South African passport power just jumped way up an important ranking – based on a technicality


  • South African passports now rank as the 51st most useful in the world on an important index, up from 58 last year.
  • They aren’t actually much more useful than they used to be, though.
  • The Henley ranking groups countries by the visa-free access their passports grant, and countries are now simply more densely clustered.
  • Since 2006, South Africa’s visa-free access climb has barely kept up with the likes of Botswana and Mozambique.
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As of Tuesday, South African passports rank at number 51 in the Henley Passport Index, an important survey of passport power – up from a ranking of 58 in 2021.

But SA passports haven’t actually become much more useful.

Henley now counts South Africa as having visa-free (or visa-on-arrival) access to 104 countries and territories. That is up just one, from 103 last year. Nor has the number of countries with more powerful passports than South Africa changed in the intervening period. Instead, the clustering of countries has become denser, with minor changes higher up the list seeing changes such as passports ranked at position 5 increasing from two in 2021 to five in 2022. And, because Henley ranks countries with the same level of access together, South Africa seemingly jumped up the rankings.

Holding steady is no mean feat, though. Henley this week reported “the widest recorded global mobility gap since the index’s inception 17 years ago”.

Over the past 15 years, freedom of movement has – on average – increased hugely, said Henley. In 2006, the average world traveller could expect to be let in to 57 countries without prior approval by its government. Today, that number is 107 – as richer countries in the global north are offered more access.

As illustration, Henley points to Americans and Swedes, who have visa-free access to 180 destinations, while Angolans and Cameroonians can enter 50 countries.

South Africa has increased its visa-free access by 39 destinations since 2006, Henley’s data shows. But, relatively speaking, that is not much of an achievement; over the same period, Botswana gained access to 38 destinations, and Mozambique increased its count by 40.

See the increase in visa-free destinations since 2006 here. (Darker blue countries have been most effective in increasing the number of destinations their citizens can access visa-free or with a visa-on-arrival.)

The top 10 most powerful passports in the world are:

  • Japan and Singapore, at 192 visa-free destinations
  • Germany and South Korea, at 190
  • Finland, Italy, Luxembourg, and Spain, at 189
  • Austria and Denmark, at 188

(Compiled by Phillip de Wet)

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