6 countries you won’t believe have better passports than South Africa

Business Insider SA

South Africa on Tuesday fell another two places in the updated Henley Passport Index, which ranks passports in power by the number of countries and territories a holder can access without a visa, or by obtaining a visa on arrival.

The 102 territories that is true for in the case of South African passport holders is dwarfed by the 190 Japan can claim, the 189 for Singapore, and the 188 each for France, German, and South Korea, which share ranking position three between them.

See also: South African passports are down – again – in global rankings, no thanks to China and India

But among the 95 countries with higher-ranked passports than South Africa, there are also countries that are not part of the European Union, not Asian trading powers, which have barely any landmass to their name – and some that have powerful enemies.

These are the six countries that have stronger passports than South Africa, despite such handicaps.


Passport index rank: 29
Countries for which holder needs no prior visa: 148

China has something of a bee in its bonnet about Taiwan. It has pressured airlines to drop references to its name, and lashed out after Apple referred to it. The choice China offers other countries is typically stark: you can have economic and diplomatic relations with the tiny Taiwan, or you can have them with China, but not both.

Yet 148 countries will accept visitors from Taiwan without the need to arrange a visa first, the Henley numbers show.

Vatican City

Passport index rank: 29
Countries for which holder needs no prior visa: 148

The seat of the Roman Catholic Church covers just 44 hectares. While it has huge religious significance, it is not exactly a global power. Yet it hosts a long list of diplomatic missions – and it is very focussed on ensuring ease of travel for its fewer than 1,000 residents, who act a little like executives for a global church.

St Lucia

Passport index rank: 31
Countries for which holder needs no prior visa: 146

The West Indies island is considered by some to be the best of the Caribbean, and it is technically still ruled by the Queen. The one in London. That is where her Governor-General, as representative of the Crown, sends daily updates of goings-on in the nation. 

The reality of governance is somewhat more hands-off, but the association with the United Kingdom, plus a strong push for bilateral relations that make it easier for tourists to visit, keep the island high in passport rankings.

Solomon Islands


Passport index rank: 39
Countries for which holder needs no prior visa: 130

There are 992 separate islands in the Solomon Islands, a former British protectorate. It heavily markets itself as a tourist destination – but until recently it was not high up on most bucket lists. A peace-keeping force only left in 2017, after keeping a sometimes not-so-tight lid on what was known locally as "the tensions" for 14 years.


Gilbert Island. (Flickr: Charly W. Karl)

Passport index rank: 45
Countries for which holder needs no prior visa: 123

The Micronesia republic promotes itself as "the only country situated in four hemispheres" – because it is so widely dispersed and so isolated that it happens to be at a spot mapmakers considered ideal to draw lines. On its longest axis it is a 2,900 km long country, even though the total landmass between its atolls is only 811 square km.

The highest point above sea level in the entire nation is 87 metres, and some of its islands are best known as for the atomic-bomb testing conducted there in the 1960s.


Christmas lights in Moscow, in 2017. (Getty)

Passport index rank: 47
Countries for which holder needs no prior visa: 119

Not that long ago Russia was just starting to make its way back into the international community. Now Britain is preparing to cut Moscow's electricity if it deems necessary and NATO is trying to send unequivocal don't-mess-with-us messages with war games that are absolutely, definitely not aimed at preparing for Russian aggression.

But even as its relationship with the US deteriorates, and even as it rattles some pretty scary nuclear sabres, its citizens can still travel to 17 more countries without a prior visa than can the holders of South African passports.

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