The world’s most (and least) powerful passports in 2023


For the fifth year running, Japan crowns the index. Japanese citizens can now visit an astonishing 193 destinations out of 227 visa-free.

As we enter the new year, the latest results from the Henley Passport Index provide fascinating insights into a world characterized by extraordinary upheaval and offer a revealing look at what lies ahead. For the fifth year running, Japan crowns the Henley Passport Index, which is based on exclusive and official data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA). It is the original ranking of all the world’s passports according to the number of destinations their holders can access without a prior visa.

Japanese citizens are now able to visit an astonishing 193 destinations out of 227 around the world visa-free, while South Koreans and Singaporeans, whose countries are tied in 2nd place on the index, enjoy a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 192. Germany and Spain are joint 3rd, with visa-free access to 190 destinations worldwide. The UK and the US remain in 6th and 7th places, with scores of 187 and 186, respectively, and it appears increasingly unlikely that either country will ever regain the top spot on the index which they jointly held nearly a decade ago in 2014.

With global travel now at around 75% of pre-pandemic levels, those with the opportunity to do so appear to be embracing what has been termed ‘revenge travel’. But deeper analysis of the index reveals the darker side to this optimistic picture. Afghanistan remains firmly at the bottom of the index, with a score of just 27 – 166 fewer visa-free destinations than Japan, which represents the widest global mobility gap in the index’s 18-year history.

As indicated by exclusive new research conducted by leading residence and citizenship advisory firm Henley & Partners into the link between passport strength and access to the global economy, citizens of the index’s lowest-ranking countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq (visa-free score of 29), and Syria (visa-free score of 30) are effectively shut out of a shockingly wide breadth of opportunities for economic mobility and growth.

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Chairman of Henley & Partners, Dr. Christian H. Kaelin, who invented the passport index concept nearly 20 years ago, says that this latest, eye-opening study enhances our understanding of what passport power means in concrete financial terms. “The Henley Passport Index measures visa-free access to 227 destinations across the world, which of course makes it an extremely useful tool for travelers. However, for global citizens and international businesspeople, a better measure of economic mobility and opportunity afforded by their passports is an indication of what share of the world’s GDP is accessible to them visa-free. Our latest research into how much global economic access each passport provides is a useful tool for investors, in addition to giving new insight into the ever-widening economic inequality and wealth disparity that has come to define our world.”

The direct link between passport strength and economic power
By combining Henley Passport Index data and World Bank GDP data, the new research ranks all 199 passports in the world in terms of their Henley Passport Power (HPP) score, a term that indicates the percentage of global GDP each passport provides to its holders’ visa-free. Take the Japanese passport, for instance, that gives visa-free access to 193 destinations (85% of the world). Collectively, these countries account for a whopping 98% of the global economy (with Japan’s own GDP contribution being around 5%).

To contrast this figure with a passport from the lower end of the spectrum, Nigerian passport holders can access only 46 destinations visa-free (20% of the world), with these countries accounting for just 1.5% of global GDP. At the bottom of the ranking, the Afghanistan passport provides visa-free access to just 12% of the world and less than 1% of global economic output.

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In terms of percentage of global GDP, the US and China have the lion’s share, with 25% and 19% respectively, but American passport holders can access a further 43% of the world’s economic output visa-free, bringing their total to 68%, whereas Chinese passport holders can only access an additional 7% visa-free, taking their total access to just 26% of global GDP.

Looking at another set of comparisons, South Korea and Russia have similar national GDPs of around 1.9% of global economic output. However, South Korea has a Henley Passport Index visa-free score of 192, giving its passport holders access to 81% of the global GDP, while Russia has a score of just 118, giving its passport holders access to only 19% of the world’s economy.

India fares even worse, despite having the world’s fifth-largest economy: its passport holders can access just 59 destinations worldwide and only 6.7% of global GDP, of which the country’s own GDP accounts for around half. South African passport holders have access to nearly double the number of destinations Indian passport holders do – 106 compared to 59 – but those destination countries account for a mere 15% of global GDP.

Key benefits of greater visa-free access to economic output
On a macro level, the new study by Henley & Partners reveals that just 6% of passports worldwide give their holders visa-free access to more than 70% of the global economy. And only 17% of countries give their passport holders visa-free access to more than four-fifths of the world’s 227 destinations.

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Commenting in the Henley Global Mobility Report 2023 Q1, launched today alongside the 2023 Henley Passport Index, financial writer and global investment expert Jeff D. Opdyke says although we don’t often think of our passports in a financial sense, they are a gateway to fiscal opportunity. “A stronger passport isn’t just about greater freedom of movement: it’s about greater financial freedoms in terms of investing and entrepreneurial opportunities.”

Dr. Areef Suleman, Director of Economic Research and Statistics at the Islamic Development Bank Institute, agrees and points out that cross-country visa-free access to more stable economies helps investors mitigate country- or jurisdiction-specific risks. “In general, greater access to the world’s economic output is advantageous as it expands the basket of products available to any individual. While this is also attainable through international trade, the options available with physical access are far greater, extending to the use of services that are non-exportable such as better-quality education and healthcare.”

Prof. Trevor Williams, the former chief economist at Lloyd’s Bank Commercial Banking, says the research proves the causal relationship between the ability to travel, foreign investment in a country, increased trade, and economic growth. “The analysis shows predictive power flowing from the Henley Passport Index and Henley Passport Power to economic growth. Moreover, these links are mutually reinforcing and agglomerative. Skills and talent go where there is the ability to work, invest, and travel, attracting others wishing to do the same and creating a positive loop.”