The latest ranking of passports with the most access to countries for visa-free travel shows Asian countries are vying for dominance, with the U.S. passport stagnating somewhat.
Japan, Singapore, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain have the world’s most powerful passports, allowing visa-free entry to 194 countries out of 227. That’s according to the 2024 Henley Passport Index rankings released on Wednesday.
Henley, a global residence and citizenship by investment consultancy, ranks the world’s passports according to the latest International Air Transport Association (IATA) data on the number of destinations their holders can access without a prior visa.
Japan and Singapore have vied for the top spots in the rankings for the past five years, but four European countries have now joined them to share the top spot.
Passports Offering the Most Visa-Free Travel
|Qualifying Countries in 2024
|Number of Nations Providing Visa-Free Access
|1. France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Singapore, and Spain
|2. Finland, South Korea, and Sweden
|3. Austria, Denmark, Ireland, and Netherlands
|4. Belgium, Luxembourg, Norway, Portugal, and UK
|5. Greece, Malta, and Switzerland
|6. Australia, Czechia, New Zealand, and Poland
|7. Canada, Hungary, and the United States
U.S. Passports Not the Most Powerful
The U.S. is in seventh place, now granting its passport holders visa-free access to 188 destinations. Its ranking has bounced between sixth and eighth place in the past few years. The U.S. last held the top passport ranking spot, jointly with the UK, in 2014.
The U.S. appetite for international travel remains strong, as the State Department said it issued a record 24 million passports between October 2022 and September 2023.
Skift recently reported U.S. passport processing times only returned to normal pre-pandemic levels in December, following lengthy delays due to the unprecedented demand. Over 46 million Americans traveled abroad in the first six months of 2023, a 32% increase from the same period in 2022, according to the National Travel and Tourism Office.
Industry analysis showed that extended visa delays, especially for travelers from major source markets like Brazil, India, Mexico, and China, have impacted the recovery of U.S. tourism.
The U.S. has, however, extended its policy of waiving in-person interviews for certain low-risk visa applicants in December, aiming to alleviate the backlog. This move is expected to significantly increase the number of eligible applicants and boost traveler numbers and spending in the U.S. International traveler spending in the U.S. in October 2023 was close to $1 billion lower than the figure recorded in October 2019.
Closing the Global Mobility Gap
The UAE has been the top performer over the last decade to narrow its global mobility gap, adding 106 visa-free destinations since 2014 — with a 44-place leap from 55th to 11th place.
Tourism to the region has seen an impact from the Israel-Hamas conflict. Despite the ongoing concerns about the war, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region wants to grow travel to the region. The Council intends to implement a Schengen-like visa system to facilitate seamless tourist travel across the region. Commenting on the UAE index ranking, Dr. Robert Mogielnicki, Senior Resident Scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, said the Unified Tourist Visa project is “an important example of subregional integration and connectivity — a process that would be extremely difficult to replicate across the broader Middle East and North Africa.”
India, with the world’s largest population, retains its lower end of the index, ranking 80th, with visa-free access to 57 destinations.
China has also made substantial inroads into ease of travel for its passport holders, rising 21 places in the rankings. The country is 62nd and able to visit 85 destinations without a visa, up from 44 in 2014.
Despite China’s poor ranking compared to the Passport Index’s top 10 countries, the Asian country continues to impact global travel trends significantly. The predicted surge in travel after China’s post-pandemic reopening failed to materialize, with visa access seen as one of the concerns. Industry analysts expect China’s outbound travel to finally have an impact this year, as detailed in Skift’s latest feature, China’s Great Reopening: Take 2.
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Photo credit: A U.S. traveler holding a passport. Source: Unsplash Unsplash / Levi Ventura