A new ranking has revealed which nations have the most powerful passports. Passport Index ranks our travel documents by measuring the number of countries that can be visited without applying for a visa.
The 2016 ranking puts Germany and Sweden at the top of the passport league. Holders of German and Swedish passports can visit 158 countries without the need to apply for a visa.
Last year, the United States and the United Kingdom shared the top spot. The US has now slipped to fourth place.
British passports have slipped to second place, where they enjoy the same status as France, Spain, Switzerland and Finland.
The map below shows the global distribution of the most and least powerful passports.
The least powerful passports are issued by poor countries, often mired in conflict. The people of Afghanistan can only visit 24 countries without applying for a visa. Pakistan fares little better, with just 31 countries offering visa-free travel. The passport of the world’s newest nation, strife-torn South Sudan, only allows visa-free access to 36 countries.
A single African passport?
South Africa has the highest-ranking passport in continental Africa. It is placed 46th in the world and grants holders access to 91 countries without the need for a visa.
The African Union has recently launched a trial of a single African passport that allows holders visa-free access to all 54 AU member states.
Initially the passport is only available to African Union heads of state, ministers of Foreign Affairs and the permanent representatives of AU member states based at the headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The AU has plans to abolish visa requirements “for all African citizens and African countries by 2018”, according to the AU’s Agenda 2063. The AU has suggested 2020 as the roll-out date for a single African passport for all citizens.
AU Commission Chairperson, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, described the single passport initiative as “a steady step toward the objective of creating a strong, prosperous and integrated Africa, driven by its own citizens and capable of taking its rightful place on the world stage."
In the digital global economy, money, data and knowledge cross international borders much faster than people do. So is a move towards the digital passport likely any time soon? Could your smartphone be the passport of the future?
A spokesman for De La Rue, the company that prints British passports, says a number of possibilities are being considered. Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, he said: “Technology is at the forefront of De La Rue’s business, and as you would expect we are always looking at new innovations and technology solutions for our customers around the world.
“Paperless passports are one of many initiatives that we are currently looking at, but at the moment it is a concept that is at the very early stages of development.”