Best passports to hold in 2023
In this article, we concentrate on the travel opportunities given by different passports. This criterion is not genuinely objective if you are looking for alternative citizenship: it is vital to look at factors such as taxes, cost of living, etc.
In case when we evaluate countries according to the criterion of travel freedom, the list of best passports in the world looks like this:
- Japan — 193 visa-free countries;
- Singapore, South Korea — 192 visa-free countries;
- Germany, Spain, Italy — 191 visa-free countries;
- Finland, Austria, Luxembourg, Sweden — 190 visa-free countries;
- Denmark, France, Netherlands, United Kingdom — 189 visa-free countries;
- Belgium, Czech Republic, Ireland, Portugal, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland — 188 visa-free countries;
- Australia, United States — 187 visa-free countries;
- Canada, Greece, Malta, Hungary, Poland — 186 visa-free countries;
- Lithuania, Slovakia — 184 visa-free countries;
- Latvia, Slovenia — 183 visa-free countries;
- Estonia, Iceland — 182 visa-free countries;
- Liechtenstein, Malaysia — 180 visa-free countries;
- Cyprus, United Arab Emirates — 178 visa-free countries;
- Bulgaria, Monaco, Romania — 176 visa-free countries;
- Chile, Croatia — 175 visa-free countries.
This list looks attractive. And Japan, as a country with the most powerful passport, looks like the best choice for a person who wants to gain absolute travel freedom.
But there are some nuances. You can get Japan citizenship through naturalisation, but you should lose your original nationality. Moreover, before applying, you need to live in Japan legally for 5 years, you need to prove that you have a sufficient income, you are good in your daily life, and you have enough level of language.
So, most countries in the list have complex requirements for obtaining citizenship. At the same time, 6 of the most powerful countries have specific programs for obtaining residency. Portugal, Malta, Italy and Spain have “Golden Visa” programmes, which allow you to get a residence and citizenship in exchange for investments in countries’ economies. Austria and Switzerland offer residency paths to financially independent people.
Map of the world’s most powerful countries
Realistic plan to get a powerful passport
Let’s observe the most popular options for getting a passport, which can give you freedom of travel. As we already said, some countries have special programs offering you a residence permit or permanent residence. After 5—10 years of holding a residence permit, you can get citizenship.
So the realistic plan is:
- Get a residence permit or permanent residence.
- Use the benefits of your status during the specified period.
- Apply for citizenship.
Of course, you also have options to obtain citizenship through birth, marriage or descent.
If you were born by citizens of a named country, you could be a citizen of that country. If one of your parents or grandparents is a citizen, you may also be eligible for citizenship by descent. Additionally, if you marry a citizen, you may be able to obtain citizenship after a certain period.
But these options don't fit you if you don’t have relatives with citizenship of these countries or a bridegroom.
You also can get citizenship by naturalisation: it allows you to apply if you legally live in the country for a long time. The basis for legal living is a residence permit received by some specific programs or for educational, job or medical purposes.
Way to a powerful passport through investments
Malta Permanent Residence Program: investments of €150,000+. This way of getting residency gives you an opportunity to include in the application members of your family: a spouse, children, parents, grandparents, and siblings.
The obtaining period for Malta permanent residence under the investment program is 4—6 months.
Expenses to become a Maltese permanent resident by investment
|Purchasing real estate||€300,000+ in the south of Malta or Gozo; |
€350,000+ in the north or centre of Malta
|Renting real estate||€10,000+ per year in the south of Malta or Gozo;|
€12,000+ per year in the north or centre of Malta
|Contribution fee||€28,000 if purchasing real estate; |
€58,000 if renting real estate.
|Administrative fee, regardless of whether one buys or rents real estate||€40,000|
|Charitable donation to a Maltese NGO||€2,000|
|Translation and apostille of documents, notary services||€4,000+|
|Health insurance per person||€400|
Malta citizenship by naturalisation for investors: investments of €690,000+. You can apply for exceptional services by direct investments.
According to the legal conditions, you need to contribute €600,000 or €750,000 to the National Development and Social Fund, give a charitable donation of €10,000, and rent real estate for 5 years for €16,000 annually or purchase one for €700,000.
But firstly, you get a residence permit and maintain the status for 1 or 3 years. At the end of this period, you must pass the Eligibility Test and can apply for a passport.
Italy Golden Visa Program: investments of €250,000+. According to the program, you can get a residence permit in 3+ months. You can add a spouse, children over 18, and parents to your visa application.
- Investment in an innovative startup, €250,000+.
- Business investment, €500,000+.
- Investment in a philanthropic organisation, €1,000,000+.
- Purchasing of government bonds, €2,000,000+.
Portugal D2 Visa: investments in business or opening a company with the creation at least 10 jobs. You will have to wait about 4 months to get a D2 Visa. With this program, you get the ability to travel in the Schengen Area without a visa, optimise your taxes and apply for citizenship in 5 years.
You also can apply with the investments in cultural heritage of the country, the minimum amount of investments is €250,000+.
You can include your family members in the residency-by-investment application: spouses, children, parents, and siblings.
Spain Golden Visa: investments of €500,000+. This program allows the inclusion of family members: a spouse, children and parents. Full costs are dependent on the number of applicants.
