Best Passports for Visa-Free Travel

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I really like my passport. It’s gotten me into almost 50 countries and has a great plea from John Kerry to would-be annoyers:

“The Secretary of State of the United States of America hereby requests all whom it may concern to permit the citizen of the United States named herein to pass without delay or hindrance and in case of need to give all lawful aid and protection.”

For almost all the countries I’ve visited, I just showed up at the border and handed over my passport to get in, sometimes having to pay for a visa on arrival that cost $20 to $100 (Tanzania!).

I’ve only had to do something other than show up three times:

  • Australia required filling out an Electronic Travel Authority form in advance online and paying 20 AUD.
  • Argentina required paying $160 in advance online and printing out the receipt. That payment is good for 10 years.
  • Paraguay required a $160 visa from an embassy in advance. (I got mine in Argentina for only about $100 due to currency arbitrage.)

Having a United States passport is excellent for travel since so few countries require a cumbersome visa for Americans to enter. Even when you do need a visa, it’s usually pretty automatic to get and just takes planning and money.

But we don’t have the best passport for visa-free travel. Which countries do? Where does the US rank? Which are the worst passports for access?

Henley & Partners released a report of the best passports for visa-free travel. I’m not sure “visa-free” is the most important measure. It was more convenient to pay $20 when I landed in Turkey for my “visa” than it was to pay $160 in advance and print my receipt for my “reciprocity fee” when I went to Argentina.

But “visa-free” is a pretty good proxy, and this article about the study has some interesting findings.

A US Passport is Pretty Good

“In the report, produced in collaboration with the International Air Transport Association, Henley & Partners ranked citizens’ visa-free access to other countries as of July 2013 on a 219-point scale. The United States’ total score of 172, for example, means that U.S. passport holders may enter 172 countries and territories without a visa, a marked increase from 2012.”

Certainly Better than the Countries Where We Fought Our Last Two Wars

“On the flipside, passport holders of Kosovo (38), Lebanon (38), Sri Lanka (38), Sudan (38), Nepal (37), Eritrea (36), Palestinian Territory (36), Pakistan (32), Somalia (32) and Iraq (31) have the least visa-free travel options among all countries and territories surveyed, save those whose passports were issued in Kabul, Afghanistan. Afghani passport holders can only visit 13 percent of the world, or just 28 countries, free of formalities.”

Tourism Boards and Governments Don’t See Eye-to-Eye

“Chinese tourists, however, still encounter major red tape when planning trips abroad. Though they’re one of the most sought-after groups for tourism boards around the world just 44 countries offer visa-free entry, placing China directly below Vietnam and tied with Cameroon, Congo, Jordan and Rwanda in terms of freedom of travel.”

Hawaii in particular wishes that the United States would allow Chinese visa-free entry.

Top Ten

1 Finland, Sweden, UK

2 Denmark, Germany, Luxembourg, U.S.

3 Belgium, Italy, Netherlands

4 Canada, France, Ireland, Japan, Norway, Portugal, Spain

5 Austria, New Zealand, Switzerland

6 Australia, Greece, Singapore

7 South Korea

8 Iceland

9 Malaysia, Malta

10 Liechtenstein

Bottom Ten

84 Equatorial Guinea

85 Bangladesh, Burundi, Ethiopia, North Korea

86 Angola, Djibouti, Iran, Myanmar

87 Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya, South Sudan, Syria

88 Kosovo, Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Sudan

89 Nepal

90 Eritrea, Palestinian Territory

91 Pakistan, Somalia

92 Iraq

93 Afghanistan



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12 Responses to Best Passports for Visa-Free Travel

  1. Thank you for an interesting article. I’m surprised to see Canada ranked below the US.

  2. If my travels are any indication, Chinese tourists should just be banned en-masse, or only allowed in very small groups. While I’m sure some of them are lovely people, the general experience is that of rowdy, rude, loud and obnoxious large groups who arrive by the busload and dominate the attraction they’re visiting, taking all the fun out of it for other tourists. There’s a reason why even their own government issues travel etiquette guides.

    Btw, most of the countries we can’t visit without a Visa are crapholes where you wouldn’t want to go anyway. Except maybe Russia, China and Brazil.

    • “rowdy, rude, loud and obnoxious large groups who arrive by the busload and dominate the attraction they’re visiting, taking all the fun out of it for other tourists”

      Some people have the same opinion of Americans.

    • Argentina, India and Australia are three of many places I’d like to visit that require a visa. Perhaps it’s time to broaden horizons. It is true that most Western nations (and many others too) don’t require a visa for Americans, but that doesn’t mean they’re the only places worth visiting.

  3. I would be more curious to see a ranking of countries’ relative restrictiveness. Which countries require visas from the most countries?

    • I think that list should match the list of which countries require a Visa for U.S. citizens.. i.e. Russia, China and Brazil.

  4. ““rowdy, rude, loud and obnoxious large groups who arrive by the busload and dominate the attraction they’re visiting, taking all the fun out of it for other tourists”

    This sounds like some Americans. One time I went to Central America and a local told me Americans are rude, cocky. Another time at a fast food restaurant, this lady does not speak Spanish and can’t really communicate to the staff and complaint about the employee does not speak English why working in a tourist area. Hello! Stupid. The employee should have told her to get lost and learn some Spanish or politely ask other people for help in translation if she has limited language skill.

  5. Don’t forget the need to get your Brazil tourist visa well in advance of your World Cup trip. Have to do it through the mail to your nearest Brazilian consulate in the US.

  6. Malaysia seems high in the ranking but their citzens need visa to USA, Canada and the visa free privleges to UK and New Zealand is about to be revoked.

  7. I have a few passports (long story…) and end up using the “right one” for each country. Here are a few examples I stumbled upon in my travels.

    In Sri Lanka, if you want to extend your visa (don’t, btw), you must pay $100 as an American passport holder. However, if you hold pretty much any other passport you have to pay much much less (e.g. $7 if you hold a Thai passport, $50 if you hold a Canadian passport).

    In Tanzania, an American pays $100 for an entry visa, as the blog post mentions. Using any other passport the fee is $50.

    In Argentina, an American pays $160. Most other nationalities pay nothing.

    I probably saved a few hundreds over time just by choosing the right passport for the job (whether entry or extension). Not much, but it leaves me strangely satisfied :)

  8. I remember when a passport issued by the Republic of Ireland would famously get you into any country in the world for free. What happened?

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