Henley & Partners has published its latest passport index for 2021, outlining the countries that South Africans can travel to visa-free right now.
As vaccination program rollouts gather momentum in certain countries, the resumption of regular international travel is no longer an abstract hope, the group said.
Without taking temporary and constantly evolving Covid-19 travel restrictions into account, Japan firmly holds onto the number one spot on the index — which is based on exclusive data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) – with Japanese passport holders theoretically able to access a record 193 destinations around the world visa-free.
Singapore retains second place, with a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 192, while Germany and South Korea again share joint-third place, each with access to 191 destinations.
As has been the case for most of the index’s 16-year history, the majority of the remaining top 10 spots are held by EU countries.
The UK and the US, both of which continue to face steadily eroding passport strength since they held the top spot in 2014, currently share joint-7th place, with a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 187.
The latest results indicate that the gap in travel freedom is now at its largest since the index began in 2006, with Japanese passport holders able to access 167 more destinations than citizens of Afghanistan, who can only visit 26 destinations without acquiring a visa in advance.
South Africa and travel restrictions
The index shows that South Africa has moved up one place in the rankings to 53rd position. As of April 2021, South African passport holders are able to access 101 destinations without obtaining a prior visa.
However, as with other countries, it faces ongoing travel restrictions due to the pandemic.
A mapping tool developed by travel website Skyscanner shows that as of 12 April, South Africa has 117 ‘major restrictions’ from other countries in place.
These countries have suspended travel, may be closed to entry, or entry may only be possible if you are a citizen/meet strict entrance requirements.
By comparison, there are currently 101 moderate restrictions in place on South Africa, where travel is possible, but only if travellers meet certain entry requirements which can include taking Covid-19 tests.
Just seven countries have ‘low-risk restrictions’ meaning that travellers likely won’t have to face enforced quarantine periods. They include Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Albania, Costa Rica, North Macedonia, Nauru, and Tonga.
A number of countries have also indicated that travellers from South Africa will be barred from entering – a sign that the country could be facing reputational damage as a result of the 501Y.V2 variant of Covid-19, which has been referred to as the “South African variant” abroad.
In addition to key target markets such as the US and UK, South Africa has also been flagged as a risk by a number of other European countries including Belgium, France, Germany, and Switzerland.
The variant was first discovered and reported by scientists in South Africa, however it has also been found to be spreading in more than 48 other countries.
By calling it the “South African variant”, a global impression has been given that South Africa is the source of the spread – when this is not the case.
Fortunately, this has not impacted the strength of the country’s passport.
Below are the 103 countries South Africans can travel to visa-free according to the latest Henley & Partners report.
* Indicates visa on arrival or eTA.
|Cape Verde Islands*||Mauritania*||St. Helena*|
|Comores Islands*||Mauritius||Swaziland (eSwatini)|
|Hong Kong (SAR China)||Maldives*||Tajikistan*|
|Macao (SAR China)||South Korea|
|Marshall Islands*||Palau Islands*||Vanuatu|
|Antigua and Barbuda||Dominican Republic||St. Lucia|
|Bahamas||Grenada||St. Vincent and the Grenadines|
|Barbados||Haiti||Trinidad and Tobago|
|British Virgin Islands||Jamaica||Turks and Caicos|
|Dominica||St. Kitts and Nevis|