Japan and Singapore Now Have the World’s Most Powerful Passports
Japanese and Singaporean citizens hold the world’s most powerful passports in the final quarter of the year, being able to visit a respective total of 190 destinations without a visa.
The ranking comes from the Henley Passport Index, which collects data from the International Air Transport Authority (IATA) and supplements, enhances and updates through “extensive in-house research and open-source online data.”
The latest index, which reflects data as of Oct. 1, includes 199 passports and 227 destinations.
Since the beginning of 2018, Japan and/or Singapore have held the top positions, indicating Asia’s dominance amid a global economic transformation and shifting power centers.
For most of the index’s 14-year history, the top spot has been held by either the U.S. or a European country.
“This shifted dramatically in 2018, with Asian countries now firmly established as world leaders when it comes to both global economic activity and global mobility,” the index noted.
The U.S. and the U.K. topped the index in 2014, but both countries have now slipped down to the sixth place.
Meanwhile, South Korea ranks second alongside Finland and Germany, with passport holders from all three countries able to visit 188 destinations sans prior visa.
Other Asian jurisdictions included in this quarter’s Top 20 are Malaysia (#12), the United Arab Emirates (#15) and Hong Kong SAR (#18), allowing passport holders to access 177, 172 and 168 destinations, respectively.
However, Asian countries also have the least powerful passports, with Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan allowing holders to access only 29, 27 and 25 destinations, respectively.
“Our ongoing research has shown that when we talk about ‘passport power,’ we are discussing more than simply the destinations a holder can travel to without acquiring a visa in advance,” Dr. Christian H. Kaelin, chairman of Henley & Partners and the creator of the passport index concept, said in a press release.
He added, “Often, there is a strong correlation between visa freedom and other benefits such as business and investment freedom, independence of the judiciary, fiscal health, and property rights.”
One notable improvement is UAE, which climbed an impressive five places over the last three months after gaining visa-free access to several African countries such as South Africa (#53, access to 100 destinations).
“While the UAE may not be able to compete with Saudi Arabia – the regional hegemon – in terms of military strength and economic power, the projection of its soft power is uncontested in the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council], making the UAE an embodiment of inspiration for other GCC countries,” said Lorraine Charles, an associate at Cambridge University’s Centre for Business Research.
Using historic data from the Henley Passport Index and the Index of Economic Freedom, which examines economic policy developments in 186 countries, political science researchers Uğur Altundal and Ömer Zarpli of Syracuse University and the University of Pittsburgh, respectively, found a “strongly positive connection” between visa freedom and several indicators of economic freedom, such as foreign direct investment inflows, property rights, tax burden and investment freedom.
“Countries that have higher visa scores also rank higher in economic freedom, especially in investment, financial, and business freedom,” they said, citing Singapore as an example for topping nearly all economic indicators.