An unprecedented six countries share the top spot with visa-free access to a record-breaking number of destinations on the 2024 Henley Passport Index, which is based on exclusive and official data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
Four EU member states — France, Germany, Italy, and Spain — join Japan and Singapore in boasting the most powerful passports in the world, with their citizens able to visit an astonishing 194 destinations out of 227 around the globe visa-free.
The two Asian nations have dominated 1st place on the index (which ranks all the world’s passports according to the number of destinations their holders can access without a prior visa) for the past five years.
Dr. Christian H. Kaelin, Chairman of Henley & Partners and the inventor of the passport index concept, says although the general trend over the history of the 19-year-old ranking has been towards greater travel freedom, the global mobility gap between those at the top and bottom of the index is now wider than ever.
“The average number of destinations travelers are able to access visa-free has nearly doubled from 58 in 2006 to 111 in 2024. However, as we enter the new year, the top-ranked countries are now able to travel to a staggering 166 more destinations visa-free than Afghanistan, which sits at the bottom of the ranking with access to just 28 countries without a visa.”
Asian tiger South Korea joins Finland and Sweden in 2nd place with visa-free travel to 193 destinations, and another four EU nations — Austria, Denmark, Ireland, and Netherlands — share 3rd place with access to 192. The rest of the Top 10 is largely dominated by European countries, with the UK climbing up two ranks to 4th place with visa-free access to 191 destinations compared to just 188 a year ago.
Australia and New Zealand passport holders both improve their ranking to sit in 6th place with 189 visa-free destinations, while the US retains its 7th place with access to 188 destinations without requiring a visa in advance. It has been a decade since the UK and the US jointly held 1st place on the index in 2014.
Biggest climbers and fallers
The UAE remains the biggest climber on the Henley Passport Index over the past decade, adding an impressive 106 destinations to its visa-free score since 2014, resulting in a massive leap of 44 places in the ranking from 55th to 11th position.
Ukraine and China are also among the Top 5 countries with the most improved rankings over the past 10 years (a net total gain of 21 places each), and both have climbed a further two ranks in the past year. Ukraine is now in 32nd place with 148 visa-free destinations and China is 62nd on the ranking with access to 85 destinations without a prior visa (compared to just 44 in 2014).
While Russia has seen a net gain of 24 destinations over the past decade, its visa-free score and ranking has barely shifted since 2017, and it now sits in 51st place with access to 119 destinations.
Frédéric Léger, IATA’s Senior Vice President Commercial Products and Services, says with passenger traffic set to double by 2040, the optimization and enhancement of airport processes will need to continue. “Checking and verifying travel documents more often than not needs to be performed manually. With the expected continued growth in air travel, this task needs to be automated to a much higher degree.
Passengers have clearly communicated that they are willing to share their data in advance of travel to achieve this goal.
Building on IATA’s long-standing experience in collecting and making accurate travel document, visa and health information available to both stakeholders in travel value chain and travelers, the new version of Timatic AutoCheck offers various online solutions, through which travelers can check that they comply with all travel requirements before setting off to the airport.”
Key global mobility and migration trends in 2024
Commenting in the Henley Global Mobility Report 2024 Q1, released today alongside the latest Henley Passport Index, award-winning journalist and author, Misha Glenny, says there’s only one piece of advice needed in the new year: Brace yourself for more uncertainty. “In 2024, 40 countries making up over 50% of global GDP will undergo decisive elections, including the US and several other major powers.
Political trends point to a lack of geopolitical coordination heightening the risk of prospective shocks to an already precarious economic environment.
The general trend, however, remains steady. A decline in American and European influence and a jostling for power among the Asian big boys.”
Former career diplomat with the U.S. Department of State and a senior non-resident associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Annie Pforzheimer, says immigration remains one of the most intractable issues in American politics.
“As the year begins, the political temperature in the US regarding uncontrolled migration through Mexico is threatening to derail other national priorities, leading to speculation that the country might attempt long-delayed immigration reforms. Even the Biden administration has called the asylum system ‘broken’.”
