Singapore Passports Overtake Japan's For Most Visa-Free Travel, US In 8th Place

Tom Burroughes Group Editor July 19, 2023

Singapore Passports Overtake Japan's For Most Visa-Free Travel, US In 8th Place

Of the countries sitting in the Top 10, the US has seen the smallest increase in its score on the Henley Passport Index over the past decade, securing visa-free access to just 12 additional destinations between 2013 and 2023. Such rankings, as in this index, are also a benchmark for how globalized the world actually is.  

A ranking of countries whose passports are deemed to be have the most cross-border entry freedom has elevated Singapore to top spot, displacing Japan after holding this rank for the past five years.

The rankings come from the Henley Passport Index, based on exclusive and official data from the International Air Transport Association and compiled by Henley & Partners, a firm advising on migration for HNW individuals.

Singapore’s citizens can visit 192 travel destinations out of 227 around the world without a visa. Germany, Italy, and Spain all move up into second place with visa-free access to 190 destinations, and Japanese passport holders join those of six other nations – Austria, Finland, France, Luxembourg, South Korea, and Sweden – in third place with access to 189 destinations without a prior visa.

Such rankings cast light on the kind of jurisdictions that are attractive in lacking onerous entry requirements – which can feed into whether such places encourage banks and others to set up booking centers, offices, and build business. In a sense, they can be benchmarks for how globalized the world economy is. (See a related editorial on globalization and issues around it.)

Besides Singapore in first place, the second most powerful passports, in equal standing at a total score of 190, are Germany, Italy and Spain; in third place, are Austria, Finland, France, Japan, Luxembourg, South Korea and Sweden; in fourth, are Denmark, Ireland, Netherlands and the UK; in fifth, are Belgium, the Czech Republic, Malta, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal and Switzerland; in sixth are Australia, Hungary and Poland; in seventh are Canada and Greece; in eighth are Lithuania and the US; in ninth are Latvia, Slovakia, Slovenia; and in 10th, are Estonia and Iceland.

US makes slow progress
Of the countries sitting in the Top 10, the US has seen the smallest increase in its score on the Henley Passport Index over the past decade, securing visa-free access to just 12 additional destinations between 2013 and 2023. Singapore, by comparison, has increased its score by 25, pushing it five places up the ranking over the past 10 years to number one spot.

Henley & Partners also carried out research into the relationship between a country’s openness to foreigners – how many nations it allows to cross its borders visa-free – and its own citizens’ travel freedom, gauged using the Henley Passport Index. The new Henley Openness Index ranks all 199 countries worldwide according to the number of nationalities they permit entry to without a prior visa.

The Top 20 ‘most open’ countries are all small island nations or African states, except for Cambodia. There are 12 completely open countries that offer visa-free or visa-on-arrival entry to all 198 passports in the world (not counting their own), namely: Burundi, Comoro Islands, Djibouti, Guinea-Bissau, Maldives, Micronesia, Mozambique, Rwanda, Samoa, the Seychelles, Timor-Leste, and Tuvalu. 

At the bottom of the Henley Openness Index, four countries score zero, permitting no visa-free access for any passport: namely, Afghanistan, North Korea, Papua New Guinea, and Turkmenistan. They are followed by five countries that provide visa-free access to fewer than five other nationalities: namely, Libya, Bhutan, Eritrea, Equatorial Guinea, and India.

While American passport holders can access 184 (out of 227) destinations visa-free, the US itself only allows 44 other nationalities to pass through its borders visa-free, putting it way down the Henley Openness Index in 78th place (compared with 8th place on the Henley Passport Index). 

When comparing the two rankings, the US’s disparity in access versus its openness is the second biggest, narrowly trailing only Australia (and barely outpacing Canada). New Zealand and Japan also make it into the Top five countries with the biggest difference between the travel freedom they enjoy versus the visa-free access they provide to other nationalities.

British recovery
After falling in the rankings for six years since the Brexit referendum in 2016, the UK appears to have recovered, rising two places on the latest ranking to fourth place – a position it last held in 2017. The US, on the other hand, continues its now decade-long slide down the index, falling a further two places to eighth spot with access to just 184 destinations visa-free. Both the UK and the US jointly held first place on the index nearly 10 years ago in 2014.

Afghanistan remains entrenched at the bottom of the Henley Passport Index, with a visa-free access score of just 27, followed by Iraq (score of 29), and Syria (score of 30) – the three weakest passports in the world.

The general trend over the history of the 18-year-old ranking has been toward greater travel freedom, with the average number of destinations travelers are able to access visa-free nearly doubling from 58 in 2006 to 109 in 2023. 

However, the global mobility gap between those at the top and bottom of the index is now wider than it has ever been, with top-ranked Singapore able to access 165 more visa-free destinations than Afghanistan.

Dr Christian H Kaelin, chairman of Henley & Partners and the inventor of the passport index concept, says only eight countries worldwide have less visa-free access today than they did a decade ago while others have been more successful in securing greater travel freedom for their citizens. 

“The UAE has added an impressive 107 destinations to its visa-free score since 2013, resulting in a massive leap of 44 places in the ranking over the past 10 years from 56th to 12th position. This is almost double the next biggest climber, Colombia, which has enjoyed a jump of 28 places in the ranking to sit in 37th spot,” Dr Kaelin said.

“Ukraine and China are also among the Top 10 countries with the most improved rankings over the past decade. Far more than just a travel document that defines our freedom of movement, a strong passport also provides significant financial freedoms in terms of international investment and business opportunities,” he added.

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