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Visa-Free Travel: What Determines the Strength of a Passport?

8 December 2016

Visa-Free Travel: What Determines the Strength of a Passport?
Passports may all have the same shape and size, but where a passport is issued determines the ease of travel for the holder. Even for individuals that have so-called “strong” passports, making your way through passport and border control can prove to be a hassle, or even costly in countries that require a visa purchase upon arrival.
In 2015, statistics show that 61% of the world’s population had to obtain a visa prior to traveling internationally. When it comes to travel freedom, it is a luxury afforded to the citizens of only a small number of countries.

What determines a passport’s strength?
For the vast majority of foreign nationals, traveling without a visa (or obtaining a visa-upon-arrival) extends to about 20-30 countries at best, whereas German citizens, for instance, have visa-free access to 80% of the world’s countries—but why?
In short, the primary reason for visa restrictions centers on economical and political factors of the passport holder’s country of origin, rather than the individual. While he or she has little control over these factors, it can significantly limit international mobility of the traveler.
However, this is no longer the case. For individuals who possess a “weak” or heavily-restricted passport, there are more options available than ever before to acquire visa-free travel. First, let’s discuss what “visa-free” and “visa-upon-arrival” actually means.
What is “visa-free” travel and “visa-upon-arrival”?
The term “visa-free” means exactly what it suggests: individuals are given access to a foreign country without having to present or apply for a visa when he or she arrives at their destination. On the other hand, “visa-upon-arrival” means that the traveler must go to an immigration desk once he or she enters a foreign country, which often requires either applying for or purchasing a visa. Once that process is completed, the traveler will have a visa stamped or affixed into his or her passport. This is usually a quick and easy process compared to applying for a visa prior to traveling abroad, which can be not only time-consuming but a frustrating procedure overall.
So what makes a passport “strong,” and what benefits are holders granted?
Diplomatic relations are key to travel freedom
Many citizens across the world are granted visa-free travel because of diplomatic treaties and/or agreements countries have with each other. One of the most apparent examples of diplomatic factors that allow greater travel freedom is within the European Union. For EU passport holders, travelers are able to move freely between all 28 signatory countries. Citizens holding an EU passport are not only among the highest ranking in strength of a passport, but are able to travel visa-free or by visa-upon-arrival throughout much of the wider world. Even more, the EU allows travel reciprocity to several countries, such as Brazil and South Korea, which grants visa-free access for countries outside of the EU. With only 18% of the world’s population enjoying visa-free travel, benefits of holding an EU passport are obvious.
However, travel reciprocity is not limited to the EU; the Commonwealth, which comprises 52 nations, is another example of diplomatic agreements that provide members visa-free travel within Commonwealth nations and hassle-free access to several additional countries just by virtue of being a Commonwealth member. Countries such as Canada, the UK, Grenada, and Antigua and Barbuda all grant visa-free and visa-upon-arrival amenities to Commonwealth citizens.
Connections in trade
Strong connections in trade is another reason foreign nationals have easier access to other countries. For business-minded individuals around the globe, lengthy pre-travel visa applications would make international trade and mobility very difficult, if not impossible.
In the Schengen region of Europe, open trade allows EU citizens not only freedom of travel between its 28 countries, but largely contributes to foreign investments into global economies. Imposing visa restrictions on another country, then, can greatly reduce trade by 20% or more in some of the world’s largest economies.
Economic and political stability of a nation
It is no surprise that the strongest passports come from countries that are economically and politically stable. Indeed, the US, Canada, UK, and Germany are among the world’s powerhouses in visa-free travel to more than 170 countries.
It is commonly assumed that citizens of economically and politically stable countries will generate or encourage economic growth by way of tourism or foreign investment into another country.
Similar to economic stability, political factors also determine the strength of a passport. In short, countries that have not experienced political turmoil in recent modern history almost always rank at the top of the list for “strong” passports. Additionally, travelers from these types of countries generally follow entry regulations of foreign nations and return to their country of origin.

By contrast, politically and economically unstable countries such as Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, and similar nations in the Middle East are often prone to having the most visa restrictions related to international travel, despite situations that are largely out of the hands of citizens.
Passport restrictions—what are my options?
For citizens holding passports with heavy visa restrictions, travel is a frustrating issue. Fortunately, alternative options are increasing in availability. Many countries throughout the EU and Caribbean offer Citizenship by Investment Programs (CIP), which allow foreign nationals to obtain second citizenship (and passport) abroad. As of 2015, the International Monetary Fund has estimated that second-citizenship programs have generated approximately USD $2 billion worldwide.
Second-citizenship programs are becoming increasingly popular for high-net worth and ultra high-net worth individuals. Candidates apply for CIPs for a number of reasons—not just for visa restrictions! While CIPs can certainly grant individuals and their families greater travel freedom to over 100 countries, they also provide a better quality of life for business-minded men and women looking to broaden their investments internationally.
Final thoughts
Holding a second passport in the EU or Caribbean can open the door for not only visa-free travel, but living and working—even retiring—in economically and politically stable countries such as Austria, Malta, Cyprus, Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada, Dominica, or Saint Lucia to name but a few. With second citizenship, foreign nationals receive the same rights and benefits of citizens of their chosen country, as well as the right to own real estate property or expand their business interests in local economies.

Visa-free travel is no longer a luxury for a select few, but one that can be enjoyed by foreign nationals interested in investment immigration options. Our qualified team members at QICMS can help you discover which Citizenship by Investment plan is best for you and your family’s future.
For more information on Citizenship by Investment Programs, please click here.
Fill out our Free Assessment form to find out if you qualify for any of the immigration programs offered.

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