Here at MFT we take great interest in passports, visas and travel restrictions–in part because we love traveling, and in part because we are constantly dealing with nationality-related issues. All five of our contributors (including the dear and basically-departed Saru) are US citizens. Four of us live in Japan and a couple of us have seriously contemplated taking Japanese citizenship. Curzon is a dual citizen of the UK and I am a dual citizen of Ireland. While Roy is only a US citizen (as far as any of us can tell), he has a strong academic interest in citizenship law.
I was recently taking a look at the Henley survey, which ranks countries by the freedom of movement afforded their passport holders. The full list is here, and the rankings surprised me enough that I decided to poke through the web to find out how travel restrictions differ for American, Japanese, British and Irish citizens.
It turns out that Ireland has the second-best passport in the world, tied with Finland and Portugal, and second only to Denmark’s. Irish citizens can enter 156 countries without an advance visa.
The US is tied for #3 in the global ranking, alongside Belgium, Germany and Sweden. US citizens can enter 155 countries without an advance visa.
Japan is tied for #4 in the global ranking, alongside Canada, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Spain. Japanese citizens can enter 154 countries without an advance visa.
The UK is at #6, tied with France, and UK citizens can access 152 countries. But British passport holders have to be careful about the type of passport they hold: it is possible to get a British passport without being a British citizen (most often by being a former subject of a defunct British possession such as Ireland or Hong Kong), and the travel restrictions on such passports are tighter. For instance, a British non-citizen passport can’t be used for a visa waiver to enter the United States–but on the flip side, a British passport held by a Hong Kong subject can be used to enter China without a visa.
The differences in visa waiver coverage are interesting, if seemingly arbitrary at times. In the chart below, an “O” means no visa is required or that a visa can be purchased on arrival, while an “X” means that a visa must be acquired in advance.
USA GBR IRL JPN AMERICAS: Belize O O O X Bolivia X O O O Brazil X O O X Paraguay X O O O Suriname X X X O AFRICA: Rwanda O O X X ASIA: China (PRC) X X X O Iran X O O O Mongolia O X X X Vietnam X X X O