The most powerful passports in the world, ranked

The US passport still opens some of the most doors in the world but its ranking has slipped in recent years.
The US passport still opens some of the most doors in the world but its ranking has slipped in recent years.
Image: REUTERS/Fred Greaves
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Every year, firms that offer citizenship-by-investment services to wealthy clients looking to move overseas or secure their business publish rankings of the world’s “best” passports—meaning those that offer access to the most countries on paper.

Covid-19, of course, has changed the value of “on-paper” access, as holders of some of the world’s most powerful passports found themselves locked out of most countries because of spikes in cases or low vaccination rates at home.

This week, two firms—Henley & Partners and Arton Capital—issued the latest updates in their rankings, which show a downward trend in the value of the US passport over time.

How are passports ranked?

The two rankings differ in methodology and result.

Arton Capital, a Canadian financial firm that connects clients to citizenship-purchasing programs, sorts countries in real time according to the number of other countries a passport holder can visit without a visa, with an e-visa, or by obtaining a visa on arrival.

Henley & Partners, a London-based competitor, publishes its quarterly Passport Index based on similar criteria but considers more territories than Arton’s Passport Index (227 “travel destinations” to Arton’s 199). Arton’s also takes into account a country’s ranking on the UN Development Program Human Development Index 2018 because it considers it “a significant measure on the country’s perception abroad.” The firm gives each passport a “mobility score” based on that and the share of the 199 destinations a passport holder can enter “seamlessly.”

The value of a US and UK passport

This year, Henley & Partners has ranked the US and UK passports seventh in its index—the same score they earned last year. They have steadily declined since holding the top spot in 2014, the firm said in a press release, and while their citizens can “theoretically…access 187 destinations around the world,” that number has gone down drastically “under current travel bans” related to Covid-19.

According to the firm’s press release, “US passport holders have seen a 67% decrease in their travel freedom, with access to just 61 destinations worldwide—a passport power equivalent to Rwanda’s on the Henley Passport Index.” Some of the 61 destinations where US passport holders can seamlessly travel to now include France, Germany, and Morocco. The full list is here. (Travelers may still need Covid-19 tests or proof of vaccination.)

Meanwhile, travelers from the UK, where the more transmissible Delta variant is spreading, are even more limited in the number of countries they can access. “UK passport holders have suffered a dramatic drop of over 70% in their travel freedom, currently able to access fewer than 60 destinations globally—a passport power equivalent to that of Uzbekistan on the index,” the release says.

Arton’s has a more optimistic take on the value of those passports. In its index, the US passport ranks third, and the UK passport fifth. While the US passport’s rank has gone up 16 places since it crashed last year due to Covid-19, it’s still not back to its pre-pandemic level: In 2019, it had a “mobility score” of 171, compared to 134 today. Meanwhile, the UK passport mobility score is 132 in the latest Arton ranking, compared to 169 in 2019.