Stronger passports mean easier travel for Australians

The value of an Australian passport has risen, with the country climbing two spots in global passport power rankings.

Australian passports are at No. 6 on the Henley Passport Index for 2023, sharing the ranking with Hungary and Poland.

Australia sits behind New Zealand (No. 5) and the UK (No. 4), but its rise in rankings is in contrast to Japan’s fall from first place to third.

This is the first time Japan hasn’t taken out the top spot in five years, after its passport-holders lost visa-free access to four countries since 2022.

Singapore’s passport has been crowned the world’s strongest, with its citizens able to visit 192 global travel destinations visa-free out of 227 countries.

Australian passport-holders can visit 186 destinations without visas, or are able to obtain a visa, visitor’s permit, or an electronic travel authority upon arrival.

This is up from 185 destinations last year.

The three weakest passports belong to Syria (No. 101), Iraq (No. 102) and Afghanistan (No. 103), which rank even lower than North Korea (No. 97).

The global mobility gap between those at the top and bottom of the index is wider than it has ever been, with Singapore able to access 165 more destinations visa-free than Afghanistan.

However, the general trend over the history of the 18-year-old ranking has leaned towards greater travel freedom, with the average number of destinations travellers are able to access without visas nearly doubling from 58 in 2006 to 109 this year.

Some win, some lose

Christian H. Kaelin, chairman of Henley & Partners, said only eight countries have less visa-free access today than they did a decade ago.

Others have been more successful in gaining greater travel freedom for their citizens.

“The UAE has added an impressive 107 destinations to its visa-free score since 2013, resulting in a massive leap of 44 places in the ranking over the past 10 years from 56th to 12th position,” he said.

“This is almost double the next biggest climber, Colombia, which has enjoyed a jump of 28 places in the ranking to sit in 37th spot.

“Ukraine and China are also among the top 10 countries with the most improved rankings over the past decade.”

In contrast to these success stories, the United States is not doing so well.

Its passport still ranks in the top 10, but the US is falling behind other countries that are rapidly expanding their networks, with the country having secured visa-free access to just 12 additional destinations between 2013 and 2023.

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“While its absolute score has in fact risen over the last decade, the US has been steadily overtaken by rivals such as South Korea, Japan, and Singapore,” Greg Lindsay, leading global strategist and urban tech fellow at Cornell Tech Jacobs Institute, said.

“America’s relentless slide down the rankings — and unlikelihood of reclaiming the highest position any time soon — is a warning to its neighbour Canada and the rest of the Anglosphere as well.”

The power of a strong passport

A strong passport represents a lot of freedom.

If an Australian passport-holder wants to travel internationally, they’ll likely spend a lot less time and money thanks to being able to travel to many countries without having to apply for a visa, compared to someone holding a passport from a country like Pakistan.

Not only does this mean cheaper and easier holiday travel, it could also provide more freedom in terms of work opportunities.

People with weak passports can face a lengthy visa application process, possibly a greater chance at having their visas denied, and can be subjected to more intense questioning when entering a foreign country.

This is why those people who hold a strong passport are considered to benefit from ‘passport privilege’.

Dr Kaelin said a passport is also more than a document that defines a person’s freedom of movement; a strong one can provide significant financial freedoms in terms of international investment and business opportunities.

“Global connectivity and access have become indispensable features of wealth creation and preservation, and its value will only grow as geopolitical volatility and regional instability increase,” he said.

The Henley Passport Index findings are based on data from the International Air Transport Association.

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