The Henley Passport Index, published every quarter of the year by investment migration consulting firm Henley & Partners, ranks the travel freedoms enjoyed by the regular holders of passports from 199 countries. The index is considered the standard reference tool used by citizens and nations to assess where a passport ranks on the global mobility spectrum.
The index measures the ability of the passports of these 199 countries to freely travel to 227 different destinations without the need for a prior visa.
In the most recent version of the Henley Passport Index, the passport of Singapore beats out all other passports in its strength, as it allows holders visa-free entry to 192 out of the 227 international destinations. The last time Singapore held the top spot was in 2021. (Related: Study ranks Singapore as the best state in the world while the US is in 23rd place.)
Germany, Italy and Spain tied for second place with 190 visa-free destinations. Japan, which topped the list last year, dropped to third place, with 189 visa-free places Japanese citizens can travel to. Japan is tied with Austria, Finland, France, Luxembourg, South Korea and Sweden.
Afghanistan was ranked as the country with the least powerful passport, with visa-free access to just 27 destinations. The country is followed by Iraq with 29, Syria with 30, Pakistan with 33 and Somalia and Yemen with 35.
Meanwhile, the passport of the United States has dropped to eighth place, alongside Lithuania, with 184 visa-free travel destinations. The U.S. ranked first in the world in 2014. America's index score has been dropping ever since, with its current spot at number eight being the lowest ever since the index was created.
Along with the nations already mentioned, the U.S. was also beaten by countries like Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom with 188 visa-free destinations; Belgium, Czechia, Malta, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal and Switzerland with 187, Australia, Hungary and Poland with 186 and Canada and Greece with 185 visa-free international destinations.
"The reason for the U.S.'s slump is both easy to explain and confounding: It isn't trying," said Greg Lindsay, Urban Tech Fellow at Cornell University's Cornell Tech Jacobs Urban Tech Hub. Lindsay noted that America's visa reciprocity has been declining over the past decade.
"Of the 34 countries ranked between one and 10, the U.S. boasts the smallest increase in the Henley Passport Index scores between 2013 and 2023, with additional [visa-free] access to only 12 countries," said Lindsay. "Singapore, by contrast, has seen an increase of 25 additional countries during the same period, propelling it upward by five places to the number one rank [since 2013]."
"The story is a simple one – by more or less standing still, the U.S. has fallen behind," said Lindsay in a separate statement. "America's relentless slide down the rankings – and unlikelihood of reclaiming the highest position any time soon – is a warning to its neighbor Canada and the rest of the Anglosphere as well."
This warning, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies senior non-resident associate Annie Pforzheimer, is that America's global soft power will decline as its remains stagnant with regard to providing greater legal travel freedom.
Pforzheimer warned that keeping travel access stagnant risks creating new challenges for American businesses that want to provide international partners to visit for meetings and to conduct business dealings. America's tourism industry will also stagnate as potential visitors encounter application delays.
"Far more than just a travel document that defines our freedom of movement, a strong passport also provides significant financial freedoms in terms of international investment and business opportunities," wrote Henley & Partners in a press statement. "Global connectivity and access have become indispensable features of wealth creation and preservation, and its value will only grow as geopolitical volatility and regional instability increase."
Watch this clip from a news broadcast featuring Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong vowing to build a world-class talent pool in Singapore.