Whenever you travel abroad, a passport is an essential and invaluable document. But the fact remains that some passports are more valuable than others when it comes to travelling freely.
Among the 10 Asean countries, for example, Singapore and Malaysia were the only two countries in the global top 10 for visa-free access to other countries.
The rankings were compiled in the 2013 Visa Restrictions Index by Henley & Partners, a global consulting firm specialising in international residence and citizenship planning.
A Singaporean passport allows visa-free travel to 167 countries, while Malaysian passport holders can travel to 163 countries without a visa. Brunei came third in Asean and 19th globally with visa-free travel to 146 countries. Thailand ranked fourth in the region but 60th globally: only 68 countries allow Thai passport holders to enter without a visa requirement.
Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei all benefit from their membership in the British Commonwealth, which significantly eases travel restrictions, notes Jakkrit Srivali, deputy director-general of the Department of Information at the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
However, the Thai government continues to work hard to improve relationships with individual nations in order to allow Thai people easier accesses to as many countries as possible, he said.
“Currently we are in the process of discussing the possibility of bilateral visa exemptions between Thailand and China which would allow tourists of both countries to travel more freely,” said Mr Jakkrit. “With the strong relationship between the two countries, we are very optimistic about the possible result.”
Indeed, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang identified the visa issue as a priority in his address to parliament during his recent official visit to Thailand.
Thailand is the first country in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to enter discussions with China on the visa issue, spurred on by the rapid growth in tourism between the two countries.
China in the past few years has become Thailand’s largest tourism market, according to the China National Tourism Administration. Approximately 3 million people travelled between the two countries last year, including 2.8 million Chinese visiting Thailand. Chinese arrivals totalled 3.2 million in just the first eight months of this year.
Tourist arrivals in the two countries are expected to jump to 5 million if the visa exemption policy comes into effect.
Mr Jakkrit, meanwhile, urged Thai citizens to strictly follow all regulations issued under such agreements because other countries could terminate visa waivers if any problems arise.
“Thais should not take advantage of a new measure once other countries agree to waive visas. It is very important that everyone goes through legal channels and people do not abuse the privileges given.”
He noted a previous incident in which New Zealand suspended 30-day, visa-free privileges for Thai citizens after many people went to work in the country illegally. He said he hoped a similar situation would not arise with the recent agreement signed with the Japanese government to allow Thai tourists visa-free access.
In the Henley & Partners index, the top three positions were occupied by Finland, Sweden and Great Britain, whose passport holders have visa-free access to a maximum of 173 out of 219 countries. The bottom four countries were Pakistan, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Other Southeast Asian countries on the list are the Philippines in 69th place (58 countries), Indonesia 73rd (53 countries), Laos 80th (46 countries), Vietnam 81st (45 countries), and Myanmar 86th (40 countries).