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The Japanese Passport Is Now the Strongest in the World, with Singapore and South Korea Not Far Behind

  • Oct 11, 2018

Japan has overtaken Singapore to claim the top spot on the 2018 Henley Passport Index, having gained visa-free access to Myanmar earlier this month. Japan now enjoys visa-free/visa-on-arrival access to 190 destinations, compared to Singapore’s total of 189. Japan and Singapore have been neck and neck on the index since they both climbed to 1st place in February — following a visa-exemption from Uzbekistan — and pushed Germany down to 2nd place for the first time since 2014.

This quarter, Germany has fallen further to 3rd place, which it now shares with South Korea and France. France moved up from 4th to 3rd place last Friday when it gained visa-free access to Uzbekistan, while South Korea moved from 4th to 3rd place on 1 October when it gained visa-free access to Myanmar. Germany, France, and South Korea all have a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 188. Iraq and Afghanistan continue to hold the bottom (106th) spot of the Henley Passport Index, with only 30 destinations accessible to their citizens.

In Southeast Asia, Malaysia has dropped one spot from the last quarter and is now in 10th place, alongside Hungary and Slovenia. However, the country remains the second-highest-ranking country in the region, offering its passport holders visa-free travel to 180 destinations. With visa-free access to 165 countries, Brunei ranks 20th globally and 3rd regionally.

Commenting on this trend, Dominic Volek, Managing Partner for Henley & Partners Singapore and Head of Southeast Asia says that connectivity and shared prosperity are key to driving greater travel freedom for citizens.

“The region’s success can be attributed to its strong diplomatic relations and years of international commercial prowess. While the region is largely fragmented and varies in terms of economic and political standing, we can certainly expect more Asian passports to climb the Henley Passport Index in the coming years.”

China received a boost in September when Chinese nationals obtained access to two new jurisdictions (St. Lucia and Myanmar), but the Chinese passport fell two places this quarter, to 71st overall. This is still an impressive 14-place improvement over the position that China held at the start of 2017.

What has been most remarkable in recent years is the UAE’s stunning ascent on the Henley Passport Index, from 62nd place in 2006 to 21st place worldwide currently. The UAE now holds the number 1 passport in the Middle East region.

“The Henley Passport Index measures the relative value and power of the world’s passports, allowing individuals to assess where they lie on the spectrum of global mobility. However, more than that, it demonstrates the extraordinary results that governments can achieve when they work hand in hand with their global peers to build a more interconnected and collaborative world,” concludes Volek.

The global ranking is based on exclusive data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which maintains the world’s largest and most definitive database of travel information and enhanced by extensive in-house research.

Citizenship-by-investment countries make strong gains

Countries with citizenship-by-investment (CBI) programs in place all fall within the top 50 of the Henley Passport Index and are continually rising up the ranking. Newcomer Moldova, for example, which launched its CBI program in the second half of this year, has climbed 20 places since 2008. Every CBI program country has improved its visa-free/visa-on-arrival score since the start of the year.

Volek explains that demand for alternative citizenship is driving thousands of individuals to CBI programs each year. “The CBI industry is now valued at approximately USD 3 billion. This growth reflects the worldwide shift towards global citizenship and CBI programs are considered a sound investment strategy for individuals as they offer access to some of the world’s strongest and most promising passports. Such programs also generate economic and societal value.”

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