The Least Powerful Passports

In North America and Europe, passports offer citizens the opportunity to see the world, learn about other cultures, and create connections. But African and Middle Eastern passports offer far less opportunities to their holders, whether because of poor government relations or newly established borders.

In North America and Europe, passports offer citizens the opportunity to see the world, learn about other cultures, and create connections. But African and Middle Eastern passports offer far less opportunities to their holders, whether because of poor government relations or newly established borders. In contrast to our previous list of most powerful passports, here we look at the least powerful passports.

Visa-free entry is a tangible result of positive relationships between 2 countries; despotic leaders and unstable infrastructure often prevent these relationships from developing, denying citizens the opportunity to access travel in the same way Western people travel.

We pulled information from a few different places to put together a list of the most powerful and least powerful passports issued. The main driver of what constitutes whether a passport is powerful or not is how many countries its holder can enter without a visa or with a visa-upon-arrival. The power ranking is based upon an average of 5 different groups’ power rankings released in the past year or so.

Along with our power ranking, we’ve included the Henley & Partners’ number of visa-free countries and territories that are accessible with each passport. Henley & Partners’ has a thorough explanation of how its numbers were calculated. To see if you need a visa for your next adventure, you can use this tool provided by the International Air Transport Association and Star Alliance Airlines or this page created by the US Department of State.

13. Kosovo — 40 countries

Considering that Kosovo is not yet recognized as a country by all members of the United Nations, it is not surprising that traveling under the European country’s passport can be difficult. This year, new travel opportunities have been added for Kosovan citizens and Serbians living in Kosovo. Interestingly, many of the countries where Kosovans can travel visa-free are below them on the passport power list.

11. Libya and Syria (Tie) — 38 countries each

Citizens of both of these war-torn nations can find it difficult to find places to escape from violence and extremism. But, for one young man, it seems a Syrian passport was powerful enough to make his way from Damascus to Stockholm for a chance at a better life.

8. Pakistan, Nepal, and Ethiopia (Tie) — 32, 37, and 39 countries, respectively

Unlike many countries, residents of Pakistan are unable to cross borders with neighboring countries without getting a visa. Plus, the country’s own government outlawed citizens from traveling to one country in particular: Israel. Not only do Ethiopians have a great deal of trouble finding countries to travel to without going through the visa ordeal, when they are required to get a visa, it is often a long, difficult, and frustrating process.

7. Sudan — 38 countries

When Sudan switched to passports with chip cards in them in 2009, names were written in English and in Arabic on the new documents. But an error on early passports meant only part of the name was written in English, while the full name appeared in Arabic. The discrepancy caused major issues with Sudanese travelers applying for visas in western countries, and expats were not able to get new passports made quickly outside of Sudan until 2012.

6. Eritrea — 38 countries

Eritrean citizens have issues with free travel among other Eastern African nations, if they can even secure travel under the harsh military government. Whether citizens have a passport or not, nearly 18% of the refugees coming into Europe are from Eritrea—second only to Syria (31%).

5. South Sudan — 39 countries

South Sudan began issuing passports in 2012, meaning the passport has had little time to gain influence. In July 2013, the country started issuing business passports as a way to support the private sector. Recently, South Sudanese citizens living in Uganda were given the opportunity to get their passports in the neighboring country … for an additional fee.

4. Palestinian Territories — 35 countries

Like Kosovo, the fact that Palestine is not recognized as an independent nation by other nations creates many problems for obtaining and traveling under the Palestinian passport. Add in the complex Middle Eastern political climate, and it is easy to see why those living in both Gaza and the West Bank find it difficult to travel.

3. Somalia — 32 countries

Instability, poverty, and corruption have prevented the Somalian passport from carrying much weight around the world. Additionally, the separatist leaders have started to issue e-passports for Somaliland, in the north, despite not being officially recognized by the international community.

2. Iraq — 31 countries

The final two entries on the bottom of the power index were unanimous among the sites surveyed. Iraqi passports are not only difficult to use, but difficult to obtain. A German program trying to relocate kidnapping victims of ISIS is having difficulty getting women and children into treatment because often they have no passport, and no male relative (father/husband) alive to get the residency document.

1. Afghanistan — 28 countries

With only 28 countries opening their borders to Afghanis without a visa, the Middle Eastern nation is at the bottom of all passport power rankings. In fact, the Afghan President, on a visit to India, personally had to reassure students studying in India that their visa and passport issues would be resolved. But, according to a video recently released by NATO, things are looking up as the country modernizes their passport processing.