The world’s 3 best passports for travel aren’t from the US or Europe

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Traveling comes with its share of challenges, not least applying for visas. And visa regimes can determine the trajectory of your life: where you’re allowed to travel, study, work and live. Your global mobility essentially comes down to that little booklet you hold.

Here are the passports that enjoy the greatest travel freedom and the lowest number of visa requirements around the world in 2019, according to rankings from two global citizenship and residence advisory firms: Arton Capital’s Global Passport Power Rank 2019 and Henley & Partners’ 2019 Henley Passport Index.

1. Singapore, Japan, and the United Arab Emirates

Singapore and Japan tie for first place on the Henley Passport Index, while the United Arab Emirates (UAE) sits atop the Arton Capital Passport Index ranking.

Henley gives Singapore and Japan scores of 189. The figure represents the number of countries and destinations those passports can access without having to apply for a visa.

Arton Capital’s Passport Index gives UAE citizens a mobility score of 175, the highest on its list.

The sites’ lists differ due to differences in methodology. Henley’s index includes more destinations beyond those officially recognized by the UN — 227 in total — but scores passports according to where they can travel entirely visa-free or obtain a visa-on-arrival. Arton Capital’s index, meanwhile, awards passport scores based on both visa-free and e-visa travel ability, and examines passport access to 199 destinations: 193 United Nations member countries and six officially recognized territories.

Mother and child walk close to Singapore business district.

Leren Lu | Photographer’s Choice | Getty Images

The most mobile passports in the world in 2019, according to Passport Index

1. United Arab Emirates

2. Tied: Finland, Luxembourg, Spain

3. Denmark, Italy, Germany, Netherlands, Austria, Portugal, Switzerland, Japan, South Korea, Ireland, United States

4. Sweden, Singapore, France, Belgium, Malta, Greece, Norway

5. Lithuania, Iceland, United Kingdom, Canada

The most mobile passports in the world in 2019, according to Henley & Partners:

1. Tied: Singapore and Japan

2. Finland, Germany, South Korea

3. Denmark, Italy, Luxembourg

4. France, Spain, Sweden

5. Austria, Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden

The U.S., U.K. and Canada are tied for sixth in terms of travel accessibility, along with Norway, Greece, Belgium and Ireland, all of which have visa-free access to 183 destinations, according to Henley & Partners. Henley says this is one of the lowest ranks the U.S. has held in the index’s 14-year history, having moved down from first place in its ranking in 2014.

The world’s least mobile passports

Both indexes list the same passports as the five weakest and least mobile in the world. Starting with the bottom-ranked, they are:

1. Afghanistan

2. Iraq

3. Syria

4. Pakistan

5. Somalia

Citizens from these countries can access between just 25 and 40 countries without a visa, and need prior visa approval for between 158 and 168 countries, according to both indexes.

Why Asian and Middle Eastern hubs stand out

Henley & Partners describes Japan and Singapore as countries that have “long taken a proactive foreign policy approach, and have worked to establish mutually beneficial diplomatic relationships with a wide range of countries around the world.” Paddy Blewer, the firm’s public relations director, describes their main advantage as having access to all of Europe as well as the U.S., Canada, and Australia.

“These strong Asian nations also have better ties to other countries in their region and have an upper hand regarding access to more traditionally closed-off destinations such as Azerbaijan and China, etc., whose lists of visa-exempt or visa-on-arrival countries are extremely selective,” Blewer told CNBC.

The UAE’s passport ranking, meanwhile, was mainly boosted by its 2015 Schengen visa waiver, according to the country’s online government portal, government.ae.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Jorg Greuel | Stone | Getty Images

“The UAE is the first Arab nation whose citizens enjoy a visa waiver to the 26 Schengen countries, which make up most of Europe,” the website says. This is not the case in the U.S., however, where Emiratis still need to apply for visas, despite the two countries being close allies.

And it’s made significant strides in just a few years: in 2016, the UAE passport was ranked 27th on the Arton list.

“This advance is about to get even bigger on August 15th, 2019, when South Africa’s visa waiver for the UAE will come in force,” Hrant Boghossian, Passport Index’s co-founder, told CNBC via email. “It will push the UAE passport’s Mobility Score to 176 or 88% of the countries in our index. No country in the past has reached over 90% and we have a feeling that the UAE will be the first to do so.”

The Henley ranking has the UAE ranked 20th, tied with European countries San Marino and Croatia, the latter of which is in the EU. According to this ranking, Emirati citizens have access to 167 countries without needing to apply for a visa. Henley’s scoring counts the countries where citizens do not need a visa or can obtain a visa-on-arrival, rather than those that offer e-visas.

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