How Powerful Is Your Passport? These Are The Best, Post-Pandemic, In 2021

A passport isn’t just a necessity for a two-week break away; it’s as much about a person’s freedom, their right to live and work in other places and in many instances, a better way of life.

The newly updated Henley Passport Index highlights how far the power of the U.S. and U.K. passport has declined year-on-year (and how far passports issued by APAC countries have risen).

The pandemic has shown that a weak passport isn’t the preserve of less-advanced countries anymore, that poor decision-making and electoral decisions can change the power of a passport in the space of a few months–this has been evidenced by the rush in 2020 of Americans buying a second passport and the rush by British people to apply for second EU passports in the aftermath of Brexit.

As more people become able to work from anywhere, the Covid-19 pandemic has shown that the possibility of a second passport offers a way to continue to maintain the travel freedoms once expected of a birth passport for many American and British people. Interestingly, the most powerful passport in the world in 2021 is Japanese; one of about 50 countries in the world that doesn’t allow a person to hold more than one nationality.

The world’s most powerful passports

The annual Henley Passport Index takes data from the International Air Travel Association (IATA) and covers 199 passports and 227 travel destinations–it examines how many countries a passport holder can access without needing a visa. As reported by CNN, it is updated in real time through the year, as and when visa policy changes come into effect. Temporary Covid-19 travel restrictions have not been taken into account.

1. Japan (191 destinations)

2. Singapore (190)

3. South Korea, Germany (189)

4. Italy, Finland, Spain, Luxembourg (188)

5. Denmark, Austria (187)

6. Sweden, France, Portugal, Netherlands, Ireland (186)

7. Switzerland, United States, United Kingdom, Norway, Belgium, New Zealand (185)

8. Greece, Malta, Czech Republic, Australia (184)

9. Canada (183)

10. Hungary (181)

The U.S. steadily declining, APAC countries increasing in power

The Henley Index has been measured for the past 16 years and originally, it was most of the EU countries, the U.K. and the U.S. which held dominance and were the most powerful, allowing their citizens unimpeded access to more countries around the world. However, there is a trend now for APAC countries to be the most powerful (the 13 countries of the Asia-Pacific region).

Over the past seven years, the U.S. has fallen from top place to number seven in 2021. With the U.K., the power of its passport is steadily declining year-on-year. It is the third consecutive year that Japan has held the top spot, either as a tie with Singapore, or on its own.

In the short-term, Henley believes that the challenges associated with Covid-19 won’t help the U.S. or U.K. either. Whilst both countries are in seventh place on the list with access to 185 countries, during the pandemic they are presently reduced to just 75 countries (U.S.) and fewer than 70 for the U.K.

As APAC countries recover better from the pandemic, Henley forecasts that these passports will continue to be the most powerful, short-term, too.

Weak passports are now a problem for everyone

The biggest thing to become apparent from Covid-19 is that a passport’s richness isn’t related just to the economic clout of a nation; no one is immune. Whereas once, citizens of less advanced countries with a lack of social freedom or poor economic development would have found themselves with a low-ranking passport.

Increasingly, it is also a country’s failure of risk management, health readiness, and monitoring and detection that will cause it to be demoted in power and desirability. “In other words, global immobility is no longer solely the plight of citizens of less advanced countries.”

As Henley points out, Covid-19 has made millions of people, digital nomads, able to travel from anywhere. Greg Lindsay, Director of Applied Research at NewCities, says “the moniker (of digital nomad) now effectively describes anyone with a Covid-induced mandate to work from anywhere—and thousands, if not millions, are pursuing pandemic arbitrage in their choice of destinations. The evidence is clear, including record numbers of Americans seeking secondary citizenship in 2020, and Britons rushing to secure EU access ahead of Brexit.”

The worst passports to hold
Several countries around the world have visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to fewer than 40 countries. These include:

North Korea (39 destinations)
Libya, Nepal (38)
Palestinian territories (37)
Somalia, Yemen (33)
Pakistan (32)
Syria (29)
Iraq (28)
Afghanistan (26)

Passports contain lots of information, possibly health

During a global pandemic, the power of someone’s passport takes on heightened meaning–many now contain biometric data that detail personal characteristics and measurements.

In some cases, physical passports themselves are no longer necessary to pass borders and people can pass through control points by scanning personal body parts such as eyes or fingerprints–Eurostar started scanning passenger faces in June 2020 instead of asking for travel documents, Emirates uses iris scans to check-in at Dubai airport, Beijing’s Daxing airport uses facial scans as a default passport and Paris’ Charles de Gaulles and Orly airports are planning to be up and running with biometric capability by 2024 for the Paris Olympics.

Some industry insiders believe that passports will increasingly come to include health information allowing ‘safe travel’ across foreign lands in the truest sense, with the healthiest people passing freely across borders. Armand Arton, CEO of Arton Capital believes strongly that this will be the case, saying that medical information in passports would help control the spread of disease, could flag immunization status, enable the tracking and tracing of Covid-19 in real-time and allow for immediate restrictions. The issues of data protection and civil liberties however, pose obstacles to increased implementation.

There are other passport indexes, which calculate the power of passports based on other criteria; Arton Capital’s Passport Index considers 193 United Nations members and six territories — ROC Taiwan, Macau (SAR China), Hong Kong (SAR China), Kosovo, Palestinian Territory and the Vatican. Its 2021 index put Germany at the top.

Published: 10 January 2021

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