How Powerful Is Your Passport? US and Canada Near the Top

If you consider yourself a traveller (or if you would like to be one) and you still don’t have a passport, shame on you—you’re in the distinct minority and your chances of seeing much of the world beyond your borders gets slimmer by the year.

As of the end of 2019, over 44 per cent of Americans had passports—low by international standards—but over 66 per cent of Canadians had them. (In 2007, only 27 per cent of Americans had passports, but with the imposition of tougher Homeland Security rules for international travel, and a requirement that by October 2020, Americans will need a real government-approved document to board even domestic flights, the call for passports has quickened sharply.)

According to the Henley Passport Index,* the world’s most “powerful” passport as of January 2020 was the Japanese, which allows access to 191 countries without a prior visa, with an electronic visa,  or with a visa available on arrival. In 2019 the passport power-leader was Singapore, which holds on to second place at the start of 2020.

*Note: The Passport Index is produced by Henley & Partners, a London-based global and citizenship advisory firm, using data exclusively provided by the International Air Transportation Authority (IATA) supplemented by ongoing in-house and online research.

How powerful is your passport?

Germany and South Korea are tied for the third spot with visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to 189 countries and are followed by clusters of 15 European countries (mostly tied in numerical cohort groups). The UK and US are tied in the eighth-most-powerful spot with visa-free, or on-arrival access to 184 countries, and Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Malta, and New Zealand are tied in the ninth-best category with visa-free access to 183 countries.

Which are the more restrictive passports?

The Russian Federation stands at about the midpoint of visa-free entries, tied in 51st place with Micronesia, with visa-free entry to 118 countries.  And bringing up the rear, in descending order, are the passports of Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, which allow visa-free access to fewer than 34 countries.

In case you consider your passport just another costly annoyance, consider that once you enter another country, you are there as a guest. You don’t have a “right” to be there. You are there because the country issuing your passport validates that you are who you say you are, and that you are one of its own citizens. There is no stronger, more universally acceptable form of identification than that blue, red/burgundy, or green-covered passport. There are also a handful of black ones.

Passport colours have a significance

With Brexit now a reality—although a lot of nuts and bolts still have to be welded together—Britain has taken the bold step of discarding the European Union’s approved burgundy-coloured passport cover and will be returning to the iconic blue and gold that it left behind in 1988 when it joined the EU. By doing so it rejoins its former colonial and current Commonwealth partners (e.g., Canada, the US, Australia, several Caribbean nations) and several other nations in Central and South America. The EU does not mandate red/burgundy, though that colour has been considered a “harmonizing” factor for member countries—although some European countries still prefer blue. The burgundy passport currently held by Britons will continue to be valid through to its expiration date, but the blue and gold is expected to be rolled out by mid-2020 for new passport applicants and renewals.


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