As 2017 comes to a close, Singapore boasts the strongest passport while the U.S. has unsurprisingly lost ground since Donald Trump took office. In a Boarding Pass special study, The Cultured Traveller establishes the current strength of the world’s passports, and how factors like Brexit and the surprise election of an inexperienced US President have drastically affected the rankings.
A passport gives an individual the ability to travel the world with relative ease, unless, of course, the passport has been issued by a country like Afghanistan or Somalia. As the world becomes a much smaller place due to the diminishing cost of flying, and the increasing ease with which travellers can hop on a plane and visit new destinations, so the desirability of a particular passport is becoming of much greater importance, with many nations now offering their passports to non-nationals, in exchange for a sizeable investment in their country’s economies, often of many millions.
People born in countries with less desirable passports cannot even take a holiday without weeks or often months of planning and paperwork, not to mention costs which can run into hundreds of dollars for a single visa application to visit just one country. Even then there’s no guarantee that the applicant will be granted a visa and permitted to travel, with applications quite often refused, and costly multiple re-applications needed to eventually facilitate just one trip. Meanwhile, others can hop on a plane on a whim to pretty much any destination, and either freely enter a country or easily obtain a visa on arrival.
The passports we hold now not only influence our holidaying options, but also our working and love lives. Despite the world becoming seemingly more mobile and interdependent, there is still huge disparity in the levels of travel freedom between countries. Generally, visa requirements are a reflection of a country’s relationship with others, and take into account diplomatic relationships between countries, reciprocal visa arrangements, security risks, and the dangers of visa and immigration regulation violations.
Last year we studied the price of buying a decent passport via one of many country’s so-called “citizenship-by-investment” programs. This year we have witnessed several major events that have had an impact on global mobility – including Brexit and the election of U.S. President Donald Trump. Both of these events have been interpreted by the global community as steps toward restricting movement and creating barriers to entry, and this trend, towards curbing travel freedom, is already apparent in a shift in the rankings of this year’s Visa Restrictions Index.
For the first time ever, according to the most recent rankings, Singapore can now claim to have the world’s strongest passport, which is the first time an Asian nation has topped the list, knocking out perennially strong European countries. The number one ranking means that citizens of Singapore are able to enter the greatest number of countries visa-free or by securing a visa on arrival, making the global financial powerhouse’s passport the world’s most powerful as 2017 comes to a close. For instance, Singaporean passport holders do not need visas for China, Cuba and Brazil. But U.S. passport holders travelling to these three nations are required to have visas.
Specifically, it was Paraguay’s removal of visa requirements for Singapore that pushed it into the top spot. After Singapore, the next highest ranked nations are Germany and Sweden. Germany often ranks at or near the top. Holders of German passports – ranked number two this year – can travel to 176 out of a possible 218 countries without applying for a visa, while Brits can visit 173.
Passports of 193 United Nations member countries and six territories were considered … Denmark, Finland, Italy, Spain, Norway and South Korea share fourth place with the U.K … Several countries – in addition to the U.K. – lost ground this year, including Brazil, China, India, South Africa, Russia and Ghana … Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan prop up the table, each with visa-free access to fewer than 30 countries.
Unsurprisingly, according to many commentators, an American passport lost some of its global muscle in the months since Donald Trump took office, and is now ranked in sixth position, alongside the travel documents of Malaysia, Ireland and Canada. Time will tell whether Trump’s erratic foreign policy, together with the introduction of measures which restrict the access of certain groups to the States, not to mention his incessant Tweeting, will further devalue the strength of America’s passport.