INTERNATIONAL. Japan has overtaken Singapore to become the nation with the greatest visa-free/visa-on-arrival access to international destinations.

Visa-free status or visa-ease status is important to the destination choices of certain key high-spending nationalities, including the Chinese, Russians and Japanese, and therefore a key driver of travel retail spending.

After securing visa-free access to Myanmar earlier this month, Japan has taken the top spot on the 2018 Henley Passport Index with visa exemptions to 190 destinations, compared to 189 for Singapore.

Japan and Singapore were in joint first place in February, following a visa-exemption from Uzbekistan, pushing Germany down from number one for the first time since 2014.

Germany now shares third place with South Korea and France. France moved up a place last Friday when it gained visa-free access to Uzbekistan, while South Korea moved up to joint third place on 1 October when it gained visa-free access to Myanmar.

Germany, France and South Korea all have a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 188. Iraq and Afghanistan continue to hold the joint-bottom spot among the 199 countries covered by the Henley Passport Index, with only 30 destinations accessible to their citizens.

The latest standings in the Henley Passport Index show Japan occupying the top rank. Click to enlarge.

The UAE has enjoyed a significant ascent on the index since 2006, occupying joint *49th place currently, and now has the strongest passport in the Middle East region, in terms of the countries it gives access to. This has been strengthened by UAE signing a visa-waiver with Russia in July, which is due to come into effect in the coming months, again with important repercussions for travel retail.

Commenting on the UAE’s latest visa-waiver agreement, Ryan Cummings, Director of Signal Risk, said that it is aimed at “strengthening bilateral relations between the UAE and another global superpower”, following the visa-waiver signed with China earlier this year. Specifically, this latest agreement with Russia will help the UAE “lower its dependence on its hydrocarbon sector and continue its robust economic growth trajectory” by stimulating tourism and trade.

S-RM Intelligence and Risk Consulting Analyst Tim Geschwindt said: “Russia’s agreement with the UAE in particular is part of a foreign policy push to attract foreign investment into the country, especially from Emirati businesses and businesspeople.”

The US and the UK, both with 186 destinations, have slid to equal *11th place — with neither having gained access to any new jurisdictions since the start of 2018. In 2015 they jointly held the top spot but, with stagnant outbound visa activity compared to Asian countries, they are unlikely to regain a position at the top of the table in the foreseeable future.

Chinese nationals recently obtained access to two new jurisdictions (St. Lucia and Myanmar), but the Chinese passport still fell down the rankings this quarter to equal *118th place overall.

Summarising the latest moves in the Henley Passport Index, Henley & Partners Group Chairman Dr. Christian H. Kälin said: “The Henley Passport Index, which is based on exclusive data from the International Air Transport Association, is an important tool for measuring not only the relative strength of the world’s passports but also the extraordinary results that states can achieve when they work hand in hand with their global peers to build a more interconnected and collaborative world.

“China and the UAE exemplify this kind of progress, with both states among the highest overall climbers compared to 2017, purely as a result of the strong relationships they have built with partner countries around the world.”

* Note: For the purposes of our story here, we rate the US and UK positions in the ranking as joint 11th place as opposed to the joint fifth place cited by Henley & Partners in their rankings. This is the US and UK’s actual position in the ranking. Similarly, we rate the UAE as holding equal 49th place, as opposed to joint 21st; and China in equal 118th place as opposed to joint 71st. See table above.