By working with data from IATA—the largest travel information database, Henley and Partners—a global residence and citizenship advisory firm—have consistently ranked, for 18 years, the world’s passports "according to the number of destinations their holders can access without a prior visa". They call this ranking the Henley Passport Index (HPI).
Updated quarterly, the index includes 199 different passports and 227 different travel destinations. The Q3 2023 HPI report ranks each of those 199 countries and ends up with a list of 104 positions, meaning that more than one country can fit into a rank—if they have the same number of visa-free access.
A passport is said to be "strong" if it can get you across borders without extra entry requirements like visas. The stronger your passport, the more countries you can get into. With travel comes economic mobility that opens up access to international investment and business opportunities.
One of the major reasons for emigration is to access better economic opportunities. Opportunities that allow you to live, work and ultimately secure a passport that's stronger than that of your birth country.
Many destination countries know this and have designed immigration programs to attract the best talents that could help their economy grow. For instance, Canada has a three-year permanent residency programme, and the UK has three- and five-year Global Talent visas. Other countries, like Portugal, Mexico and Estonia, have digital nomad visas with pathways to residency and citizenship.
Countries ranked at the bottom of the table can leverage a powerful second passport to level up their access to visa-free destinations.
Nigeria is one of such bottom-ranked countries, so we looked at its current ranking and further implications of a powerful second passport.
Nigerian passport holders are disadvantaged
Per the Q3 2023 HPI ranking, Nigerian passport holders can only access 20% of all potential destinations. That is, 46 visa-free destinations (out of 227).
In the last 10 years, Nigeria's passport ranking has fallen similarly to that of North Korea and Syria. Thereby earning the unfavourable record as one of the "Biggest fallers" of the decade on the Henley Passport Index.
Today, the Nigerian passport ranks in the bottom 12.5% (position 91 out of 104).
For additional context, Egypt, a North African contemporary, ranks 84th and can access 54 visa-free destinations. Fellow West African country—Ghana ranks 76th and can access 65 visa-free destinations. Kenya, the East African comparable, ranks 68th and can access 76 visa-free destinations, while South Africa—a key commercial hub in SSA ranks 52nd and can access 106 visa-free destinations.
Thus, many ambitious, young Nigerians looking to compete globally are disadvantaged. They will pay more in visa fees and face the humiliating visa application processes while outrightly, missing out on economic and educational opportunities simply because their visas were denied. Research shows that in Canada and the US, African students have much less chance of receiving a visa than students from other world regions.
We already know the way out for Nigerian descents, a second powerful passport. But of the bunch, which passport is best for Nigerians?
UK passport best for Nigerians, as of Q3 2023
According to a 2020 poll by the Africa Polling Institute (API), the top 3 destination countries for Nigerians are: Canada, the United States of America, and the United Kingdom, with Australia coming a close fourth.
These four passports can access 185, 184, 188, and 186 visa-free destinations, respectively. Thus, the UK is ranked 4th, Australia is 6th, Canada is 7th, and the US is 8th. The 1st place country, Singapore, can access only 192 visa-free destinations (out of a total of 227).
Combining passports yield the greatest possible global access.
Insights from the Henley Passport Index reveal that combining a Nigerian passport and a US passport gives access to 195 visa-free destinations. While combining a Nigerian passport with a Canadian or Australian passport yields 196 visa-free destinations. The UK offers the highest number of visa-free destination countries, 199, when combined with a Nigerian passport.
However, migration is not only a function of push factors like Nigerians seeking better educational, health and economic opportunities. But pull factors like favourable immigration policies (shown in visa application turnaround times, visa requirements, settlement and citizenship conditions) also determine where and when a Nigerian can migrate.
So, oftentimes, adults have to make trade-offs. For instance, one question might be: "Will I sacrifice free healthcare in the UK for an expensive health insurance plan in Canada or the US to earn my newborn a passport?" Another might be: "Am I willing to wait over a year in Nigeria for Canada to process my PR application that will see me get citizenship in three years? Or I'd rather apply for a UK Global Talent Visa whose decisioning time is shorter but might require five years to get to a settled status?"
The purpose of this post is not to tell you what trade-offs to make. But rather to let you know that if you had a magic wand on which passport to choose, as a Nigerian, go for the British passport.