Have you ever thought about how easy it is to head overseas? When I was younger, traveling abroad seemed like a huge deal. Crossing into Mexico for the first time as a youth was exciting. Now that I’ve been to Europe a handful of times, the act of crossing a country border is more mundane. I’m beginning to take the passport privilege I enjoy for granted.
Sure, I’m excited to see a new place. But the act of handing your passport over to an official who gives you the briefest of looks, stamps it (or often doesn’t these days), and then hands it back? Yeah. Seems totally trivial now. Entering a foreign country really isn’t that hard the majority of the time.
As long as you have that one necessary item: a passport. But not all passports are created equal.
Passport Privilege: The Power of the Blue U.S. Booklet
Now the United States does not issue the most powerful passport in the world, at least in terms of the number of countries that offer us visa-free travel. But it is high on the list. It’s easy to take the power of your U.S. passport for granted. You can travel through all of the European Union, the vast majority of south America, and much of East Asia with nothing other than your passport booklet.
The United States passport lets you visit a whopping 183 countries, territories, or other destinations (it’s hard to just say countries when some territories have different access requirements) without a visa or being able to obtain a visa on arrival. That’s phenomenal. You can see so much of the world without a visa.
Some other of the world’s most powerful passports include:
- Japan and Singapore – 189 places
- South Korea, Finland, Germany – 187 places
- Denmark, Italy, Luxembourg – 186 places
- France, Spain, Sweden – 185 places
- Austria, the Netherlands, Portugal, Switzerland – 184 places
It is remarkable how visa-free access has increased in general over the past several decades. The average number of countries accessible with just your passport has nearly doubled in the past 15 years. The passport privilege we enjoy as U.S. citizens is still well above average, but the world is becoming more and more open.
But there are still many people for whom travel is restricted, due to their country of origin or citizenship.
Contrasting Ours with the Weakest Passports
If I was instead a citizen of Iraq or Afghanistan, travel would be far more difficult. These are among the weakest passports in the world, offering visa-free access to less than 30 countries. Many countries in Africa have passports that can get you into barely twice that number.
The weakest passports in the world include:
- Afghanistan – 25 places
- Iraq – 27 places
- Syria – 29 places
- Pakistan – 30 places
- Somalia – 31 places
- Yemen – 33 places
- Libya, Palestine, Sudan – 37 places
- Nepal – 38 places
You can check out a full passport index if you’d like. Passport privilege is definitely a reality. I so often take it for granted how easy it is to travel with the booklet I have.
What About Those Who Struggle to Even Obtain a Passport?
There is a woman I met several years ago who pursued a passport from her own country to be able to pay a visit to the United States. She was denied. All she wanted to do was be able to attend a conference in the U.S. But this wasn’t enough for the government to be willing to issue her one. It was a huge bummer, as the friends she has in the U.S. were going to sponsor the entire trip.
All she needed was the passport, after which she’d apply for the visa. People were ready with letters of invitation to welcome her to the U.S.
I cannot fathom being denied a passport by my own country. Imagine wanting to travel abroad, yet be unable to due to the politics and decision of your own nation’s government. I’d feel so trapped. Yet this is reality in some countries around the globe.
There are valid reasons to be denied a passport, and each government makes it clear what these are. In the United States, the most common reasons are owing back taxes, or child support, or due to a court order. But there wasn’t anything that appeared to be an issued in this case. The passport was simply denied.
Which makes me very thankful to be a citizen of the United States where it’s so easy to obtain a passport (as long as you don’t trigger any of the red flags). It’s a huge privilege to enjoy the ability to travel the globe so freely.
Being able to easily obtain a passport and have no issues entering most other countries in the world is a massive privilege. I can literally hop on a plane to dozens of countries with nothing other than the booklet in my pocket and generally expect to be able to stay for at least a month. Obviously, I recommend researching all entry and stay requirements before traveling.
But there are so many places that will let you in with simply that small blue booklet. That’s your passport privilege.