Japan and Singapore knock off Germany as world’s best passports for visa-free travel

Monday, 5 March 2018 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Singapore and Japan have knocked Germany off the top spot of the 2018 Henley Passport Index, with citizens of both Asian nations now enjoying visa-free access to a record 180 destinations.

The German passport is now the third most powerful globally, providing its citizens with access to 179 destinations worldwide.

Both Singapore and Japan rose to the top of the index after, among other developments, Uzbekistan lifted visa requirements for Singaporean and Japanese nationals in early February. Uzbekistan’s efforts to increase tourist inflows saw a number of other countries in Asia and the Middle East (including Turkey, Indonesia, and Israel) gaining access.

In general, the Asian and Middle East regions have in recent months seen high levels of visa-policy activity compared with their European and American counterparts, where the signing of new cross-border agreements on short-term travel has been far less frequent.

As a result of these shifts, the UK has dropped down one rank to 4th place overall, but the country still provides its citizens with visa-free access to 177 destinations. The US continues to hold 5th place on the index, offering its passport holders access to 176 destinations. The Russian Federation, meanwhile, has climbed three places to claim 45th position. Partly as a result of China’s recent visa-waiver agreement with the UAE, the North Asian nation has shown the most growth in its region over the past year, moving up 11 places compared with 2017 and now ranking 74th globally.

Dominic Volek, Managing Partner of Henley & Partners Singapore and Head of Southeast Asia, said, “The improvement in ranking for both Singapore and Japan highlight that the region has become recognized as a dominant player and that traditional power has shifted. The uncertainty of the EU market may encourage more focus on countries such as Singapore and Japan given their increasing economic stability and global mobility.”

Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan sit at the bottom of the Henley Passport Index, each still only able to access 30 or fewer destinations visa-free.

The Japanese and Singaporean passports are among the few in the world that provide visa-free access to all of the four major global economies — India, China, the EU, and the US — which is what makes them amongst the best travel documents to have today.

Over the past year, China and Indonesia have also made great strides in improving the global mobility of their citizens, each gaining access to 13 additional destinations and climbing 11 and 10 positions on the index, respectively.

Dr. Parag Khanna, Senior Fellow at the Centre on Asia and Globalisation at the National University of Singapore, says the power of Asian nations is growing steadily.

 “It is perhaps long overdue that wealthy Asian states such as Singapore and Japan would equal and now even exceed Germany’s ranking among the world’s most powerful passports,” said Khanna. “These two states in particular are identified as peaceful commercial powers, with their citizens interested primarily in business and investment activities. For its part, Japan has long been one of the world’s leading capital exporters, and this role has grown in the wake of ‘Abenomics’, the set of economic policies implemented by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the outset of his second term. Singapore, which has long been the portal for investment into Southeast Asia, is now also the major conduit for outbound Asian investment as well.

 “The most recent rankings also show promising gains for South Korea and Malaysia. South Korea has edged ahead of Australia and New Zealand, reflecting its pattern of international commercial prowess in the mold of Japan. Malaysia has gained ground on most EU members, with its businesses now reaching across Asia and Africa. We can certainly expect that in the coming years more Asian powers will use the combination of commercial expansionism and reciprocal entry policies to climb up the Henley Passport Index.”

Volek points out that the countries that offer the most credible citizenship-by-investment programs in the world consistently outperform on the Henley Passport Index.

“Malta, for example, offers the top-ranked investment migration program globally, and the country also scores very highly on the index, holding the world’s 7th most powerful passport and offering visa-free access to 173 destinations,” he said. “Austria also makes it into the top 10, with access to a total of 177 destinations. Cyprus is not far behind in 15th place, with 163 destinations accessible visa-free.”

Caribbean countries offering citizenship-by-investment programs have likewise performed well on this year’s index.

 “For those looking to improve their global mobility, connectivity, and access with a stronger passport, alternative citizenship is the most effective solution. Demand for citizenship-by-investment programs is rapidly growing as talented and successful individuals seek to transcend the limitations imposed on them by their passports. The Henley Passport Index is relevant to anyone seeking to understand how they can strengthen their level of access as well as to governments trying to understand their passport power in a global context,” concludes Volek.

The Henley Passport Index is based on exclusive data from IATA.