Family vacations, business endeavors, study abroad programs, and for some people, just going home have all become elusive prospects during COVID times. Depending on where you’re from or where you’ve been, you may be legally restricted from going to your desired destination. If you’re lucky enough to be allowed in, you’re met with a significantly limited amount of flights that are less than convenient for your schedule. By the time you get to your destination and your one week self-quarantine is over, you have painfully little time before you must head home. All of this assuming, of course, that you feel safe and comfortable traveling with such uncertainty in the air.
Long story short: most of us can only dream of travel for now. So while you’re at home planning for the adventure you’ll be taking in the near future (fingers crossed), here’s a look into passport power—and the three Asian countries that lead in the rankings.
What is passport power?
Now, obviously, travel isn’t just about having the money or the time, it’s about having the documents. Some passports grant access to more countries without a visa than others. The more countries a passport-holder can enter without a visa, the easier travel is, and the more “powerful” their passport is. According to the Henley and Partners Passport index, which uses data from International Air Transport Association (IATA), Japan has the most powerful passport, with access to 191 countries without a visa (not taking into account COVID restrictions). Singapore comes in close second with 190 countries, and South Korea comes in third with 189. To get technical for a moment, the index also includes countries that require a visa but provide one upon arrival there (a fairly simple process) in that total.
This is the country’s third year in a row in the top spot. Considering the Japanese economy is one of the biggest in the world, this isn’t exactly a surprise. Countries Japanese passport-holders can travel to without a visa include China, France, Germany, and the US. As for Japan’s current state, after a spike in COVID cases last month, cases are now trending downward. The Japanese health ministry has just officially recommended the use of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine, with plans to start vaccinations next week.
With one of the lowest COVID death rates in the world, Singapore is one of the safest countries right now. That being said, Singapore nationals and permanent residents are free to leave and re-enter the country, as long as they get tested and self-quarantine for at least 14 days. The Pfizer vaccine rollout has already begun.
South Korea was lauded as one of the first countries to effectively respond to the COVID crisis. As a result of its rigorous trace-and-test strategy, the country had been able to lower cases and see some form of normalcy during the beginning of 2020. After a spike in December, South Korea is back down to a few hundred new cases of COVID a day. Administration of the controversial AstraZeneca vaccine has recently been approved for all adults.
What about the USA?
After leading the passport power rankings with a handful of European countries for years, the US has dropped to the seventh spot, in a tie with the UK. According to a Henley Passport Index press release last month, this solidifies the Asia Pacific region’s new dominance in Global mobility.
However, while the U.S. trails Japan, Singapore, and South Korea, it’s not by much. A US passport can get you to 185 countries without a visa. With current COVID restrictions, though, that figure looks more like 75 countries. The US’s relatively high number of cases means its Top 10 ranking are mostly nominal right now.
Conclusion? Americans in particular are not in the best position to travel at the moment. Hold out for that vaccine, stay home when you can, and keep following those CDC guidelines. If we all do our part, we might be on that flight to Bali faster than you expect.
While you’re planning that trip, make sure to review this Traveler’s Guide to Haggling in Asia Respectfully.