Immigration is also “a highly salient political issue” in the UK ahead of their general election this year, according to Dr. Hannah White OBE, Director for the Institute for Government. Commenting in the report, she says “the UK has seen unprecedented inward migration following the introduction of its post-Brexit migration regime.
This increase has proven awkward for the governing Conservative party, which committed in its 2019 election manifesto to cut annual net migration to under a quarter of a million”.
Turning to the Middle East, Dr. Robert Mogielnicki, a Senior Resident Scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, says despite the “devastating effects” of the Israel–Hamas conflict, governments in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region hope to continue the economic momentum of 2023 in the year ahead.
“The GCC has agreed to establish a Schengen-like visa system, enabling tourists to travel seamlessly throughout the region. While more work on implementation needs to be done throughout 2024, the planned enhancements to regional mobility will produce positive spillovers to the smaller Gulf states of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, and Qatar.
The GCC’s Unified Tourist Visa project serves as an important example of subregional integration and connectivity — a process that would be extremely difficult to replicate across the broader Middle East and North Africa.”
The link between travel freedom and economic performance
Henley & Partners has conducted exclusive new research into the relationship between visa-free access and economic progress by comparing key metrics across various regional and economic groups worldwide including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the African Union (AU), the EU, the G7, the G20, the GCC, and the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) as well as the expanded BRICS bloc, which officially welcomed new members Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE in early January.
The indicators include each grouping’s percentage share of global GDP and the world’s population, along with their average percentage scores on the Henley Passport Index, the Henley Openness Index (measuring the number of nationalities a country permits entry to without a prior visa), and the Henley Passport Power Index (measuring the percentage of global GDP each passport provides to its holders visa-free).
Commenting on the findings published in the Henley Global Mobility Report 2024 Q1, former Chief Economist at Lloyds Bank, Prof. Trevor Williams, says the data contains “a treasure trove of insights into the possibilities for spreading economic progress worldwide.
The overarching narrative that links greater economic performance with visa-free access and openness to international trade, investment, and the exchange of skills is once again powerfully highlighted, underpinned, and backed by the research shown in this year’s report.”
Prof. Williams goes on to say that there are “valuable lessons” for other developing countries and regions, especially ASEAN, the AU, BRICS, and MERCOSUR. “In many respects, future global economic progress depends upon lagging regions showing substantial improvement in their openness to each other, and on wealthier blocs and countries showing more openness to developing nations.”
Award-winning author and journalist, Justice Malala, agrees, saying African mobility is heading for a crossroads in 2024 following Kenya’s bold announcement that visitors no longer require a visa (which came into effect this month).
“Kenya and Rwanda are the first major political and economic powers to offer completely visa-free access to international and continental visitors. Their no-visa policies breathe new life into the AU’s attempts to bring about free movement of goods, services, capital, and the continent’s 1.4 billion people.”
Innovative financing through investment migration
Henley & Partners’ innovative research also shows a strong correlation between economic performance, passport power, and countries that host investment migration programs.
For instance, nearly 60% of G7 countries, which collectively account for 30% of global GDP and have an average Henley Passport Power (HPP) percentage score of 82%, offer some form of residence or citizenship by investment program.
Similarly, nearly all 27 EU member states (with an average HPP score of 74%) provide the right to reside in return for making some form of investment, and most of the 19 sovereign states in the G20 (with an average HPP score of 54%) also offer a mechanism to encourage inward investment in exchange for residence rights.
Dr. Juerg Steffen, CEO of Henley & Partners, says both visa-openness and investment migration are significant levers that governments can use to positively impact and improve their passport’s power, as well as their economic progress.
“What sets residence and citizenship by investment programs apart from debt-driven financing approaches is that they enhance the sovereign equity of the host nation.
They do not require compromising or sacrificing one strategic objective in order to achieve another. Investment migration is a genuine win–win, long-term, sustainable solution for all stakeholders, whether they are investors or nation states and their citizens.”