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All passports around the world may look the same, in that they are all 125 × 88 mm booklets that don’t vary much – but where each passport can get you visa-free differs greatly.

The reality is that access to global destinations by different passports is anything but the same.

In fact, the freedom to travel without any visa restrictions is a dream for many travellers. With the number of countries you can access visa-free dependent on the passport you hold, the one you have in hand becomes very important.

South Africans enjoy one of the widest ranges of visa-free travel options on the African continent. Coming in a strong third place after the citizens of the Indian Ocean island nations of Seychelles and Mauritius, holders of South African passports are able to visit 97 of the world’s nations without having to go through the process of applying for a visa.

Worldwide, however, the most powerful passports are in the hands of those from the United States, the United Kingdom, Finland, Germany and Sweden. They each have the freedom of open travel to a staggering 174 countries. Canada and Denmark follow very closely behind, with access to 173 countries.

The Henley Visa Restrictions Index (HVRI) is a global ranking of countries according to the travel freedoms their citizens enjoy. Henley & Partners has analysed the visa regulations of all the countries and territories in the world.

The index ranks countries according to the visa-free access its citizens enjoy in comparison to other countries. This is the first time that a global ranking has shown the international travel freedom of various countries’ citizens as well as the international relations and status of individual countries relative to others.

Other powerful passports are those from Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Singapore, Switzerland, Greece and Australia.

Getting another passport

South Africa has a very fluid work force and it remains the ambition of many of its citizens to experience life abroad. It may be worth noting that careful study of the 2014 index shows that membership of the European Union is a key determinant of ease of movement across frontiers.

Favoured destinations for South Africans include the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. An increasing number of South Africans are taking up dual citizenship, either for business, travel or lifestyle reasons.

Andrew Taylor, Vice President of Henley & Partners, the global leaders in Residence and Citizenship Planning, says: “Among the several countries now offering investors the chance to acquire citizenship or residence through investment, the programmes in the European Union offer the ability to live and work in Europe, attend European educational institutions and allow visa-free travel to more countries.”

The HVRI reveals that tourism-rich Seychelles (129 countries visa free), Mauritius (125) and South Africa (97) have all improved their positions in the global rankings, although as a whole, the power of African passports have declined – dropping a total of 25 spots in the rankings.

Taylor adds that countries like Malta and Portugal, which Henley & Partners offers programmes for, are also high up towards the top of the list of the world’s most powerful passports.

Malta (with a passport boasting visa-free access to 166 countries) offers the only programme of its kind to provide visa-free travel to the United States. Malta’s Individual Investor Program offers investors the chance to live and work in Europe with a European Union passport, attend European educational institutions and allow visa-free travel to more countries.

“Under the Malta programme, one person can apply with an upfront cost of about €900 000 (R13-million) and obtain full European citizenship for life, and spouses and children can also qualify for citizenship,” Taylor explained.

Henley & Partners also offer residence-by investment programmes, such as Portugal’s Golden Residence Permit Program (GRP), which issued more than 1 000 residence permits last year.

“The key benefit of this programme is that Portugal is a full member of the EU and therefore residence here allows you to travel visa-free to all the notoriously difficult Schengen area countries, as well as to work, live or study in Portugal,” says Taylor.

“The investment required for the GRP is a €500 000 (about R7.3-million) property purchase. The processing of a residence permit is relatively quick, in approximately 90 days; and after six years of residency (during which only 35 days of actual residency in a five year period is required), an investor is eligible to apply for citizenship.”

Once citizenship is obtained, the powerful Portuguese passport affords the bearer access to 172 countries visa-free.

This article was originally published on iAfrica.com

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