If you’re one of those ambitious travelers trying to visit every country in the world, you’ll have a slight advantage if you happen to have a Japanese passport. Japan recently took the crown away from Germany, allowing its citizens to visit 189 countries visa-free, making it the world’s most powerful passport.
But don’t worry, Germans — your passport is still pretty darn powerful, with 188 countries allowing visa-free travel. Additionally, passport holders from Singapore, South Korea, the U.S. Scandinavia and pretty much everywhere in the EU can visit upwards of 180 countries visa-free. That should be enough to keep you busy for a while.
The visa index is managed by a London-based consulting firm and updated in real-time to show the strength of every country’s passport at any given time. Since visa requirements are generally considered to be a good indicator of countries relationships with one another, the strength of a passport is predicated on the level of visa-free travel it allows. As you can imagine, passport strength (and therefore the index rankings) are heavily impacted by geopolitical events.
If you’re an American considering a trip to Russia, for example, you’ve probably noticed that the visa process is less than smooth. Whereas visas are not required for Americans visiting neighboring eastern European countries, like Bulgaria or Ukraine, obtaining a Russian visa is not only necessary but also extremely difficult due to strained political relationships. Americans seeking to travel in Russia must go through a long, complicated process, and even then, they may only be granted limited entry. Middle Eastern countries, too, like Iraq and Afghanistan, find themselves toward the bottom of the list due to their more tumultuous relationships in the international community.
If you’re planning a multi-destination trip with a friend from a different country, this could prove to be a hassle as you move through customs together. While traveling to Austria, Hungary, and the Czech Republic with my Indonesian friend, I was able to cross borders freely with my US passport, while he had to apply for a visa, submit his detailed itinerary ahead of time, and wait for an approval process.
So if your country is high on the passport index, consider yourself lucky — and hope a major diplomatic snafu doesn’t knock your passport strength down a few ranks.