The most powerful passports let you travel easily without extra requirements. Countries like Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and Germany now give passport holders access to most of the countries in the world.
Passports are official, government-issued documents that hold a person’s identity. They’re used for travel, so when you cross a border, officials can confirm your identity and nationality. Not all passports hold the same power, however! When a passport is “powerful,” it means you can enter a variety of countries easily without extra entry requirements, like a travel visa. What are the most powerful passports in the world? In this article, we used the 2023 QI Henley Passport Index to examine the top ten most powerful passports and how they compare to their 2013 numbers. You’ll also learn what methodology this index uses and where the idea of passports first came from.
#1. Japan + Singapore
Since 2018, Japan has had either the first or second most powerful passport in the world. In Q1 of 2023, a Japanese passport holder could visit 193 countries without an extra visa. That’s almost the entire globe! In 2013, you could only visit 170 countries. Japan does not allow dual citizenship, so if you want a Japanese passport, you have to renounce any other citizenship.
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A passport from Singapore also gives a holder visa-free access to 193 countries, which is a jump from 167 countries in 2013. Over the last few years, Japan and Singapore have frequently swapped spots on the Henley ranking. Singapore does not allow dual citizenship after age 22.
#2. South Korea
A South Korean passport gives the holder access to 192 countries. Ten years ago, you could only visit 166 destinations. The rules on dual citizenship are interesting. At the time of writing, dual citizenship was only allowed for people 65 and older. Why? Dual citizenship is meant for older Koreans living overseas who want to move back to Korea. If they move back, they aren’t allowed to exercise their rights as foreign nationals. According to a 2022 Korea Times article, the government was considering lowering the age of eligibility.
#3. Germany + Spain
In 2013, you could easily visit 172 countries with a German passport. Today, you can travel to 191 countries without an extra visa. The country allows dual citizenship, but only in certain cases. As an example, children born to a German and non-German parent (or to parents with dual nationality) get both of their parents’ nationalities. If you want to become a naturalized citizen, you usually have to give up your previous nationality.
Spain ties with Germany as the third most powerful passport with visa-free access to 191 countries. In 2013, Spain was the 4th most powerful passport with 170 countries. Spain doesn’t allow dual citizenship except in certain cases. As an example, you can keep your Spanish passport if you’re applying for citizenship to a country Spain has signed a bilateral citizenship agreement with. That includes Latin American countries, Andorra, the Philippines, Equatorial Guinea, Portugal, and France.
#4. Finland, Italy, + Luxembourg
These three countries provide access to 190 countries. Finland (which was #1 in 2013 with access to 173 countries) does recognize multiple citizenships, so you’ll still be considered Finnish if you live abroad and have another passport. Countries that don’t recognize multiple citizenships may not consider you Finnish. Also, you can lose your Finnish citizenship at 22 years old if you lack “sufficient connection” to Finland and are a citizen of another state.
Italy (which gave access to 171 countries in 2013) allows multiple citizenships. Anyone with provable Italian ancestry and blood ties to the country can apply to be a citizen. Luxembourg (172 countries in 2013) offers three options for dual citizenship, all of which involve parents or grandparents.
#5. Austria, Netherlands, Denmark, + Sweden
Four countries offer visa-free access to 189 destinations around the world. In 2013, Austria, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Sweden gave access to 168, 171, 172, and 173 countries respectively. That placed Sweden as the most powerful passport in the world, so a lot has changed in the last decade.
Austria does not usually offer dual citizenship. If you get foreign citizenship, you automatically lose your Austrian citizenship unless you apply in writing and you meet dual citizenship eligibility. The Netherlands also wants to limit dual citizenship as much as possible, so you can’t apply for dual nationality. Denmark and Sweden, on the other hand, do allow dual citizenship.
#6. France, Ireland, Portugal, + the United Kingdom
You can easily travel to 188 countries with a French, Irish, Portuguese, or UK passport. That’s a good increase from 2013 where French, Irish, and Portuguese passports could access 170 countries, and the UK offered 173 destinations. All four countries also allow dual citizenship, though eligibility factors and limitations always apply. As long as the other country you’re a national of allows multiple citizenships, you can get a French, Irish, Portuguese, or UK passport without revoking your other citizenship.
