How SA's passport power changed in a decade: The best and worst passports for 2020

2020-01-08 08:22 - Selene Brophy
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As we enter the new decade, South Africa ranks at number 56 on the Henleys Passport Index, almost ten places lower than its position on the index in 2010. 

In 2010, South Africa ranked at number 47 and had visa-free access to 88 countries - currently, South African travellers are able to travel to 100 destinations, either visa free or with a visa on arrival. 

The drop in just on 10 places isn't about the number of countries SA has lost access to though, as we clearly have more hassle-free spots to visit - but it's about the increase of countries included in the Index, say the passport power experts. 

"The rise and fall on the index is also influenced by geo-political activity (visa waivers and treaties) and travel freedom. So the country did not really lose access but the index itself grew in the number of countries."

Although, significantly SA travellers lost visa-free access to places like New Zealand in 2016. Even further back was the expensive impact of the UK restricting our Common Wealth Access by implementing a visa requirement in 2008.  Click here to see the full Index for South Africaand other countries

Like South Africa, India and Russia have also seen the power of their passports decline during that time-frame, but not to such a great extent — dropping by seven places in the case of India and two places for Russia.

"The shift in South Africa’s ranking is emblematic of the widening global mobility gap between African countries and other regions featured on the index — which is based on exclusive data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA)," says Henleys. 

For the third consecutive year, Japan has secured the top spot. Singapore holds onto its 2nd-place position with a score of 190, while South Korea shares 3rd place alongside Germany, giving their passport holders visa-free/visa-on-arrival access to 189 destinations worldwide. 

However, South Africa still commands a relatively high score, in comparison to its continental neighbours. 

The Seychelles remains the regional lead, ranking at 29th globally with a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 151, while Mauritius retains its regional 2nd-place position with a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 146. 

Managing Partner and Head of South, Central and East Africa, Amanda Smit, says the implementation of reciprocal visa waivers is the determining factor for upward movement in the global ranking.

“The rankings seem to have dropped but it is not that African countries have lost access - it's that they are remaining static, while other countries are in a position to make mutually beneficial arrangements which add value to their global mobility. One reason for this shift is that Saudi Arabia, Myanmar and Barbados have changed their visa policies, giving visa free access to a number of countries, but not Seychelles, Mauritius, or South Africa.”

According to the latest ranking, the US and the UK are also continuing on a downward trajectory.

While both countries remain in the top 10, their shared 8th-place position is a significant decline from the number one spot they jointly held in 2015. Elsewhere in the top 10, Finland and Italy share 4th place, with a score of 188, while Denmark, Luxembourg, and Spain together hold 5th place, with a score of 187.

The index’s historic success story remains the UAE, which has climbed a remarkable 47 places over the past 10 years and now sits in 18th place, with a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 171.

Afghanistan remains at the bottom of the index, with access to only 26 destinations worldwide - with the results showing a growing divide when it comes to travel freedom.

“Japanese passport holders able to access 165 more destinations than Afghan nationals."

Analysis of our historical data reveals that this extra-ordinary global mobility gap is the starkest it’s been since the index’s inception in 2006.  

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