It is said that around 450 BCE, the first document that served a similar purpose as a passport was issued to one of King Artaxerxes I of Persia’s officials, where in it, he requested “the governors beyond the river” grant his servant safe passage as he traveled through Judea. Today, the passport is a necessary means of travel to enter a possible 218 countries around the world, be it for work or leisure as the globe grows more accessible.
Not all passports are made equal, however. Citizens of some countries have access to more countries than others, without having to apply for a visa. While the assumption may easily be that Great Britain may be a top contender, it humbly takes joint third position with Finland, France, Italy and Spain with access to 175 countries. A reasonable next best guess would be the United States, but it actually shares joint fourth position alongside Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands with access to a 174 countries. It is Germany that in fact outranks all passports, with access to 177 countries in total, followed by Sweden in second place as reported in the annual Henly & Partners Visa Restrictions Index.
South Africa’s ranked at 54th place in this latest report, while Afghanistan offers the least most powerful passport with access to only 25 countries without a visa. For various political, security and international relations considerations, countries will either relax or tighten visa and other documentation requirements for foreign nationals to enter and leave their countries, changing the ranking order year on year. Of the countries listed, only 21 remained in the same position while no country dropped more than 3 positions – a positive indication that great strides continue to be made for travel freedom across the world.
The standard passport will include the bearer’s full name and photograph, date, place of birth and signature, but many countries are moving towards including biometric data to curb counterfeit passports and improve ease of use as they become machine-readable.
The top 10 most powerful passports are:
- Germany with 177 accessible countries
- Sweden with 176 accessible countries
- Finland, France, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom with 175 accessible countries
- Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands and the United States, with 174 accessible countries
- Austria, Japan and Singapore with 173 accessible countries
- Canada, Ireland, Luxembourg, Norway, Portugal, South Korea and Switzerland with 172 accessible countries
- Greece and New Zealand with 171 accessible countries
- Australia with a 169 accessible countries
- Malta with 168 accessible countries
- Czech Republic, Iceland and Hungary with 167 accessible countries
To learn more on South African visas, visit the Department of Home Affairs.