When it comes to power comparisons, passports may not be the first things that spring to mind. For me, it’d be all about those heated discussions you’d have in the schoolyard. You know, could Thor beat the Incredible Hulk or could Batman beat Spider-Man (the answer to both of those questions is holy heckola no, and don’t @ me on that).
These were the hard-hitting and thought-provoking questions we asked ourselves in the sixth grade. This was philosophy in action, friends.
But we’re not here to talk about superhero fantasies. Here in the super-boring real world of taxes, mortgages and 9-to-5s, the question isn’t Wolverine versus Cyclops but Belgium passport versus United States passport.
For those new to the whole concept of passport power, it’s measured by the number of different places a certain nation’s passport allows you to access, without the need to apply for a visa. The more places around the globe you can visit with the least paperwork and hassle, the more powerful your country of citizenship’s passport is considered to be.
These values are collected and ranked by corporations like Henley & Partners, the citizenship and planning company who is responsible for collating the Henley Passport Index (whose latest 2018 rankings we’ll be using in this rundown). There’s an interesting range of countries in the top twenty, from Denmark to Singapore, Japan and Luxembourg, but who takes the current top spot? Stay tuned to find out, as we run through the best-performing passports in the world in ascending order.
25 The Czech Republic: Off To See The World
We’ve got a curious list of countries right here. Some you’d totally expect to have one of the world’s most powerful passports, and others that you probably wouldn’t. We’re kicking things off with one of the surprise entries, in my eyes: the Czech Republic. At the time of writing, the central European country ranks 25th on the Henley Index, with a score of 182.
As The Telegraph reports, this score is out of a maximum possible 218, every country that is currently passport-accessible. An excellent showing from the Czech people.
24 Malta: No Mal-teasing, It’s True
For me, Malta is another country that you might not expect to see on a rundown of the most powerful passports. Regardless, here it is, coming in at number 24 with a score of 183.
It just goes to show you, you can’t judge by size. Malta may be a small island nation in the Mediterranean Sea, it may have a population of just less than half a million, but that doesn’t matter around here. The people of Malta have a passport that allows them visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to 183 different nations.
23 Greece: The Europeans Are Coming
That’s right, friends. As you’ll see, there are a whole lot of European countries on this list. You’d better buckle up for that right now.
Greece, as history buffs will tell you, is a country that was a huge, huge deal back in the days of antiquity. That was one heck of an empire. They’d have gotten away with it, too, if it wasn’t for those meddling Romans.
Regardless of all of this, residents of Greece still have the world at their fingertips today. The country is tied with Malta at 183.
22 Australia: Down (Under), But Not Out
If you’ve ever visited Australia, you’ll know that… well, it’s not easy to visit Australia. Due to the country’s delicate ecosystem, customs are super, super serious about anything entering the country that shouldn’t be.
This makes perfect sense, of course. They’ve got koalas, kangaroos and duck-billed platypuses to protect, after all. It doesn’t stop the remote nation’s travellers getting to where they want to go, either, that’s for darn sure. The index reports that the nation ties with Malta and Greece, with a score of 183.
21 Switzerland: The best For Toblerone-Fuelled Travel
Now, I’m not one for cheap and snarky stereotypes. I’m a Brit who doesn’t drink tea or wear a monocle or top hat, so I’m living proof that those outdated clichés mean very little. I’ll make an exception for Toblerone, though, because I sure as heckles love Toblerone.
The people of Switzerland enjoy a peaceful, not-jumping-into-foreign-affairs-head-first life, but they certainly have the freedom to visit other nations when it takes their fancy. Swiss nationals’ passports grant them access to 185 countries, according to the index.
20 Ireland: The Luck Of The Irish
That’s right, friends. That world-famous luck of the Irish extends to their good fortune in global travel opportunities. Coming in at a very respectable 20th best in the world, the small island nation technically comes in sixth place (there are lots of joint places, as you’ll see), with a powerful score of 185.
Ireland itself is a separate nation to the United Kingdom (not to be confused with Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K). The two sovereign states’ passports are slightly different, as we’ll see later.
19 Canada: Because Being Friendly Pays Off
That’s right, friends. Of course the people of Canada have excellent access to global travel. After all, as all the cheap and hilarious clichés will tell you, they’re some of the world’s most friendly and polite people. Who wouldn’t want to let them visit?
With a score of 185, Canada ties with Ireland, which means we’ve got to rank them alphabetically. You know, just to be impartial. With that in mind, excellent work securing the number 19 spot, Canada. Your neighbours to the south, the United States, just barely top you on that one, but there’s precious little in it.
18 Belgium: Not To Be Underestimated
In a competition of global behemoths, Belgium is quite a small country. Geographically speaking, anyway. It’s in Western Europe, nestled between the Netherlands, Germany, France and Luxembourg, boasting a modest population of around 11.5 million people.
Regardless, though, it’s a global powerhouse in its own right (and has an excellent soccer team, as Brits like me found to our chagrin at the World Cup in Russia this past summer). It scores very highly in general standards of living, as Numbeo reports, and its citizens hold a passport that is also very powerful on the world stage. It’s our final nation with a joint score of 185.
17 The United States: Going One Better
As we’ve seen, 185 is an excellent score on the Henley Passport Index. Very few can top that, and even when they can, it’s by a mere few points. Speaking of which, here comes the United States, our first nation (because it’s the last alphabetically, if you follow me) to top Ireland, Canada and Belgium with a score of 186.
As The Telegraph reports, the U.S has not been given any new visa-free access so far this year, leaving their score unchanged. The interesting thing is that the United States topped the list back in 2005 (jointly, with our next country), but has since been left behind by other rising nations.
