Americans have long been under the impression that we carry the most powerful passport in the world. We hate to burst that bubble, but it turns out that several countries, mostly in Europe, have stronger passports than ours.
When you look strictly at the number of countries that we’re able to visit without a visa, the US passport is in a tie for fifth place. When you factor in other metrics like international perception and tax laws for foreign nationals, our ranking drops substantially.
For the straight-up-and-down measure – most countries a passport holder can visit without a visa – we look to Passport Index. Their beautiful website is clear and to the point, and it lets you compare countries based on a number of different metrics. Their data appears to be current as of 2017, so a few things might be out of date, but a visit to this site will give you a pretty accurate picture of what’s happening in the passport world, globally speaking.
According to Passport Index, the most powerful passport belongs to Singapore. Citizens of Singapore can freely travel to 164 of the world’s 199 countries. Second place goes to South Korea at 163 countries. The United States is in an eight-way tie for fifth place, as we are able to visit 160 countries at last count.
Where can’t Americans visit? We need a visa to get into countries like India, Brazil, Thailand, Russia, and China. But some countries don’t let Americans in at all. Unless you’re in the military, a very important business person, or a political official, you’ll have a very hard time visiting Iran, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, and a few other countries. Citizens of these countries also have a very tough time visiting the US.
But what happens when we take other factors into account? A consulting firm called Nomad Consulting has put together their own ranking of passport strength around the world. On that list, the US passport comes in at 35th place.
The Nomad Consulting system tabulated scores in five different categories – visa-free travel, international taxes, international perception, dual citizenship, and personal freedom. Obviously, some of these factors are harder to measure than others. In terms of visa-free travel, Nomad Consulting counted countries with straightforward e-visas or visa-on-arrival processes as part of the no-visa total. (That’s why Germany gets a no-visa score of 177 in Nomad’s calculations and just 162 in the Passport Index.)
Why did the US tie for 35th place in the Nomad list? Despite having visa-free access to 176 countries, we scored poorly for international taxes – US citizens need to pay federal tax on all of their income, regardless of where they earn it – and international perception (20 out of 50). We also got a mediocre “freedom” score, partly due to our incarceration rates, which are the highest of any country in the world.
So, who came out on top? According to Nomad, the most powerful passports belong to Luxembourg, Ireland, Switzerland, Portugal, Sweden, Italy, Spain, Finland, Denmark, Germany, and New Zealand.
Clearly the EU is giving us a run for our money. Hopefully we can boost our scores and make a comeback in 2019. In the meantime, Swift can help you get a passport in as little as one business day. Contact the Swift team anytime any time to learn about how to get expedited passports and visas.
Rob Lee is co-founder and CFO of Swift Passport and Visa Services. Originally from Michigan, Rob is an avid fisherman and SCUBA diver who enjoys adventure travel.