If you travel the world on a U.S. passport, you can enter up to 184 countries without a visa. But the welcome mat may not be out as widely for U.S. travelers in the wake of the global coronavirus pandemic when all the travel restrictions are lifted.
Over the past decade, the U.S. travel freedom score increased 26 points, from a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 159 in 2010, according to an annual index published by Henley & Partners about the world’s strongest passports, ranked by their visa-free access to other nations. In January 2020, the U.S. tied for eighth place with Belgium, Norway, Greece and the United Kingdom. Japan took first place with access to 191 countries that don’t require a visa from Japanese passport holders.
The creator of the passport index, Dr. Christian Kaelin, chairman of Henley & Partners, wrote recently that a strong passport means nothing when countries around the world rush to close their borders because of concerns about the spread of the coronavirus.
“The reality is that current stringent travel restrictions mean that most non-essential travel … is heavily curtailed for … almost every country, as more travel bans are implemented daily, and ever-more-stringent coronavirus lockdown regulations are imposed by governments worldwide,” the Henley Passport Index stated on April 7. Henley’s research suggests that current lockdown measures implemented to slow the spread of disease may negatively affect international mobility into the future.
As of mid-April 2020, more than four dozen countries have banned all foreigners and the European Union has banned almost all non-EU travelers from 26 of its member nations, although enforcement is up to the individual countries. U.S. travelers are currently unable to enter popular tourist destinations such as Australia and Singapore, not even to transit through an airport en route to other destinations. Many other destinations that still remain open, including some U.S. states and territories, currently require stringent proof of recent good health, as well as a mandatory 14-day quarantine upon entry.
What will happen to travel once all of the restrictions are lifted? As of now, there haven’t been any long-term changes for U.S. passport holders, but the pandemic is expected to leave its mark on the travel industry in ways that have nothing to do with geopolitics, such as requirements to have health screenings to enter heavy-hit countries.
Although predictions for future travel vary, it’s likely that a number of regions may extend border restrictions for some time to limit visitors from countries with higher infection rates. This may well include the United States, which had reported more than 600,000 confirmed cases as of April 14, 2020.
U.S. travelers may eventually face tougher entrance requirements, including required health checks or certifications, doctor’s notes or even new forms of authorizations or vaccinations. We could eventually see some kind of “proof of resistance” to the disease or a medical history showing coronavirus exposure.
It’s clear that U.S. travelers will not be able to fully maximize their visa-free privileges for some time to come, but the founder of the Henley Passport Index added some perspective to the situation.
“The last few weeks have made it apparent that travel freedom is contingent on factors that occasionally can be utterly beyond our control,” Kaelin said in an April press release published on the Henley & Partners website. “This is, of course, something that citizens of countries with weak passports in the lower ranks of the index are all too familiar with. As public health concerns and security rightfully take precedence over all else now, even within the otherwise borderless European Union, this is an opportunity to reflect on what freedom of movement and citizenship essentially mean for those of us who have perhaps taken them for granted in the past.”
Featured photo by Tetra Images/Getty Images.
WATCH: US halts passport issuance amid coronavirus pandemic (provided by Travel + Leisure)
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