‘Over the past few years, we have seen the world adapt to mobility as a permanent condition of global life’ – latest annual update highlights the power of your passport

As we enter the new decade, Asian countries have firmly established their lead in supporting the need for enhanced global mobility, according to the latest update of the Henley Passport Index, which ranks all the world’s passports according to the number of destinations their holders can access without a prior visa.

The Henley Passport Index claims to be the most robust index of its kind, but is among a number of measures now available to reference passport power. This latest update is based on a total of 199 different passports against 227 different travel destinations, including countries, territories, and micro-states.

For the third consecutive year, Japan has secured the top spot on the index – based on exclusive data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) — with a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 191. Singapore holds onto its 2nd-place position with a score of 190, while South Korea drops down a rank to 3rd place alongside Germany, giving their passport holders visa-free/visa-on-arrival access to 189 destinations worldwide.

The US and the UK continue their downward trajectory on the index’s rankings. While both countries remain in the top 10, their shared 8th-place position is a significant decline from the number one spot they jointly held in 2015. Elsewhere in the top 10, Finland and Italy share 4th place, with a score of 188, while Denmark, Luxembourg, and Spain together hold 5th place, with a score of 187.

“Asian countries’ dominance of the top spots is a clear argument for the benefits of open-door policies and the introduction of mutually beneficial trade agreements,” explains Dr Christian H Kaelin, chairman of Henley & Partners and the inventor of the passport index concept. “Over the past few years, we have seen the world adapt to mobility as a permanent condition of global life.”

In significant shifts elsewhere in the rankings, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) continues its rise, ranked 18th place with a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 171. Over the past five years, the UAE has more than doubled the number of destinations its citizens are able to travel to without a prior visa and over the past ten years the country has risen 47 places in the ranking, the largest rise of any nation across the world. Taiwan (+37), Colombia (+29), Timor-Leste (+28), Albania (+24), Ukraine (+22) and Bosnia and Herzegovina (+22) have also risen more than 20 places over the same period.

“The latest rankings show that the countries that embrace this reality are thriving, with their citizens enjoying ever-increasing passport power and the array of benefits that come with it,” adds Dr Kaelin.

At the other end of the travel freedom spectrum, Afghanistan remains at the bottom of the index, with its nationals only able to visit a mere 25 destinations without a prior visa. Iraq is just ahead with 28 accessible destinations, followed by Syria (29 countries), Pakistan and Somalia (32 countries), Yemen (33 countries) and Libya (37 countries).

At this end of the scale, Nigeria has seen the largest fall, slipping 19 positions over the past decade, just ahead of Syria and Sierra Leone, which have fallen 18 and 16 places respectively. Libya, Yemen, Pakistan and Gambia are also significant fallers.

While the latest results from the Henley Passport Index show that globally, people are more mobile than ever before, they also indicate a growing divide when it comes to travel freedom. Analysis of historical data from the index reveals that this extraordinary global mobility gap from Japan at the top to Afghanistan at the bottom is the starkest it has been since the index’s inception in 2006.