International travel may not be in the cards for the time being amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but Japan’s passport remains the most convenient, offering access to a record 193 countries without a visa, according to the 2021 Global Ranking in the Henley Passport Index.

Singapore ranked second with 192 countries, followed by South Korea and Germany with 191 nations, according to the index, which was released earlier this week. Japan has been at the top since 2018.

“It is somewhat ironic that Japan is ranked 1st — which effectively means its citizens are the most welcomed in the world — yet recently made the difficult decision to bar spectators from abroad from the rescheduled Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020,” citizenship advisory firm Henley & Partners, which conducted the survey, said in a statement.

The latest report also revealed the widening gap in travel freedom. Coming in last among 199 countries and regions, citizens of Afghanistan had access to 26 countries without a prior visa — a difference of 167 countries compared with Japan, the widest since 2006.

In the past decade, two countries notably climbed up the rankings — China and the United Arab Emirates.

China came in 68th with visa-free access to 77 countries, up from No. 90 and access to 40 countries in 2011. The biggest climber was 15th-ranked UAE, with 174 destinations, up from 65th place and 64 countries a decade ago.

The ranking does not take into account the current travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, and the degree of travel freedom shown in the ranking remains merely theoretical.

Vaccinations are critical for international travel. But while such programs are already advanced in countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom and the UAE, Japan lags behind, with vaccinations of older people only having kicked off Monday. Less than 1% of its population had been inoculated as of Wednesday.

The annual Henley Passport Index is conducted by Henley & Partners using data provided by the International Air Transport Authority. It assesses global mobility by cross-checking 199 passports against 227 destinations in its database.

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