16 The United Kingdom: Still Right Up There
Ah, yes. The United States and the United Kingdom, together again. Two nations who once topped the Henley Passport Index, now sharing joint fifth place with several others.
Britannia may not be doing much ruling of the waves these days, but her citizens are certainly traveling them by ship and plane in droves. A passport index rating of 186 is excellent indeed (currently, Afghanistan and Iraq have a joint-lowest score of only 30). The UK’s going to see some changes to all of that in the near future, of course, with the impact of Brexit, but it remains to be seen how the chips are going to fall there.
15 Portugal: Portuguese Pride
Our next nation is also right up there in the (joint) top five most powerful passports stakes. In terms of visa-free and visa-on-arrival access, Portugal scores 186 as well.
Little surprise there. As Guinness World Records reports, the small Western European nation was among the very top of the global pops back in the 15th and 16th centuries. As with Belgium, it’s fairly small in terms of size today, but ranks very highly in terms of quality of life, prosperity, freedom and rights. And, again, speaking as a bitter Brit, that’s another great soccer team right there (with the talismanic Cristiano Ronaldo on board).
14 Norway: Another 186? No(r) Way!
By this point in the rundown, you’re probably starting to notice a pattern forming here. It’s pretty darn tight, up here at the top of the Henley Passport Index. There’s just a point or two between entries, if even that.
Our next country to score a 186 on the index is Norway. It’s another European nation, this time in Scandinavia (in the north west of the continent). It’s another small but highly-regarded and advanced country, and as you can see here, it’s held the highest Human Development Index ranking in the world since 2009. Little wonder that its passport holders enjoy some of the most advanced travel rights on the planet too.
13 Netherlands: Nether Much To Worry About When It Comes To Travel
While we’re in the north of Europe, it’s just a short hop to the Netherlands. Coincidentally, this is the next nation (alphabetically, of course) that scored a formidable 186 on the index.
As tends to be the case with the countries of Scandinavia, the Netherlands is noted for the satisfaction of its people and its quality of life. A lot of this is due to the system of government, which allows for wider socioeconomic freedom and a greater hand in decision making.
Hand in hand with that, quite clearly, comes the opportunity to travel much more freely than a lot of other nations.
12 Luxembourg: Great Things Come In Small Packages
Here’s another interesting trend we’re noticing so far: geographical size seems to count for every little around here. The majority of countries we’ve seen so far in this rundown have been smaller European ones, teeny on population but huge on economic influence and global renown.
Do you know how big the total population of Luxembourg is? I’ll tell you how big: only around 600,000, that’s how big. It’s one of the smallest countries in Europe. In 2016, it rated 15th in the Henley Index with a score of 172, but has since bolstered that number to 186.
11 Austria: Are We *STILL* In Europe?
That’s right, friends. The people of Europe certainly aren’t playing any games when it comes to their global travel freedoms. The final country to score a 186 on the index is, you guessed it, right there on the continent too.
Austria is home to almost nine million people, a modest-looking country situated in the centre of the continent. Again, it’s highly developed (and high in general, being very mountainous as it’s on the Alps) in terms of quality of living, and is consistently rated as one of the richest countries in the world. Travel opportunities, as a by-product, are ample for Austrians.
10 Sweden: What Is It About Scandinavia?
That was a rhetorical question, incidentally. I couldn’t tell you what’s happening here, but the Scandinavian region rates consistently super-high on the index. We’ve already seen Norway and the Netherlands performing well, now here’s the first Nordic country to surpass their shared score: Sweden.
That’s right, we’re finally moving up the list; if just the teensiest bit. The national of Sweden is the first to come joint-fourth on this year’s index, scoring an ever-so-slightly-superior 187. While that isn’t much in the grand scheme of things, it’s really, really darn competitive up here, and every nation you can visit visa-free counts.
9 Spain: Viva Espańa!
Ah, Spain. The first foreign country I ever travelled to, and still one of my absolute favourites to visit. The people, the food, the beaches, the atmosphere… I could prattle on and on, but this is serious business and there’s no time for that.
Hurry right along, then, this is yet another European nation, and another to hit joint-fourth on the list with a score of 187. It’s always been a global powerhouse, once being the most formidable nation on Earth, and retains a lot of that kudos today. When it comes to travel, the people of Spain have very little holding them back.
8 Italy: Like Spain, But More Italian
I’ve always felt that there are some huge comparisons to be drawn between the nations of Italy and Spain. They’re both countries steeped in history and tradition, proud of their legacy and the influence that they have had (and continue to have) on world culture. I won’t make the joke about soccer teams again, but holy heckola are they both fantastic at that too.
When it comes to the index, as you’ve probably guessed, there’s precious little to choose between the two as well. Italian nationals also have great freedom with their passports in hand, also enjoying visa-free/visa-on-arrival access to 187 different countries.
7 Finland: Back To The North We Go
Come on now, North Europe. With your passports wielding Godzilla-esque levels of power and your whole healthy, happy living thing, you’re making the rest of the world totally jealous. There’s no dang need for it.
Finland is another Nordic nation, and yet another characterised by high levels of civil liberties, freedoms and general quality of life.Low corruption, freedom of the press, high incomes, a powerful passport with yet another score of 187 in the rankings… what’s not to like?
It’s just an all-around fantastic performance, and I’m considering packing my bags and taking an extended vacation over there as we speak.
6 Denmark: Nordic Nicety
If the general Nordic region of Europe is something special, then Denmark is essentially the motherlode where that’s concerned. As you may know, Danes are widely considered some of the happiest people on the planet (dominating rankings year after year, as Visit Denmark reports). Considering that the weather can be darn grim and taxes and the like are very high, this is something truly remarkable.
As with Norway, Sweden and Finland, the country is also rated very highly on the index, the last nation to take the joint-fourth spot with a 187 score.