If you could obtain a passport from any country in the world, which one would you pick? Keep in mind that what passport you hold says a lot more than you may realize about your access to the world.
Can’t decide? Here’s some advice: You’d be wise to go with a member of the European Union, which is home to nine out of the top 10 countries whose citizens have the most freedom of (visa-free) travel, according to the 2013 index from Henley & Partners, an international residence and citizenship planning consulting firm.
“Visas are a standard requirement for most countries as certain non-nationals wish to enter their territory,” Henley & Partners said in the report. “At the same time, visa requirements or the lack thereof, are also an indication of the relationship between individual nations and the status of a country within the international community of nations.”
Henley & Partners monitors global visa regulations and analyzes the changes from year to year. The firm believes that in a globalized world “visa restrictions are an important tool for governments to control the movement of foreign nationals across borders.”
In the report, produced in collaboration with the International Air Transport Association, Henley & Partners ranked citizens’ visa-free access to other countries as of July 2013 on a 219-point scale. The United States’ total score of 172, for example, means that U.S. passport holders may enter 172 countries and territories without a visa, a marked increase from 2012.
Citizens of Denmark, Germany and Luxembourg can also enter 172 countries and territories, though it’s citizens of Finland, Sweden and the United Kingdom who, with a score of 173, edge out all others to have the best passports for global travel. Rounding out the top tier are Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands at 171, followed by Canada, France, Ireland, Japan, Norway, Portugal and Spain at 170.
On the flipside, passport holders of Kosovo (38), Lebanon (38), Sri Lanka (38), Sudan (38), Nepal (37), Eritrea (36), Palestinian Territory (36), Pakistan (32), Somalia (32) and Iraq (31) have the least visa-free travel options among all countries and territories surveyed, save those whose passports were issued in Kabul, Afghanistan. Afghani passport holders can only visit 13 percent of the world, or just 28 countries, free of formalities.
In general, passport holders in North America and Europe have the most freedom of travel, while passport holders in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia have the least.
“This global ranking reflects the international freedom of travel for the passport holders of various nations, [but also] the international relations and status of individual countries relative to others,” Henley & Partners said. Thus, the Republic of Korea, Hong Kong, United Arab Emirates and India have skyrocketed up the list in recent years as their international relations evolve. Venezuela, Zimbabwe, St. Kitts and Nevis, and Antigua and Barbuda also climbed several spots in the 2013 ranking after striking agreements with other countries.
Chinese tourists, however, still encounter major red tape when planning trips abroad. Though they’re one of the most sought-after groups for tourism boards around the world just 44 countries offer visa-free entry, placing China directly below Vietnam and tied with Cameroon, Congo, Jordan and Rwanda in terms of freedom of travel.
Scroll down below for a complete look at the best and worst passports for global travel.
Top 10 Best Passports For Visa-Free Travel
1 Finland, Sweden, UK
2 Denmark, Germany, Luxembourg, U.S.
3 Belgium, Italy, Netherlands
4 Canada, France, Ireland, Japan, Norway, Portugal, Spain
5 Austria, New Zealand, Switzerland
6 Australia, Greece, Singapore
7 South Korea
9 Malaysia, Malta
Bottom 10 Passports For Visa-Free Travel
84 Equatorial Guinea
85 Bangladesh, Burundi, Ethiopia, North Korea
86 Angola, Djibouti, Iran, Myanmar
87 Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya, South Sudan, Syria
88 Kosovo, Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Sudan
90 Eritrea, Palestinian Territory
91 Pakistan, Somalia
Mark Johanson is the travel editor at the International Business Times. He has traveled to and written about more than 30 nations and territories on every continent except...