Which Countries Have the Most Powerful Passports?

United States passport on map
Jovo Jovanovic/Stocksy United

Have you ever wondered which country offers the most powerful passport in the world? That is to say, the one passport that allows you entry into the most other foreign countries visa-free? That is exactly what the research firm of Henley & Partners tracks with its annual Visa Restrictions Index, and it might come as a surprise just how often those numbers can actually fluctuate. 

According to the 2016 edition of the Visa Restrictions Index, German travelers hold the most powerful passport in the world. Their travel documents are accepted in 177 (out of a possible 218) other nations worldwide without the requirement of a visa. This isn't a surprise however, as the country has held the top position for the past three years running, narrowly edging out Sweden, which can be found occupying second spot on the list with 176 countries accepting its passports as well. 

Next up is group of countries that includes the U.K., Finland, France,and Spain, who collectively make up the number three most powerful passports in the world, with entry into 175 countries. The U.S. is joined by Belgium, Denmark, and the Netherland in the fourth spot, with 174 visa-free nations on its list. 

Considering how much the travel in this day and age, and how frequent passports are used in that process, it would seem that these rankings would remain largely static. But, a representative of Henley & Partners told the U.K. newspaper The Telegraph that "Generally, there was significant movement across the board (this year) with only 21 of the 199 countries listed remaining in the same rank." The firm went on to add "No country, however, dropped more than three positions, indicating that overall, visa-free access is improving around the world."

So who were the biggest winners of 2016? The Index indicates that Timor-Leste rose 33 spots, up to the 57th position overall. Other countries that saw the status of its passports rise included Colombia (up 25 spots), Palau (+20), and Tonga, which rose 16 spots on the list.

Most often, these changes come about due to improving political stability and relations between countries from all over the planet. But, a cooling of relations can have the opposite effect, sending some countries tumbling down the rankings as well. Of course, that can also mean a minor shift in the number of countries that allow visa free entry. For instance, the U.K. was tied for the top spot last year, but gave up the crown when several other nations relaxed entry requirements for travelers coming from Germany.

If the countries listed above happen to have the most powerful passports in the world, which nations have the least freedom to move about without visa? The last spot on the index is held by Afghanistan, whose citizens can only visit 25 other countries without acquiring a visa. Pakistan is next with just 29 foreign destinations accepting its passport, with Iran, Somalia, and Syria in third, fourth, and fifth place respectively. 

A travel visa is typically issued by the government of a country that you are visiting. It typically take the form of a sticker or special document that is placed inside of your passport, and it allows travelers to temporarily stay within the borders of the nation that issues it. Some countries (such as China or India) require visitors to obtain a visa prior to arrival, while others will grant one in the airport as travelers are looking to gain entry.

If you are traveling abroad and are unsure of the entry requirements of the destinations you'll be visiting, it is best to check for that information online before leaving home. For instance, the U.S. State Department maintains a website with up to date info on that very subject. The site can tell you what the specific visa requirements (and costs) are for any given country, as well as useful data on any recommended or required vaccinations, currency restrictions, and other important information as well.