The three most powerful passports in the world are all Asian, according to the 2023 Henley Passport Index. It ranks all of the world’s passports according to the number of destinations their holders can access without obtaining a visa in advance.
Japan has the world’s most powerful passport for the 5th year in a row. Holders can visit 193 out of 227 global destinations visa-free.
South Korea and Singapore are tied in 2nd place on the index, with a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 192. Germany and Spain are joint 3rd, with visa-free access to 190 destinations.
The UK and the US remain in 6th and 7th places, with scores of 187 and 186. They jointly held the top slot in 2014, but the Henley rankings say it appears unlikely that either will ever reach 1st place again. The UK voted to leave the European Union in 2016.
Passport to economic opportunity
The Henley Passport Index is put together by immigration consultancy firm Henley & Partners. It has also combined its passport index data with World Bank GDP figures to create the Henley Passport Power score, which indicates “the percentage of global GDP each passport provides to its holders’ visa-free”.
This can be a valuable tool for business travellers, investors and anyone planning to emigrate. But it also sheds light on “the ever-widening economic inequality and wealth disparity that has come to define our world”, says Henley & Partners Chairman Dr Christian Kaelin. He invented the passport index nearly 20 years ago, based on data from the International Air Transport Association.
Nigerian passport holders, for example, can access only 46 destinations visa-free (20% of the world), with these countries accounting for just 1.5% of global GDP. The lowest-ranking entry in the Henley Passport Power score is the Afghan passport, which provides visa-free access to only 27 countries and less than 1% of global economic output.
That is 166 fewer visa-free destinations than Japan – the widest mobility gap in the index’s 18-year history. This means that citizens of the index’s lowest-ranking countries – including Iraq (visa-free score of 29) and Syria (visa-free score of 30) – are being shut out of many opportunities for economic mobility and growth, the report says.
The most powerful passports in the world in 2023
1. Japan (193 destinations)
2. Singapore, South Korea (192 destinations)
3. Germany, Spain (190 destinations)
4. Finland, Italy, Luxembourg (189 destinations)
5. Austria, Denmark, Netherlands, Sweden (188 destinations)
6. France, Ireland, Portugal, United Kingdom (187 destinations)
7. Belgium, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, United States, Czech Republic (186 destinations)
8. Australia, Canada, Greece, Malta (185 destinations)
9. Hungary, Poland (184 destinations)
10. Lithuania, Slovakia (183 destinations)
Ukrainian and Russian passports
The Ukraine war is yet to have a significant impact on the Henley Passport Index scores of Russia and Ukraine.
Both countries have held roughly the same position “on paper” since the invasion began in February 2022. Russia is ranked 49th with a score of 118, while Ukraine ranks 36th with visa-free access to 144 countries.
However, airspace closures and sanctions mean Russian citizens are essentially barred from travelling in much of the developed world.
Ukrainians, on the other hand, have been granted the right to live and work in the EU for up to three years as part of an emergency response to the war.
Ukraine has been one of the biggest climbers on the Henley Passport Index in the past decade, having moved up 24 places. And it would probably enter the top 10 if the country joins the EU, the report says.
Countries high up in the index grow faster
Countries with the highest rankings on the index are those with more open economies, which encourage foreign investment and international trade. They “tend to grow faster, are more innovative and productive, and provide higher income and more opportunities to their citizens”, Kaelin says.
An example of this is the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which has jumped up the index by 49 places in the past 10 years, taking it to 15th place, with access to 70% of global GDP.
But the opposite holds true for countries lower on the rankings. There are developing nations with significant and growing private wealth that have not yet built the geopolitical, diplomatic and trade relationships that enable their governments to sign visa waivers with other countries that lead to visa‑free travel.
The two biggest global economies, the US and China, contribute 25% and 19% of global GDP respectively, but American passport holders can access 43% of global GDP without a visa, compared with 7% for Chinese passport holders.
‘’More than being mere travel documents, the passports we hold dictate to a very large extent the opportunities available to us, the freedoms we enjoy, and the calibre of options within our reach,’’ Kaelin says.
Gabi Thesing, Senior Writer, Formative Content
The article originally appeared in the World Economic Forum.
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