Here's How the Pandemic Has Affected Passport Power Around the World

Spoiler alert: the U.S. passport isn't doing great

American Passports
Peter Garrard Beck / Getty Images

All the opening and closing and selective reopening and closing of borders worldwide have affected more than just our sanity—the pandemic has drastically affected the world’s passport rankings.

Back in June, The Passport Index, a real-time resource that ranks the strength of the world’s passports, reported that only about a third of the world was open for travel—a huge drop from the all-time high of 54 percent recorded in December 2019 (you know, right before the pandemic hit).

"Evidently, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused major disruptions to global mobility, hindering international travel and rendering passport powers to an all-time low,” the Passport Index said.

The world’s strongest passports give their holders a golden ticket to travel the world without hassle; the more powerful your passport is, the more countries you’re able to enter either without a visa or with a visa on arrival. Economy and politics are common factors that heavily influence how strong or weak a passport becomes. However, the pandemic was a wildcard that has thrown the usually predictable rankings out of whack. Regardless of social or political standing, countries with high or climbing cases of COVID-19 have typically been banned from entering countries with lower case numbers.

Some of the biggest drops this year affected passports from the United Arab Emirates and the U.S. Ranked as the most powerful passport of 2019 with a mobility score of 179, the UAE is currently ranked 13th with a score of 103, nestled below passports from Vatican City and above those from Serbia. The United States ranked third in 2019 but now hangs low at number 21—tied with Malaysia and even falling outside the top 20.

But the new rankings aren’t bad news for everyone. “The drop of some gives the opportunity for others to take the lead,” the Passport Index’s report explains. For example, they mention that Montenegro’s jump in passport power (ranked 42nd in 2019 and, currently, 18th) now gives the Balkan country more freedom to travel than most Caribbean islands are experiencing.

Currently, the best passport to have in the world is from New Zealand—notably a country that has consistently handled the coronavirus exceedingly well throughout the pandemic. Armed with a high mobility score of 129, New Zealanders can visit 86 countries visa-free and get a visa on arrival in 43 more. Comparatively, passport holders from the United States can only visit 52 countries without a visa and can get a visa on arrival in 40 countries.

Tied for the second-most powerful passport are Germany, Austria, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Japan, South Korea, Ireland, and Australia, all following closely behind New Zealand with a mobility score of 128. One point down from that is Sweden, Belgium, France, Finland, Spain, and Italy. The United Kingdom shares fourth place, and a score of 126, with Iceland, Denmark, Netherlands, Portugal, Lithuania, and Norway.

To see where passports from your favorite country rank, check out the full list here. You can also download the Passport Index’s app to get up-to-the-minute, real-time rankings. 

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