The world's most and least powerful passports in 2021: UAE only Arab nation in top 20

Rankings show a widening gap in travel freedoms spurred by the Covid-19 pandemic

The UAE is the only Arab nation ranked in the top 20 most powerful passports in the world in 2021.

The most recent data from the Henley Passport Index, which ranks the strength of passports across the world, puts the UAE in 16th position.

The Emirates shares its spot with three other nations – Chile, Monaco and Romania. Citizens from each of these countries can travel visa-free to 174 destinations, according to the fourth quarter rankings which were released on Tuesday.

Take a look through the photo gallery above to see which countries claim the top 10 spots.

Japan and Singapore were crowned joint first in the Henley Passport Index, which assesses the travel documents based on how many countries citizens can access without a visa, using data from the International Air Transport Association.

The UAE retains its position as the only Arab nation with one of the world’s most powerful passports.

MJ5JDX Passport of United Arab Emirates. Alamy

In the first quarter of this year, the UAE ranked in 16th position. The country moved up one place to 15th in the second-quarter results, and will end 2021 in the same position as which it started.

There remains a wide gap between the Emirates and neighbouring GCC countries when it comes to passport strength. Qatar is ranked in 60th position, followed closely by Kuwait in 61st place. Bahrain ranks 69th, while Oman is 71st and the kingdom of Saudi Arabia ranks 72nd.

The strongest passports in Q4 2021:

  1. Japan, Singapore
  2. Germany, South Korea
  3. Finland, Italy, Luxembourg, Spain
  4. Austria, Denmark
  5. France, Ireland, Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden
  6. Belgium, New Zealand, Switzerland
  7. Czech Republic, Greece, Malta, Norway, UK, US
  8. Australia, Canada
  9. Hungary
  10. Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia
  11. Estonia, Latvia, Slovenia
  12. Iceland
  13. Malaysia
  14. Liechtenstein
  15. Cyprus
  16. UAE, Chile, Monaco, Romania
  17. Bulgaria
  18. Croatia
  19. Hong Kong
  20. Argentina, Brazil

Covid-19 leads to widest gap in travel freedom in 16 years

The most recent data from the Henley Passport Index shows a worrying gap in global mobility, the biggest in the index’s 16-year-history.

Passport holders from top-ranking nations Japan and Singapore are able to travel visa free to 166 more destinations than Afghans, who rank last and can only access 26 countries without requiring a visa in advance.

Many countries with high-ranking passports have enforced stringent inbound Covid-19-related travel restrictions.

Japan, which has a visa-free score of 192, bars almost all foreign nationals from entry. Singapore has only recently eased travel restrictions for some nations, but tourism to the country remains mostly prohibited.

Other countries with lower-ranking passports have relaxed their border rules, but this has not been reciprocated, even for fully vaccinated travellers.

In Egypt, which ranks 97th, there are no travel restrictions for incoming travellers. However, Egyptian citizens can only travel to 51 destinations around the world without acquiring a visa in advance

A similar story exists in many other countries, especially in Africa. Travellers can enter Kenya, for instance, with no restrictions, but Kenyan passport holders can only travel to 72 destinations visa-free, meaning more than 60 per cent of the world is inaccessible for them.

Unrecognised vaccines and endless travel restrictions

CP44YR Ottoman era town of Deir al-Qamar, Chouf Mountains, Lebanon.

Travel restrictions were deemed necessary at the outset of the global pandemic to contain the spread of Covid-19, but some experts believe countries are now using these rules to contain mobility.

“Covid-19-associated travel restrictions are new additions to the toolbox of migration containment instruments employed by the global north to curb mobility from the global south,” said a fellow from the United Nations University Institute on Comparative Regional Integration Studies as part of the Henley Index report.

The weakest passports in Q4 2021:

106. Congo

107. Iran, Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Sudan

108. Bangladesh, Kosovo, Libya

109. North Korea

110. Nepal, Palestine

111. Somalia

112. Yemen

113. Pakistan

114. Syria

115. Iraq

116. Afghanistan

The UK, which ranks in seventh place in the Henley Index, recently eased Covid-19 travel restrictions for some countries but failed to recognise vaccines administered across Africa, South America and South Asia.

From the US, the nation with the highest number of daily Covid-19 cases in the world right now, citizens have access to 185 countries visa-free. Conversely, several restrictions are in place for foreigners wishing to visit America.

As we near the end of 2021, the latest information from the Henley Passport Index paints a gloomy picture with much of the world remaining largely inaccessible to travellers from nations at the lower end of the index.

Updated: October 7th 2021, 8:56 AM