A traveler passes through immigration control by walking through a “smart tunnel ” at Dubai International Airport.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The United Arab Emirates is ranked as the world’s number one passport to hold in terms of mobility and freedom from travel restrictions, according to the latest publication of the Passport Index, a global ranking by Montreal-based citizenship financial advisory firm Arton Capital.
The UAE, a small, oil-rich Gulf sheikhdom of about 10 million people — some 90% of whom are foreign expats — has beaten the likes of Germany, Sweden, Finland and Luxembourg in the latest ranking, though those countries are all in the top five.
Essentially, if you’re an Emirati passport holder, you can travel to a huge number of countries visa-free, and in many others you can get a visa right when you arrive. Emirati passport holders can enter 121 countries without a visa, and get a visa on arrival in a further 59 states. They need a visa for just 19 countries, meaning they’re able to access 91% of the world’s countries without having to apply for a visa before traveling.
Compare that to the United States, whose passport allows visa-free travel to 109 countries and visa-on-arrival to 56, while 26 countries require Americans to apply for visas in order to enter. The U.S. passport’s “world reach” is calculated at 83% of the world’s countries, compared to the UAE’s 91%.
The UAE, a desert hub for business and travel that’s home to the most multinational company headquarters of any Middle Eastern country, received a list-topping “mobility score” of 180. The methodology behind that score takes into account visa-free and visa on arrival privileges in other countries, and “the higher the mobility score, the better global mobility its passport bearer enjoys,” according to the report.
“The Mobility Score is how the power of a passport is measured in the Passport Index,” it added. “Passports accumulate points for each country that their holders can visit visa-free, with a visa on arrival, an eVisa (if used within three days), or electronic Travel Authorization.”
The UAE has benefitted from numerous reforms in recent years that have brought many more people into the country to live, including normalizing relations with Israel and introducing a remote workers visa. Its leaders have reopened or improved diplomatic links and made major investments and trade agreements with several different countries.
It has also refrained from cutting travel ties with Russia and Belarus over the war in Ukraine, unlike many Western governments, making it a highly desirable destination for people from those countries, particularly those trying to evade sanctions. The resulting influx of people has led to a property boom, especially for the UAE’s glitzy commercial and tourism capital Dubai.
People walk on the Pedestrian Bridge at the Bluewaters Island in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, December 08, 2021.
Satish Kumar | Reuters
Dubai itself was recently ranked by the networking platform InterNations as one of the world’s top five cities for expats to live. Allowing easy entry for more nationalities typically means that those countries reciprocate.
“The UAE has emerged as a unique crossroads,” Taufiq Rahim, a research fellow at the Mohammed bin Rashid School of Government in Dubai, told CNBC. “It is between East and West, advanced economies and developing ones, and open to all. It is hard for any country to compete with this diversity of access and thus no surprise that it would top any passport index.”
Emirati passport holders count at roughly 1.5 million, according to local media reports. The UAE is also regularly named as one of the world’s safest countries, with an extremely low crime rate.
“Europe remains a particularly strong cohort, yet the rise of passports from the Gulf states are undeniable,” a statement from Arton Capital said. The results also showed, it added, “how some passports are stagnating, such as the UK’s as a result of domestic political choices.”
Despite a war erupting in Europe and the travel-stopping consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, countries have overall actually become more welcoming and global mobility has increased, the report said. Changing work structures including the rise of remote working have helped push this along.
“Many are considering swapping the commute to the office for life as a ‘digital nomad’,” Arton Capital wrote. “The investment such workers bring into host countries is highly attractive to many states. Consequently the world has seen a surge in the implementation of ‘digital nomad’ visas in countries around the globe, from Thailand to Estonia.”
“Though the world continues to feel the aftershocks of the pandemic, surprisingly, travelling has never been easier, with steady growth in passport power across the board, a trend that we predict will continue into 2023,” the firm wrote, adding that according to its methodology, almost every passport in the world has become more powerful in terms of its mobility.