As the world continues to reduce Covid-19 restrictions and we create a new routine, travel has begun to ramp up again. As an American, I have rarely had to get a tourist visa. The perks of holding my little blue passport were clear as I traveled around South East Asia with a variety of people with a variety of passports.
A few weeks ago, on a trip to Vietnam, where I had to purchase a tourist visa over a week in advance, I was talking with some friends about how I was surprised I actually needed to get a visa for such a short trip. This spurred us to start comparing how the visa for Vietnam compared for an American, a Brit, an Austrian, and a Frenchman. So we did the only logical thing and looked up who had the strongest passport. To our surprise, we were all about even at spot six or seven, and Japan, South Korea, and Singapore comfortably took the top spots for the strongest passport. So why is this? Let me tell you what I’ve learned so far.
What is a “strong passport”? Organizations such as Henley & Partners or the Passport Index receive information from the International Air Transport Authority (IATA) to help them create a ranking for the strongest passport. Both organizations use detailed lists of visa requirements across all 199 passports. Then these organizations cross-check these visa requirements against the possible 227 travel destinations to follow shifts in visa policy across all countries. In short, the strongest passports are chosen based on their ability to travel to the highest amount of destinations without needing a visa.
With that quick background, let’s dive into why Japan, South Korea, and Singapore hold the world’s strongest passports.
Japan: Ranked #1. Access to 193 out of 199 destinations without a visa.
Singapore: Ranked #1. Access to 193 out of 199 destinations without a visa.
South Korea: Ranked #2. Access to 192 out of 199 destinations without a visa.
What is most interesting about Japan, Singapore, and South Korea’s passport strength is that Asia as a whole ranks third behind Europe and North/South America for more average visa-free entry agreements or visa-on-arrival agreements. Though the top two spots are filled by Asian passports, the region as a whole ranks right in the middle in terms of mobility. Ultimately, this fact shows the intense divide in development between countries like the top three and others, such as India at 82, Vietnam at 87, and Cambodia at 88.
Japan, Singapore, and South Korea’s passport strength are closely tied to their reputation across the globe and the way they go about their diplomatic relations. Overall, all three countries have low levels of crime and terrorism, making them safe citizens to easily allow into a wide variety of countries because of low-risk assessments. All have relatively consistent political stability and a strong economy. Similarly, the big companies headquartered in all three nations make it appealing to other countries to make it easy for citizens to travel because they bring with them international business opportunities. The cherry on top is low levels of corruption, and they are very good at handling their diplomatic relations.
In addition to the general stability and money in the country, they have effectively created a long list of visa-free entry agreements across the world with different governments, making it easier for passport holders to travel without needing a visa. In general, their agreements and the security in government and economy make allowing passport holders in with little restrictions.
So the big takeaways are; wealthy countries have more access to travel without a visa, the form of government does not predict global mobility –the government just needs to be stable– and international business opportunities make it appealing for easy global mobility.
Edited By: Liz Coffman
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