restrictions “become entrenched and amplify the already significant global mobility divide between advanced and developing economies.”

Japan, which shares the top spot on the index with Singapore due to their visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 192, currently bars almost all foreign nationals from entry.

Germany, which sits alongside South Korea in joint-second place with a visa-free/visa-on arrival score of 190, currently restricts nearly 100 countries from entry.

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At the lower end of the index, Egypt, at number 97 on the list, currently has no travel restrictions in place, yet its citizens can access just 51 destinations around the world without acquiring a visa in advance.

Similarly, Kenya, which comes in at number 77, has no travel bans in place, yet its passport holders are able to access just 72 destinations visa-free.

Some experts believe restrictive policies initially introduced to contain the spread of COVID-19 are now being “conveniently applied” to contain mobility from the global south.

And recent adjustments to the COVID-ban policies of the UK and the US have done little to alter what experts perceive to be growing inequalities when it comes to travel freedom and access, the report said.

Hannah White, deputy director of the Institute for Government, a London think tank, said: “The direction of travel has been towards greater freedoms, but ongoing requirements for expensive tests and quarantine for those vaccinated outside the UK, and the absence of an approved international vaccination certification scheme, continue to rule out visits for many international travellers, limit short-term international travel for UK residents, and potentially cause issues for UK residents vaccinated in non-approved countries.”

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Experts also suggest that a global vaccine hierarchy is emerging.

“Your health or vaccination status — sometimes in combination with additional passports — may now be even more important for your global access rights than your primary passport is," said Kevin Bürchler of the SIP Medical Family Office in Switzerland.

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