Asia Passport

Asia boasts some strong global passports – but what if you’re from the rest of the continent?

Asia is a continent of opposites. As it grows in credibility, builds trust and gains strength on the world stage, so do many of its passports. Yet at the same time, the continent is also home to some of the weakest.

In this piece, we’ll look at the three strongest passports in Asia – and also discuss your options if you aren’t lucky enough to have one of them.

The three strongest passports in Asia

European passports are often considered the strongest in the world. That may be true when you compare Europe as a whole to Asia as a whole, but the three passports below buck the trend.

1. Japan: The Japanese passport is stronger than 98% of passports globally. In fact, Japan boasts the second strongest passport in the world, joint with Germany, allowing holders to travel on visa-free or on visa-on-arrival terms to 161 countries.

A Japanese passport unlocks some of the most popular business and pleasure travel destinations in the world. From Istanbul to London to Shanghai (remarkable when in fact only 14 nationalities can travel to China visa-free) – it’s all visa-free to Japanese passport holders.

Then there are the lifestyle implications of being a Japanese citizen. Japan ranks 23rd on the 2017 prosperity index, which considers factors like governance, economy, healthcare and business environment. Especially noteworthy is the ranking of fourth globally for both health and security.

Overall, Japan is a hugely sought-after destination in which to live and do business. Add the exceptionally strong passport, and Japanese citizens have much to be happy about.

2. South Korea: You might think it’s a struggle to come out better than Japan, but South Korea this year climbed the ranking table to become the world’s joint strongest passport, allowing travel to 162 countries on visa-free or visa-on-arrival terms.

The change is mostly thanks to Uzbekistan’s decision to grant visa-free access to both South Korea and Singapore, plus recent shifts in visa policy in Somalia. South Koreans can now travel more easily than almost everyone in the world, across most of Europe, North America, and Asia.

Even Australia – with notoriously stringent entry requirements – offers South Korean passport holders easy entry with an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA). Other notable destinations include Brazil, Russia and India – all three of which require a visa even from Japanese passport holders.

And how does South Korea stack up in terms of lifestyle? Overall the country ranks 36th globally and sixth in the Asia-Pacific region on the prosperity index 2017 – the link between passport strength and prosperity is again proven.

3. Singapore: Singapore is the country that shares South Korea’s joint-strongest title. Passport holders can travel to 162 countries on visa-free or visa-on-arrival terms, which is nearly 85% of the world.

Where Singapore sets itself apart is the number of countries passport holders can travel to completely visa-free. That’s the no-hassle, no-queue, turn-up-and-go type of travel.

For example, South Korean citizens need a visa to enter China but Singaporean citizens don’t – not even on arrival. The same goes for Cuba and many African countries including Gambia, Ghana and Kenya. Singaporean passport holders can enter Tanzania without a visa, while both Japanese and South Korean passports need to queue once they arrive. Likewise, Singaporean citizens can travel to India with an e-visa, while Japanese passport holders need to gain a visa on arrival.

In addition, Singaporean citizens enjoy life in Singapore – a prosperous nation, ranked 21st in the world peace rankings last year with a very stable financial outlook. The country is also 17th on the 2017 prosperity index, scoring particularly well for economy and security.

But what if you don’t hold one of these passports?

Citizens of these nations have much to be grateful for, but what if you aren’t one of them?

Well, first of all, know that you’re the overwhelming majority. Around 98% of the world don’t have passports this strong, even in Asia. In fact, in the region very few Asian countries can match the three passports we have been discussing. The same goes for prosperity – the nations we have covered are leaps ahead of some of their neighbours, many of whom sit near the bottom of the rankings. So for many Asian citizens, the state of the nation is linked with your social and personal situation, and you end up feeling ‘stuck’ in a country that doesn’t sync up with your aspirations.

And what can you do about it?

If you’ve got the financial means, citizenship-by-investment offers a solution – granting you a second passport that unlocks the benefits your current passport may not.

There are several second citizenship programmes all over the world, so your choice depends on what you’re looking for – but these are three of the most popular.

Antigua: The Commonwealth Carribean Islands are now well known for their citizenship-by-investment programmes and Antigua is a current front runner. But prestige isn’t the main reason you’ll want to invest here. The big pull is the unencumbered travel to 128 countries, the relatively minimal USD 100,000 government donation (for a family of four), and the extensive tax exemptions. Plus you can expect your new passport within about three months.

Malta: Malta has a few different investment programmes. Amongst them is the popular Maltese Individual Investor Programme (MIIP) which takes around one year before you gain a passport – but it’s an incredible opportunity to break into the heart of Europe and the EU. Plus, you gain Schengen Residence status almost immediately, so you can travel freely across the Schengen zone while you wait.

Once you gain your passport, you can travel to 156 countries on visa-free or visa-on-arrival terms – that’s up there with the strongest of the strong passports. Plus companies in Malta benefit from an effective tax rate of 0% to 10% thanks to a comprehensive refund system.

Cyprus: Cypriot citizenship requires a 36 month investment into real estate starting at EUR 2m. But the benefits are incomparable – such as a European passport, which unlocks 150 countries on visa-free or visa-on-arrival terms, and allows you to live, work, travel and trade freely across the EU. And one of the lowest corporate tax rates in Europe, at 12.5%. Plus, a thriving, culturally rich relocation destination for families and businesspeople alike.

Where the Cypriot programme really sets itself apart, however, is the speed with which you can secure your passport. You’ll get your permanent residency card within six to eight weeks, then your new passport in only six months.

Secure a strong passport with second citizenship

If you don’t hold a strong passport such as Singapore, Japan or South Korea then second citizenship can redress the balance, and secure the privileges your current passport does not. The process varies slightly depending which programme you choose but all of them are simple; a well-trodden path for the world’s elite to break the last barrier to complete personal and business freedom.