FIFI PETERS: As we all get used to travelling again it’s probably useful to know how far the South African passport can take you, hassle- and visa-free. To talk about how strong it is and how other passports on the continents also stack up, as well as in the rest of the world, I’m joined by Amanda Smit, the head of South, East and Central Africa at Henley & Partners.
Amanda, thanks so much for your time. I was just looking at the index this year that measures a whole lot of passports – 199 passports across 227 travel destinations, I’m told. Seeing that South Africa’s passport is the third-strongest in Africa after Mauritius and the Seychelles, based on this year’s index, talk to us about that and how this year’s results compare to last year’s.
AMANDA SMIT: Hi, good evening. Thank you very much for having me and good evening to your listeners as well. So yes, if we look at the African countries at the moment, and which ones are actually sitting with the most powerful passports, the Seychelles definitely has the most powerful passport on the African continent with visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to about 153 destinations. That’s out of 227 destinations worldwide, and it’s currently ranked in 28th place on the worldwide index that measures global mobility and travel freedom.
To put this in context, the most powerful passport in the world is the Japanese passport, currently with record-breaking access to 193 destinations. In second place on the African continent is Mauritius with 146 destinations, ranking at 33rd place. That is followed by South Africa with access to 105 destinations, ranking number 55, under ……2:05 passport index.
So if we compare that to what we’ve seen in the past, there has actually been very little real movement on the index, especially during the Covid pandemic, due to the exceptional travel restrictions in place worldwide over the past two years. South Africa has risen by only one rank in the index since 2021, when it sat at 56th place. And the Seychelles has also risen by only one rank. But Mauritius has stayed firm at 33rd place on the ranking.
FIFI PETERS: How is that determined, though – just the number of countries that you can travel to visa-free for a respective country? What goes into that determination?
AMANDA SMIT: That is an original ranking of all the world’s passports, and it’s based on exclusive and official data from the International Air Transport Association. It really is measured based on the number of destinations that the holder of that passport can access without a prior visa.
FIFI PETERS: Perhaps put differently, what gives Seychelles and Mauritius, for instance, such a high score? And the likes of Afghanistan – I see that Afghanistan is the least powerful passport in terms of the number of countries that you can access without a visa. What distinguishes them?
AMANDA SMIT: Obviously the ranking is based on visa-free access. So if we look at all the countries in the world with all of their passports, number one at the moment obviously is Japan, because they can access almost all of the countries in the world, 193 out of 227 destinations. And then of course, if you look at South Africa, for example, we are at number 55 in the world because we can only access 105. And then Afghanistan can only access 27 destinations in the world visa-free. That really is the only determining factor.
So when we see a shift in ranking, for example from one year to another, it’s not really so much a case of the passport losing strength, but it is more a case of the higher passport gaining strength and then overtaking the other counterparts, putting them at a lower ranking in terms of destinations.
FIFI PETERS: What makes that happen, then? How do certain countries increase the strength of their passport?
AMANDA SMIT: There are many visa waivers and processes in place, and there could be many drivers. It could be based on trade relations, for example. It could be just the restrictions put in place. Obviously we’ve seen massive changes during the Covid pandemic, where many countries blocked certain other nations from entering. It was however very temporary at the time, but it had a massive reduction in the passport strength at the time. There are many factors that can lead to that. So it’s either countries gaining more visa-free access through reciprocal relationships with other countries, or some closing down because of a variety of reasons.
FIFI PETERS: All right. Amanda, thanks so much for those insights. I thought it was really interesting and I hope the listeners were also interested in that conversation. But we’ll leave it there. Amanda Smit, the head of South, East and Central Africa at Henley & Partners has been discussing passport power.