Japanese citizens now hold the most powerful passport in the world, though the access it affords to other countries is greatly reduced in a post-pandemic world.
The Henley Passport Index has published it latest power rankings for 199 different international travel documents. After the upheaval of 2020 and constantly changing Covid-19 Travel restrictions - Japan retains the world's most powerful passport granting access to 193 destinations visa-free.
Singapore takes second place with 192, followed by South Korea and Germany in joint third place – both of which grant access to 191 destinations.
The top ten passports is rounded out by passports from within the EU bloc.
New Zealand, the UK and the United States share joint seventh place - granting visa-free access to 187 countries each.
New Zealand has held its ranking, while the UK and the US "continue to face steadily eroding passport strength". In ninth, with access to 185 is Canada and Australia, which has also dropped a place since 2020.
However, the passport power report comes with many caveats.
Given the unpredictable nature of travel, Henley & Partners say "any level of international travel freedom remains theoretical."
The rankings have been compiled using IATA travel data, showing the number of countries granting visa-free access to holders. However, the Henley & Partners admit this has been done "without taking temporary and constantly evolving Covid-19 travel restrictions into account."
Japan's first-place posting is merely ceremonial. The nation has top posting for the number of reciprocal visa-free travel agreements – most of these are on hold, or subject to quarantine or other conditions. This has only been highlighted by the recent decision to ban spectators from the re-scheduled Tokyo Olympic Games.
The Index suggests that countries with successful vaccine rollouts are poised to enjoy a greater return to global mobility. Countries such as the UAE (15) and Israel (22) – which have both climbed in the rankings – have also had some of the most successful vaccine uptakes. The United Arab Emirates is now one of the fastest climbing passport in the rankings, rising 50 places in the last decade.
"While nobody expects a return to pre-pandemic mobility levels anytime soon, the outlook now is certainly more hopeful than it was even a few months ago," says Christian H Kaelin CEO of Henley & Partners.
"The latest Henley Passport Index ranking is a reminder that economic recovery and development are dependent on global mobility, including personal travel freedom, and that passport power should never be taken for granted."
'Vaccine Passport' Rankings
While Index focuses on theoretical soft power, it has exposed some worrying trends.
There a growing travel inequality between the countries of richer economies versus and the documents of poorer nations. Something which is exacerbated by Covid-19 response and access to vaccines.
"The latest results indicate that the gap in travel freedom is now at its largest since the index began in 2006, with Japanese passport holders able to access 167 more destinations than citizens of Afghanistan," says Henley & Partners.
The prospect of new travel documents or "vaccine passports" are likely to only increase this.
Professor Mehari Taddele Maru of the United Nations University Institute on Comparative Regional Integration Studies, had a stark warning that nations with faster vaccination programmes will reap the rewards of a faster return to international travel.
"Fundamentally, this is attributed to the power asymmetries between wealthy and better-governed nations on the one hand, and those that are not on the other."
Perhaps the biggest hurdle to widespread return to international travel is the lack of a unified push for Covid 19 travel documents.
IATA the ICC and even individual countries have launched health 'passports' to record vaccine information. With many competing travel documents being trialled in different countries, we may soon need a separate "vaccine passport" rankings.
So, just how welcome is the Kiwi travel document around the world really?
While Henley & Partner's index doesn't take into account Covid-related travel restrictions, competing rankings The Global Passport Index shows New Zealand to be the 5th most desirable travel document.
There are 68 Covid-related bans or pre-travel authorisations affecting New Zealand passport holders, whereas Japan is affected by 70, dropping the Japanese passport to seventh place.
Henley & Partners Passport Power Rankings
Rank Passport Visa-free score
1 Japan 193
2 Singapore 192
3 Germany 191
- South Korea
4 Finland 190
5 Austria 189
6 France 188
7 Belgium 187
- New Zealand
- United Kingdom
- United States
8 Czech Republic 186
9 Australia 185
10 Hungary 183
*Source: Henley & Partners Passport Index, based on number of countries granting visa-free access