Japan continues to hold the top spot, with its passport holders allowed to access 191 countries without a visa.

By Rachel Chang
January 07, 2021
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As the surge in coronavirus cases continues to shut down borders and create lockdowns around the globe, international travel remains a dream of the future. For the 2021 Henley & Partners Passport Index's quarterly update, researchers ranked the most powerful passports in the world, noting that temporary restrictions were not taken into consideration.

Topping the list is Japan, with its passport holders able to visit 191 countries visa-free in normal times. The Asian nation has held the top spot alone or shared it with Singapore for three consecutive years

Singapore's passport holders came in second place, with access to 190 nations; South Korea and Germany landed in the third spot, with 189 countries. Fourth place, with 188 destinations, is shared by Italy, Finland, Spain, and Luxembourg, while fifth place, with 187 countries, is held by Denmark and Austria. The sixth spot is a five-way tie between Sweden, France, Portugal, the Netherlands, and Ireland, with 186 countries. 

The U.S. is in the seventh position, with access to 186 countries visa-free — a spot it shares with Switzerland, the U.K., Norway, Belgium, and New Zealand. At the very bottom of the list are Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, each with access to less than 30 nations.

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Credit: Peter Garrard Beck/Getty

The researchers, who have been running the Henley & Partners Passport Index for 16 years, noted that over the last seven years, the U.S. has dropped from the top spot to the seventh, though the current restrictions mean that far fewer countries can actually be accessed visa-free by American passport holders. "Due to pandemic-related travel constraints, travelers from both the U.K. and U.S. currently face major restrictions from over 105 countries, with U.S. passport holders able to travel to fewer than 75 destinations, while U.K. passport holders currently have access to fewer than 70," the release stated

"Just a year ago, all indications were that the rates of global mobility would continue to rise, that travel freedom would increase, and that holders of powerful passports would enjoy more access than ever before," Dr. Christian H. Kaelin, chairman of Henley & Partners and founder of the Passport Index, said in a statement. "The global lockdown negated these glowing projections, and as restrictions begin to lift, the results from the latest index are a reminder of what passport power really means in a world upended by the pandemic."

The release also noted that the number Asian countries at the top of the list is a "relatively new phenomenon," since the U.S., U.K., and European Union countries tended to have access to the most countries. "APAC region's position of strength will continue as it includes some of the first countries to begin the process of recovering from the pandemic," the release stated. Also of note is the United Arab Emirates' move from 62nd place in 2006 to 16th today, in part because of new visa agreements. 

To determine the rankings, the firm looked at exclusive data obtained from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which holds the world's largest database of travel information, accompanied by its own research. 

Henley & Partners isn't the only Passport Index out there. Arton Capital also runs a real-time ranking. At the time of publishing, the top spot on their list was held by Germany, followed by Sweden, Finland, and Spain, all tied for second.