Holders of Spain Golden Visas can get a work permit. Like other EU residence permit programs, it allows using the EU healthcare and education system.
In 5 years after obtaining a residence permit, you can apply for permanent residency and citizenship after 5 more years.
Way to a powerful passport for financially independent people
Portugal D7 Visa: a stable foreign income of €760+ per month. The Passive Income Visa, or D7, is one of the cheapest ways to live legally in Portugal. As a resident, you will be able to travel across the Schengen Area visa-free, get some tax breaks and apply for citizenship in 5 years.
The main difference from the Golden Visa is that with the D7 one, you must spend at least 183 days in Portugal, and the upper threshold for including children is lower.
Under the D7 Visa conditions, you need to purchase or rent real estate, but you have no limits on its cost. However, you need to prove that you have a stable annual income outside the country; the amount of this income depends on the number of applicants.
Austria: expenses for relocation and life are €100,000+. This way doesn't give a right to work in the country.
The obtaining period of a residence permit is 3+ months. You can include only a spouse and children under 18 in the application and commit to spending at least 183 days in Austria.
To participate, you need to buy or rent a house; its cost is not set, but the expenses are around €100,000+ for the rent option.
In five years of living in Austria, you can apply for permanent residence; in 6—10 years, you can apply for citizenship.
As with the other EU residence permits, this one gives you the opportunity to travel across the EU visa-free. But in this case, you are able to use the Austrian healthcare and educational system.
Switzerland: a lump-sum tax of ₣450,000+. According to the law, you can get a residence permit in Switzerland by paying a lump-sum tax.
This residence permit allows you to move to Switzerland with your family, spouse and children under 18, but it does not allow you to work legally in the country. The lump-sum pax is paid yearly, and after 10 years of living in the country, you can apply for citizenship.
More options to get travel freedom
If you plan to get a second passport from a European country, explore the offers of Spain, Austria, Portugal, Italy, Switzerland and Malta. But if you need to travel only in the EU, UK and China, also take into consideration Caribbean programs: it is cheaper and faster, and you get citizenship immediately — not in a few years.
Caribbean citizenship programs are attractive by the criterion of travel freedom because citizens of these countries can travel visa-free across the European Union for 90 days out of 180. Moreover, they can visit the United Kingdom visa-free for 180 days per year and apply for long-term B-1/B-2 visitor visas to the US.
Grenada and Dominica citizens enjoy visa-free visits to China for 30 days.
Caribbean programs for obtaining a second passport
|Country||Required investments and timeframe||Visa-free destinations|
|St. Kitts and Nevis||$125,000|
|Antigua and Barbuda||$100,000|
Worst passports to hold in 2023
The weakest passports in the world by the criterion of travel freedom are:
- 40 visa-free countries — North Korea;
- 38 visa-free countries — Nepal, Palestinian territory;
- 35 visa-free countries — Somalia;
- 34 visa-free countries — Yemen;
- 32 visa-free countries — Pakistan;
- 30 visa-free countries — Syria;
- 29 visa-free countries — Iraq;
- 27 visa-free countries — Afghanistan.
Unfortunately, the citizens of these countries not only have a lower level of travel freedom, but they also have limitations on participation in some programs for cosmopolitans.
For example, citizens of North Korea can’t participate in St Lucia, St Kitts and Nevis, Grenada, Turkey, and Malta programs. Still, they can join in Antigua and Barbuda and Vanuatu programs with limitations — citizens of named countries may be requested for an extended list of documents.
Citizens of Afghanistan can’t apply for the St Kitts and Nevis and Malta programs. Residents of Syria can’t enrol in the Dominica program, and natives of Yemen can’t apply for the Turkish Golden Visa program. They can apply for the Antigua and Barbuda program with limitations.
Instead of conclusion
- There are a lot of powerful passports, but not all countries willingly grant citizenship to foreigners.
- There is a plan if you have enough time: get a residence permit in Spain, Austria, Portugal, Italy, Switzerland or Malta and then wait 5—10 years to apply for citizenship.
- There is a plan if you have no time and no need to travel all over the world visa-free: check the programs of Caribbean citizenship.
- All named programs have different options for participation. For example, you can buy or rent an estate, found a company or buy shares or bonds and so on.
- Traditionally, the most popular is real estate purchasing: it’s profitable because you can rent it out. It’s returnable; some programs allow you to sell it after 5 or more years of ownership without losing status. It’s comfortable; you can live on your property if you want to move to the country.
Frequently Asked Questions
Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Germany, Spain, Finland, Italy, Luxembourg, Austria, and Denmark can be named the countries with the most powerful passports by the criterion of travel freedom. But, in fact, this list has a few big countries.
Japan has the most powerful passport in 2023 by the criterion of travel freedom.
North Korea, Nepal, Palestinian territory, Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan have the weakest passports by the criterion of travel freedom. Moreover, the citizens of these countries have limitations for participation in the cosmopolitan programs.
Botswana passport is the strongest African passport; it takes 61st place in the global passport rank and allows holders to visit 87 countries visa-free.
The top 5 most powerful passports are in Japan, Singapure, South Korea, Germany, Spain, and Italy.