Behind the Global Passport Index

It’s a wrap. After 12 months of meticulous research, data collection, and writing, Global Citizen Solutions has just launched its Global Passport Index, a comprehensive tool that allows individuals to discover a passport’s true strength.

And we couldn’t have done it without our data expert consultants, Roberto and Vlad, the pioneers behind the whole methodology. Aside from their shared interest in numbers and kilts, Roberto and Vlad bond over composite indicators—key mathematical aggregations used in this index to determine a passport’s power. We sat down with the masterminds to learn about the concept behind the Global Passport Index and how it fares compared to existing Passport Indexes globally.

For some, seeing the United States ranked as the most powerful passport in the world can come as a surprise. Can you explain how you came to this conclusion?

It is a matter of balance or well ranking in all three indices. The US is not the highest-ranked passport in any of the three. Comparing it with the best-placed passport in terms of mobility, Singapore, which also tops the ranking in terms of investment, we find that while the US is ranked 23rd in quality of life, Singapore is much lower, at 130th position. In Quality of Life, the US fares better than Singapore in all dimensions selected. For instance, a lower cost of living, and the Freedom in the World Report, one of the sources we use, classify Singapore as only partly free.

In the Quality of Life Index, the US is outranked mostly by European countries. However, having a passport well placed in terms of Enhanced mobility (10th place) and, most importantly, being the 4th best in the investment rank, it fares reasonably better in this index than any of the countries with better quality of life.

Figure 1 below shows the comparison of the ranks of the top best-ranked passports overall in each of the other indices. The pattern for the US is evident: well-positioned in enhanced mobility, better positioned in investment, and lower relative ranking in Quality of Life, although still in the top 15% of countries.

What makes this Global Passport Index different from others?

Firstly, it goes beyond the simple counting of visa-free access countries by valuing each destination that a passport gives enhanced access to. Moreover, it also gives partial credit to simplified procedures such as Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA), on-arrival visas, and Electronic Visas. Secondly, it covers several dimensions that might be impactful for those deciding to live abroad, be they retirees, expats, students, or those moving out of necessity. And finally, it provides three standalone indices that could cater to different interests.

How did you both search for reliable sources for the passport index project?

As part of the overall Global Passport Index, the Enhanced Mobility Index focused on the merits of a passport and its primary purpose as a travel document. Therefore, in this dimension, the qualities of the issuing country or territory should not take part in the index, as they are covered in the other dimensions. Instead, the focus should fall on the destinations and how easy it is to access them. The development process was centered on how to combine ease of access with the evaluation of destinations, and how to assess each destination. After careful consideration, the Quality of Life Index was used as the basis to evaluate destinations, as it already covers many of the attributes that make a country or territory attractive to travel to.

In the adapted approach, for each of the two domains (Investment and Quality of Life), a number of orienting questions were selected. These questions initially served to direct the search for relevant indicators. Finally, cost-benefit and coverage analyses were made in deciding which indicators to retain.

For the Investment dimension, the goal set was to “assess a country’s attractiveness as an investment opportunity for passport holders.” The set of orienting questions was:

  • What is the personal income tax rate [at the highest bracket/median]?
  • How attractive is the country for direct investment?
  • How easy is it to conduct business in the country?
  • How functional is the legal system?
  • How strong is the economy?
  • Is it politically stable?

For the Quality of Living dimension, the goal set was to “assess how good is life in the country as a permanent/primary place of residence for expats, retirees, and anyone seeking desirable living conditions abroad.” The set of orienting questions was:

  • What is the overall level of human development/general population quality of life?
  • How happy is the country’s population?
  • How good is healthcare? How affordable is good healthcare?
  • How safe is living in the country?
  • How good is education?
  • How good is it as a travel hub?
  • What is the level of freedom experienced by the country’s population?
  • How attractive is the country in terms of natural resources, environment? (e.g, air quality, biodiversity etc)
  • What is the level of ICT connectivity?

It should be noted that these sets of questions had an orienting purpose, and the availability of data and the scope of existing composite indices also played a part in the development process and helped shape the final indices.

Throughout the development process, we looked for questions or indicators that may not fit well in the three initially proposed dimensions, but nonetheless had a good fit to be incorporated in the overall index.

How did you choose between possible alternatives?

We favored indicators:

  • from reliable sources;
  • with reasonable update history and future perspective;
  • that encapsulated many of the target dimensions and could potentially address several questions;
  • which provided “added-value” in relation to already selected indicators.

In your view, how do you think this Global Passport Index could be useful for the individual user?

In a post-pandemic world, as more and more knowledge workers can work remotely, it could be a tool embraced by many seeking to choose a new place to live. Some other rankings, for instance, fail to incorporate important dimensions for this process. For instance, London, certainly a wonderful city, is often found at the top or near the top places, but it has a fairly high cost of living. If you are working remotely, your income might be determined by your employer’s location, and not by where you live. For those that can work remotely, less emphasis is needed on cities; other options are now possible.

For the same reasons, this could also be very useful for companies in their relocation or global recruiting efforts.