#7. The United States, Belgium, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, + the Czech Republic
These six countries have equally powerful passports you can use to visit 187 countries. In 2013, the US was the second most powerful passport in the world, while Belgium was #3, Norway was #4, New Zealand and Switzerland were #5, and the Czech Republic was #12. The Czech Republic’s passport has become much more powerful in the last ten years. All six countries allow dual citizenship as long as the other country’s laws allow it, too. Each country has specific rules about naturalization and/or ancestry that affect eligibility.
#8. Greece, Canada, Australia, + Malta
You can travel to 186 countries with passports from Greece, Canada, Australia, or Malta. Greece and Australia were the 6th most powerful passport in 2013, while Canada was #4. Malta was #9, which makes it the only country in this spot that moved up. All four countries allow dual citizenship. Factors like naturalization, marriage, birth, ancestry, and more play into citizenship and timelines.
#9. Hungary + Poland
In 2013, a Hungarian passport let you visit 157 destinations while Poland offered 153. Today, both countries’ passports let you visit 185 countries without an extra visa. Both countries also allow dual citizenship. Naturalization, citizenship by descent, marriage, stable income, and other factors can affect citizenship eligibility.
#10. Lithuania + Slovakia
Passports from these two countries let you travel to 184 destinations. In 2013, Lithuania and Slovakia could access 151 and 155 countries, respectively. Lithuanian citizenship is obtained by birth, citizenship restoration, or granted by the government, but dual citizenship is only allowed in rare cases. Slovakia does accept dual citizenship; a recent law allowed those with foreign citizenship to keep their Slovakian citizenship if they could prove they’d lived abroad for 5 years.
How is passport power determined?
What makes a passport more powerful than another? Henley & Partners use data from the International Air Transport Authority, open-source online data, and in-house research to create their index. 199 passports and 227 travel destinations are included. If a passport does not require a visa to enter a destination, that passport gets assigned 1 “point.” They also get a point if a passport holder can get a visa once they’ve arrived, a visitor’s permit, or an electronic travel authority. On the other hand, if a passport holder needs a visa, a government-approved e-visa, or pre-departure government approval for a visa before leaving, Henley assigned them a 0.
Most passports give access to more countries than they did in 2013, but the lowest-ranked countries (like Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq) can only visit 26 and 29 countries. What makes these countries different? The report “Wealth, Geopolitics, and the Great Mobility Divide” lists several determinants for a passport’s strength, such as a country’s GDP per capita. A higher GDP per capita equals more visa-free travel. The amount of violence a country experiences is also a big factor. In general, wealthy, stable countries have the most powerful passports.
Are passports expensive?
Countries don’t issue passports for free, and in many states, the fees are quite high. According to insurance provider William Russell, Australia charges $230 for a passport. Mexico has the 2nd most expensive passport at $170 while Switzerland ($140), Italy ($135), and the United States ($130) complete the top 5 most expensive passports. For the two most powerful passports in the world – Japan and Singapore – citizens pay about $125 and $70 respectively.
If you want to purchase citizenship in another country, you can expect much higher fees. Only certain countries offer this option, which are called Citizenship by Investment programs. Malta, Austria, Grenada, and Cyprus are just four examples. There are also “Golden Visas,” which provide resident status (not always citizenship) in exchange for large donations or investments in either government-run programs and properties. Countries like Spain, Greece, Portugal, and the UK offer Golden Visas. How much are people expected to pay? For Austria’s Citizenship by Investment program, people need to invest between €2 to €10 million in a qualifying venture. These programs are obviously limited to the very wealthy, which allows people with privilege to purchase even more privilege.
Where do passports come from?
Passports have not always existed, so when and why did countries start issuing them? The concept of proving who you were when you traveled is not new, but in 1920, people started considering a global passport standard. The League of Nations promoted the idea and it caught steam when people started worrying about how many immigrants were moving around. The United States was especially concerned. Enter the passport, which would identify an immigrant’s country of origin and “suitability.” The passport’s problematic history continues to this day. Consider how a passport’s “power” determines where a person can travel. This has nothing to do with anything an individual has done; it’s a matter of where they’re a citizen.