Some passports give access to more countries than others. Having the right passport can open more doors to digital nomads and remote workers. On the one hand, this means that holding or acquiring a passport that grants visa-free travel is a great advantage for location-independent workers.
On the other hand, and this may not have been discussed extensively in the media, this means that people from more privileged countries (with a mostly white population and high pro capita income) have a competitive advantage when it comes to finding work and accommodation as digital nomads.
Henley Passport Index
The Henley Passport Index is a good source of information for which passports allow for most visa-free travel. On its website it says “The Henley Passport Index is the most rigorous and sophisticated measure of global access.” This is a bold statement but the team behind the Henley Passport Index has been collating and analysing IATA (International Air Transport Association) data since 2006 and makes its methodology available on the website.
Countries are ranked from 1 to 109 (subject to change) according to the number of countries their passports give access to. Countries with the same number of visa-free travel destinations are positioned in the same spot, for example South Korea and Germany both hold the number 3 spot in the index. European countries are well positioned for visa-free international travel, while several African and Middle Eastern countries have a clear disadvantage.
Here is the 2020 index for countries up to the 10th spot:
1 Japan 191
2 Singapore 190
3 South Korea 189
3 Germany 189
4 Italy 188
4 Finland 188
4 Spain 188
4 Luxembourg 188
5 Denmark 187
5 Austria 187
6 Sweden 186
6 France 186
6 Portugal 186
6 Netherlands 186
6 Ireland 186
7 Switzerland 185
7 United States 185
7 United Kingdom 185
7 Norway 185
7 Belgium 185
8 Greece 184
8 New Zealand 184
8 Malta 184
8 Czech Republic 184
9 Canada 183
9 Australia 183
10 Hungary 182
Let’s take a sample of five European countries from the top of the index (Germany, Italy, Finland, Spain, and Luxembourg) and look at their demographics. These countries are mostly white (more than 90% of the population) and boast a high GDP (Germany is the fourth richest country worldwide after the US, China and Japan).
On the opposite end of the scale, the countries that give access to the lowest number of visa-free destinations include Syria with 29 countries, Iraq with 28 countries and Afghanistan with 26 countries.
It is eye-opening to learn how much disparity of opportunities for digital nomads exist depending on country of birth.
An interesting point to note in the Henley Passport Index Q3 2020 press release is the issue of temporary travel bans due to Covid-19: even high-ranking US passports allowed limited travel access to US citizens because of local bans to contain virus contagion. The same applies for holders of Brazilian passports due to their country’s handling of Covid-19. In the words of the Henley Passport Index, “premium passports lose their shine in a post-Covid world”.
Digital Nomad Visas
Digital nomad visas are a fairly new development for remote workers. Estonia springs immediately to mind for pioneering this concept, starting to accept applications from digital nomads from August 2020 (see also Estonia the new capital of borderless ideas).
More countries are catching up to offer something similar, mainly to drive more tourism and more spending from wealthy foreigners, even though digital nomads still make a very small percentage of overall tourists. Barbados and Bermuda took the opportunity and started offering a digital nomad work and travel visa (residential certificate lasting one year).
These types of visas don’t typically require digital nomads to have an employer sponsoring them.
Choosing a Destination As a Digital Nomad
Once in the past most digital nomads chose travel destinations based on quality of lifestyle, infrastructure and cost of living, in the future they may need to change these criteria.
Travel and medical insurance may be more difficult to obtain because of localised health concerns in certain countries. Insurers that can offer cover under challenging conditions will likely have a better competitive advantage (see for example SafetyWing, providing Covid-19 cover, affiliate link to international health insurance).
Government stability and good public health structures may become the top criteria for choosing desirable travel destinations.