Germany knocked off top spot as world's most powerful passports revealed

Oliver Smith
Only two nations have a more powerful passport than the UK - Copyright by Michal Krakowiak

Japan has knocked Germany off top spot on the list of the world's most powerful passport, according to new research, while the UK has fallen from third to fourth. 

The ranking by Henley & Partners, a citizenship and planning firm, takes into account how many countries can be visited without applying for a visa. Japanese citizens can travel to a record 189 out of a possible 218, most recently Uzbekistan, while Germans can visit 188 and Britons 186. 

The latest research highlights the growth of visa-free travel in Asia, thanks to up to 40 visa-waiver agreements signed by governments since the beginning of the year. 

At a glance | The world's most powerful passports

"While Schengen Area countries have traditionally topped the index as a result of their open access to Europe, developed Asian nations have been able to secure equally high scores in recent years thanks to their strong international trade and diplomatic relations," the report says. 

The UAE, in 23rd, is the fastest climber, ascending 38 places since 2008 after securing more visa exemptions for its citizens in 2018 than any other country in the world.

At a glance | The world's least powerful passports

The UK topped the 2015 rankings, alongside Germany, but ceded that spot after several countries relaxed travel restrictions to the latter. It was leapfrogged by Sweden in 2016, and then Denmark, Finland, Italy and Spain in 2017, but now sits in fourth alongside Norway, Austria, Luxembourg, Netherlands and Portugal. 

2017 saw Belarus offer British citizens visa-free entry, Kazakhstan and Vietnam renew their visa-free arrangements with the UK, and Ethiopia offer a new e-visa option, helping boost the UK's overall position. 

Indonesian passport holders can visit eight extra countries without a visa this year Credit: ALAMY

Afghanistan and Iraq prop up the table. Their passport holders can only enter 30 countries without a visa, just behind Syria and Somalia, who each have just 32 accessible countries on their list. 

Overall, 143 countries saw the power of their passport improve over the course of 2017, while seven countries saw visa-free access reduced.

Among the biggest climbers for the first quarter of 2018 were Georgia (111 visa-free countries, up from 99), Ukraine (128, up from 114), China (70, up from 60), and Indonesia (71, up from 63). 

The UAE, of which Dubai is the largest city, is climbing the passport power rankings Credit: Markus_Gortz/MARKUS@MARKUSGORTZ.COM

"As the world economy has become increasingly globalized, the need for greater visa-free access has grown steadily," said the report. "Across the economic spectrum, individuals want to transcend the constraints imposed on them by their country of origin and access business, financial, career, and lifestyle opportunities on a global scale."

The impact of Brexit on the UK's ranking remains to be seen. It seems likely that travel to and from EU countries won't be hindered, but will trips further afield come with more red tape?

"We have witnessed several major events recently that are likely to have an impact on global mobility – including Brexit and the election of US President Donald Trump," said Dr Christian H. Kälin, chairman of Henley & Partners. "Both can be interpreted as steps toward restricting movement and creating barriers to entry.

The countries making it easier for Britons to visit in 2018

"There is still huge disparity in the levels of travel freedom between countries, despite the world becoming seemingly more mobile and interdependent," he added. "Generally, visa requirements are a reflection of a country's relationship with others, and take into account diplomatic relationships between countries, reciprocal visa arrangements, security risks, and the dangers of visa and immigration regulation violations."

Earlier this month, China announced that it was allowing citizens of 59 countries to travel to its popular Hainan province visa-free for a month.

Dr Kälin said: "Countries such as China and the UAE that are rapidly ascending the Henley Passport Index remind us that opening your borders to others results in reciprocal benefits and improved passport strength for your own citizens. The countries that perform well on the index are those that are embracing new models of global citizenship and adapting to, rather than shrinking away from, an increasingly globalised world."