There are almost 200 countries in the world. Reaching them has never been easier. You wouldn’t think that when you switch on the news. There’s always talk about restricting travel and building walls.
Yet travel freedom is actually improving globally. Every year, more and more nationalities can visit more countries without a visa.
But not all passports are equal. So what’s the best one to have in your pocket? We’ve used the latest data from the Visa Restrictions Index to find out.
There are actually 218 territories that issue visas. You even need ‘permission’ to visit Antarctica! So travel freedom is based on the number of territories your passport can enter without a visa. We don’t count visas that are really easy to obtain though.
Here’s the top 10 rankings for 2016:
These countries share the 10th spot. If you have one of their passports then you can travel to 167 territories without a visa.
That’s not bad. Especially as two of them were once behind ‘the iron curtain’, yet their citizens can now freely visit most of the planet.
Never heard of Czechia? That’s what the Czech Republic now wants to be called in English.
Size doesn’t matter when it comes to securing visa-free access for your citizens.
Malta is made up of three islands and the biggest is just 17 miles across. Yet they’ve managed to get visa-free access to 168 territories.
That’s if they want to leave their Mediterranean paradise.
Australians love to travel, which is fortunate as they can visit 169 territories without a visa.
Almost all foreign travel from Australia is long distance so they tend to make the most of it. There’s only 22 million Australians, yet you’ll meet plenty if you go backpacking.
There’s a few other good reasons for this. For a start, Australians enjoy a strong currency and at least four weeks holiday a year. Also, the country is founded on immigration so most Australians have strong roots abroad.
New Zealand is sometimes called Australia’s little brother. They’ve argued over everything from Russell Crowe’s nationality to who can claim pavlova.
And no, pavlova is not some valuable disputed territory. It’s a meringue with whipped cream.
We’re not getting involved. But we can confirm New Zealand gets the family bragging rights on passports.
Kiwis and Greeks share the 7th spot as they can travel to 171 destinations without visas. Sorry, Australia.
The citizens of all these countries can visit 172 territories.
We say territories because some countries are divided into different visa regimes. Norway has a territory called Svalbard, for example, with very unique entry rules.
Svalbard is the only inhabited place on earth where no one needs a visa. It’s a frozen archipelago in the Arctic Circle about the same size as Ireland. Anyone can live and work there as long as you don’t mind polar bears. Don’t bother packing sunscreen either.
Norway should get bonus points for that, and the fact that their passport looks really cool. It reveals the northern lights when border control shine their UV light on it.
These countries share the 5th spot with visa-free access to 173 territories. Japan and Singapore came top for Asia.
That’s not the only thing these three countries have in common. It’s quite tricky to actually obtain any of their passports unless you’re born with one.
You’ll need to give up any other passports for a start. Japan has a notoriously difficult naturalisation process, which has even involved inspecting applicants’ fridges to see how well they’ve integrated. Austria meanwhile requires applicants to live in the country permanently for 15 to 30 years first!
If you guessed the US would would come top, then think again. Americans can visit 174 countries visa-free, along with passport holders from Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands.
The US might be a superpower, but there are actually 10 other countries with equal or greater passport power.
Incredibly, most Americans don’t actually use these rights. Just 38% currently own a passport.
The 3rd spot is shared by some of Europe’s largest countries. Their citizens have visa-free access to 175 territories.
Finland gets a bonus point, however. Their passports are also a flip-book of a walking moose. That’ll help pass time when queueing at a border.
You might start to see a pattern now. After the US, the top ten most powerful passports all belong to countries in the European Union. Well, currently!
All nordic nations have very useful passports, but the Swedes come top in the region. They can visit 176 territories without a visa.
Their passports are good value for money too. It costs 40€ so most citizens can earn one in under 3 hours’ work. That’s much less than most countries.
They need just one more visa than the passport holders at the top of our list, however.
Germany tops the ranking and takes the prize of the most powerful passport in the world.
German citizens get visa-free access to a record 177 territories. In fact, they’ve held this top spot for three years in a row.
Didn’t see your country on the list? The good news is that many countries around the world are still making major improvements in travel freedom.
And you can always visit Svalbard.