While many may be under the mistaken impression that an American passport will open all the right doors for you, the truth is that now is a better time than ever before to have a German passport as they appear to offer the greatest mobility in travel in the world. Indeed, according to the 2016 Visa Restrictions Index, a German passport allows its holder to enter 177 out of 218 international territories without a visa.

Which are the world’s best countries for expats?

Henley & Partners and the International Air Transport Association have been compiling an annual list of the world’s best countries for expats since 2006 and 2016 has shown that having a citizenship of a superpower such as America no longer has the weight it once did. While the United States came first in both 2014 as well as 2015, it has now slipped to fourth place with Sweden coming a close second to Germany with visa-free access to 176 countries (one less than Germany).

Indeed, if that wasn’t enough of a clear indication that the world is changing, Finland, France, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom all tie in at third place and Belgium, Denmark and Netherlands stand alongside the United States in fourth. This makes Northern and Western European citizens the most privileged when it comes to the sphere of international travel. Furthermore, while Japan and South Korea were among the top three group in 2014 and 2015, they have unfortunately found themselves in fifth and sixth places in 2016. Malta, on the other hand, ranks in at number 9 with visa-free access to 169 counties.

No list would be complete without the bottom contenders and, in this respect, the countries which reportedly have the worst passports are Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

What makes for a “good” passport?

Thanks to the amount of data collected over the past ten years, one can see clear patterns and it is this same accumulated information which led a representative of Henley & Partners to state that visa requirements “reflect strongly” on countries' relationships: “Criteria that a country will consider when considering giving visa-free access to citizens of another country may include diplomatic relationships between the countries, reciprocal visa arrangements, security risks, or risks of violation of visa terms”.

While many countries have moved very little up and down the Passport Index, there are some notable exceptions such as East Timor which gained independence in 1999 and signed a mutual visa-waiver agreement with the EU in May of 2015. This move enabled it to climb 33 places to land at number 57 on the list. Colombia was also able to move up 25 spots.

Another factor which can contribute to a country moving up the index is a fluctuation in the country’s wealth which in turn leads to an increase in the amount of people travelling from their home country to other countries and spending a lot of money in the process. After countries like Japan, South Korea and the United States relaxed their visa requirements for the Chinese, there was an increase in Chinese travellers and the country itself moved from 93rd to 87th place. Other countries have also taken note of China’s growing economy and the United Kingdom and Australia have also announced plans to make it easier for Chinese tourists to enter their respective countries.

The travel mobility gap

There is an obvious gap between different citizens’ travel opportunities as more affluent countries continue to offer their citizens unrestricted free movement while countries suffering from the devastating effects of war are unable to move up the list – an example of this can be seen in the case of Afghanistan which has come at the bottom of the list repeatedly for the last six years. While those countries torn by violence and economic instability continue to slide down the ladder, Germany’s strong position at the top of the list has continued to be reinforced by the fact that its stability as a country has allowed it to receive more asylum seekers than any other industrialized country.

List of world's best and worst passports by number of countries granting visa-free access

Best passports

1) Germany - 177

2) Sweden - 176

3) Finland, France, Italy, Spain, United Kingdom - 175

4) Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands, United States - 174

5) Austria, Japan, Singapore - 173

6) Canada, Ireland, Luxembourg, Norway, Portugal, South Korea, Switzerland - 172

7) Greece, New Zealand - 171

8) Australia - 169

9) Malta - 168

10) Czech Republic, Hungary, Iceland - 167

11) Slovakia - 165

12) Liechtenstein, Malaysia, Slovenia - 164

13) Latvia - 163

14) Estonia, Lithuania - 162

15) Poland - 161

16) Monaco - 160

17) Cyprus - 159

18) San Marino - 156

19) Chile - 155

20) Hong Kong - 154

Worst passports

94) Liberia - 43

95) Burundi, North Korea, Myanmar - 42

96) Bangladesh, Democratic Republic of Congo, Lebanon, Sri Lanka - 39

97) Kosovo, South Sudan, Yemen - 38

98) Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iran, Nepal, Palestinian Territory, Sudan - 37

99) Libya - 36

100) Syria - 32

101) Somalia - 31

102) Iraq - 30

103) Pakistan - 29

104) Afghanistan - 25

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