World's most powerful passports: UAE ranks highly amid 'revenge travel' surge

Gulf countries, particularly Qatar and Kuwait, could jump places this year

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The UAE passport has retained its spot as the 15th most powerful in the world, according to the latest Henley Passport Index.

The latest report, which ranks the world’s passports according to the number of destinations their holders can access without obtaining a prior visa, comes as global travel reaches 75 per cent of pre-pandemic levels. The industry has described the surge in post-pandemic tourism as "revenge travel".

Emirati passport holders can access 178 out of 227 countries without a prior visa, the most number of countries it has achieved since the launch of the index in 2006. Also in 15th spot is Liechtenstein.

Scroll through the gallery above to see the 15 most powerful passports

Japan has held the number one spot for the fifth year running, with a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 193 destinations. It is followed by South Korea and Singapore sharing second at 192. Germany and Spain jointly hold third at 190.

The UK and the US remain in sixth and seventh, with scores of 187 and 186 respectively, which the index says are both “increasingly unlikely to ever regain the top spot”. Both countries held first place in 2014.

At the bottom of the list is Afghanistan, with a visa-free score of 29, and Syria at 30.

Henley and Partners uses exclusive data from the International Air Transport Association for the index.

Passport strength and economic power

The latest index highlights a link between passport strength and economic power, arguing that passport holders of high-ranking countries have greater access to global economic opportunities.

Japanese passport holders, for example, have visa-free access to 98 per cent of the global economy. On the flip side, Afghanistan passport holders have less than 1 per cent.

“For global citizens and international businesspeople, a better measure of economic mobility and opportunity afforded by their passports is an indication of what share of the world’s GDP is accessible to them visa-free,” says Christian Kaelin, the chairman of UK-based consultancy Henley and Partners.

The study revealed that only 6 per cent of passports worldwide give their holders visa-free access to more than 70 per cent of the global economy.

Financial writer and global investment expert Jeff Opdyke says passports are a “gateway to fiscal opportunity”.

Asian countries dominate, but Gulf is catching up

The report singled out UAE as a “great success story” for its rapid progress in the index, climbing 49 spots over the past 10 years.

“International travel is surging to record levels, dozens of countries have launched nomad visa or golden visa schemes,” Parag Khanna, a member of the consultancy firm's advisory board, said.

“Relocations are surging to take advantage of remote work opportunities, settle in friendly tax regimes or adapt to the impact of climate change on property markets.”

Analysts anticipate dramatic progress in Kuwait's and Qatar's rankings in the index this year, with a potential visa-free deal with the European Union in the works. Once approved, the proposal will grant visa-free access for passport holders of both countries to 27 EU member states.

Qatar's hosting of the 2022 Fifa World Cup helped the country market itself to a global audience, according to Robert Mogielnicki, a resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.

He said Gulf countries are “poised for strong and much improved economic performances”.

Qatar is currently ranked at 55 with a score of 100, and Kuwait stands at 57 with a score of 97.

Impact of the war in Ukraine

Both Ukraine and Russia retained their positions in the index since the invasion began, at 36th and 49th respectively. However, airspace closures and sanctions have affected the mobility of Russian citizens who are barred from travelling to many high-income countries.

The EU's emergency plan, on the other hand, has enhanced the mobility for Ukrainians, who have been granted the right to live and work in the EU for up to three years. The Eastern European country has climbed 24 places up the passport index over the past decade. If it were to join the EU, its passport would break into the top 10 most powerful in the world.

The most powerful passports in the world

  1. Japan
  2. Singapore and South Korea
  3. Germany and Spain
  4. Finland, Italy and Luxembourg
  5. Austria, Denmark, Netherlands and Sweden
  6. France, Ireland, Portugal and the UK
  7. Belgium, Czech Republic, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland and the US
  8. Australia, Canada, Malta and Greece
  9. Hungary and Poland
  10. Lithuania and Slovakia
  11. Latvia and Slovenia
  12. Estonia
  13. Iceland
  14. Malaysia
  15. Liechtenstein and the UAE
Updated: January 10, 2023, 11:53 AM