27 Jun The 25 Most Powerful Passports Around the World
Two thousand four hundred and sixty-odd years ago in Persia, King Artaxerxes granted one of his officials, Nehemiah, leave of absence to travel to Judea. With him, the King sent a letter to the “governors beyond the river” requesting safe passage for his servant as he crossed the Euphrates on his way to Jerusalem.
Thus began the story of the passport. Two and a half millennia later, one in three Americans, nine in ten Norwegians and 5% of Chinese have one. The UK prints five million of them a year, or one every 2.5 seconds, at a secret location in the north of England. Three million of them are flying 30,000 feet above you as we speak.
Of course, passports have taken on additional functions and evolved in both style and content since the days of Nehemiah, but they still serve the same essential purpose: granting its bearer freedom of movement across borders.
A passport’s source of value is the extent to which it is acknowledged as an entry permit to jurisdictions around the world and while some passports are hardly worth the paper on which they are printed, others are worth their weight in gold (and sometimes a lot more, actually: weighing in at about 25 grams, a Cypriot passport, if you’re buying one, is worth 100 times its weight in gold).
American passports, for example, are in high demand, and for good reason: they afford access to 174 countries and territories around the world, including most of Europe. Of course, holding a passport from a superpower can also have its disadvantages; nobody ever hijacked a plane threatening to kill all the Estonians.
Afghan passport-holders, conversely, have visa-free access to only 25 countries (the land beyond the Euphrates not being one of them) and have no choice but to endure byzantine and bureaucratic ordeals to obtain one even to travel their neighbors in Central Asia.
To illustrate the immense disparity between passports in terms of the travel freedom they afford, we’ve created the below infographic: