Yesterday, residence advisory firm Henley & Partners released its 2018 Henley Passport Index, a comprehensive measure of the most powerful passports in the world. The Index offers a fully up-to-date list of which countries each nation’s passport can access visa-free. While the pole position was held by the United States as recently as 2015, a lot has changed in the past three years. The country that ranked the highest in this year’s index? Japan.
Japan was thrust into the top spot when Myanmar opened its doors to the nation last week, the latest step in granting Japanese citizens visa-free access to a remarkable 190 countries around the world. The move knocked Singapore, the reigning champion, into second place, while Germany, which began 2018 with the world’s strongest passport, now sits tied with France and South Korea for third. “The Henley Passport Index is the only passport index that is based on IATA [International Air Transport Association] data, enhanced by extensive in-house research, supported by expert commentary, and updated regularly throughout the year,” explains Henley & Partners. They go on to describe their work as the “most robust, credible, and reliable index of its kind.”
For the most part, Japanese and American citizens have access to the same set of countries, with just a few notable exceptions. Japanese citizens do not need a visa to enter any of China, India, Uzbekistan, Vietnam or Myanmar, while Americans need a visa for all of them. Not knowing these discrepancies can have a nasty impact on your travels—getting denied while trying to board your flight is not fun—and can affect work arrangements for those working remotely as well. Yet a nation with a powerful passport is not necessarily a happy one. In a recently-published report of the happiest countries in the world, the United States came in 18th, while Japan was all the way down at 54th.
The top of the list aside, there are success stories buried deeper down, too. The United Arab Emirates has risen from 62nd place in 2006 to 21st place today, securing its position as the most powerful passport in the Middle East. The other big winner is China, which also gained access to Myanmar last week and has climbed 14 spots in the rankings since the start of 2017. At the same time, some nations’ rankings are downright surprising. Malta is tied with Australia at #7, while Hungary, Slovenia and Malaysia all share the #10 spot. Perhaps less surprising is the bottom of the list, which shows that the least desirable passports are held by the citizens of Afghanistan and Iraq.
While North American and Western European nations certainly perform well, this year’s Henley Passport Index may be just another subtle indicator that the global centers of power are moving east. In 2015, U.K. and U.S. passports were the most powerful globally; today, the top two spots reside firmly in Asia. Diplomacy and border relations are infinitely complex machines, machines far too opaque for most of us to grasp. What is crystal clear, though, is that Asia, both economically and politically, is capitalizing on its current boom in a serious way.
The Ten Most Powerful Passports In The World (See the full list here)
- France, Germany, South Korea
- Denmark, Finland, Italy, Spain, Sweden
- Austria, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, United Kingdom, United States
- Belgium, Canada, Ireland, Switzerland
- Australia, Greece, Malta
- Czech Republic, New Zealand
- Hungary, Malaysia, Slovenia
More Info: forbes.com