Once a week.
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
Which Countries Have the Best Passports — And Which Have the Worst
Passport specifications are regulated by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the relative power of your country's passport says a lot about its standing in thew world.
Sweden and Germany have the world's most useful passports. If your government-issued travel document says Sverige or Deutschland on the front cover, you have visa-free access to 157 countries across the globe. That's more than the holders of any other passport.
The Afghans are on the other end of the scale. Their passport only grants them visa-free access to 24 countries. No nationals are less welcome abroad, although the Pakistani are almost as unpopular: they only get visa-free access to 27 countries – less even than Iraq or Somalia (30 and 32 visa-free destinations, respectively).
Passport power is a rough compound of your country's wealth and peace. The higher it scores on either index, the more welcome you'll be around the world. But if your visit is statistically more likely to add to a country's poverty or turmoil, the less likely it is that your passport alone will get you in.
Burgundy is the main colour among European passports.
North American passports: mainly blue.
And yet even those pacifist Swedes and affluent Germans still require a visa for some countries. Which ones? Well, for starters: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Somalia. If they have a hard time getting out, you'll have a hard time getting in.
But Swedes and Germans (and many other nationalities with powerful passports) also need visas for Saudi Arabia, Russia, India, Cuba, China, Belarus, both Congos and even the puny, Pacific atoll of Nauru. Among quite a few others. Being top of the heap list doesn't mean you get to walk into anywhere just for free. Still, most of the world is your oyster.
That oyster is shut tight if you're a Kabuli planning a get-away-from-it-all holiday. Only three countries grant genuine visa-free entry to Afghan nationals: Haiti and St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the Caribbean, and Micronesia in the Pacific. Question to any readers over there: see many Afghan holidaymakers?
A further 21 countries are satisfied to furnish Afghan visitors with a visa on arrival (and for a fee, of course). These include Bangladesh and Burundi, Madagascar and the Maldives, Togo and Tuvalu.
Where is America on the powerful-passport scale? Quite high up – in fourth place, granting access to 154 nations. As do the passports of Singapore, Luxembourg, Austria and Portugal. Doing one better are South Korea, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands and Belgium, with 155 visa-free destinations. Six countries rank second after Sweden and Germany, with 156 visa-free countries: France, the UK, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and Finland.
The ranking is more complex than simply adding or subtracting one visa-free destination. For example: the U.S. ranks one destination higher than Japan, but that doesn't mean that U.S. passport holders get visa-free travel to all of Japan's visa-free destinations plus one.
With a Japanese passport, you don't need a visa for China, Laos or Vietnam, Bolivia, Paraguay and a few other destinations. With an American one, you do. Inversely, Japanese visitors need a visa for Armenia, Canada, Equatorial Guinea and some others, whereas American passport holders don't.
For the full ranking, and to see which countries you need a visa for, visit Passport Index.
That website includes a few intriguing graphics. One page shows the cover of all the world's passports, in what seems to be a riot of colour. In fact, passports come in many hues of only four basic colours: red and blue, green and black. Isolate 'Europe' in the drop-down menu, and the palette narrows to burgundy, mainly. Choose 'North America', and you're faced with twenty shades of blue.
What, if any, is the system behind the geographic distribution of passport colours?
Passport specifications are regulated by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), but colours are not part of the requirements listed in Document 9303. Countries are completely free to choose, but that choice is often determined by the regional club to which they belong – or want to belong.
Elsewhere on the Passport Index website, a world map provides an overview. Eliminating the hues to focus on the four main colours, the map looks like a game of Risk in full progress: some clustering ongoing, but still plenty of random variation.
Europe is red, but not entirely. Four countries prefer blue: Ukraine and Belarus, Bosnia and Iceland. Croatia is the even odder one out, preferring black. If we return to the passport picture overview for Europe, we see that Europe's red is mainly burgundy-tinted, as required by the European Union.
In 1981, “anxious to promote any measures which might strengthen the feeling among nationals of the Member States that they belong to the same Community," representatives of the member states of the European Communities – a precursor to the EU – resolved that their passports should have a similar design, including a burgundy cover.
If you're Boris Johnson (1), that probably adds to the evidence that the European project is a thinly veiled fascist superstate. Having decided to leave the European Union, Britain can finally cast off this burgundy straitjacket, among many other continental impositions.
Croatia, the EU's newest member state, will have to change its passport cover to burgundy next time it updates their design. Turkey, in wishful mimicry, imitates the EU's burgundy on its passports, in anticipation of one day joining the European club - although that ambition seems to have been put on the back-burner by both Turkish president Erdogan and the EU itself. Switzerland, on the other hand, distinguishes itself from Europe's subdued burgundy by adopting the bright red of its national flag.
Europe's red spills over into Asia via Turkey and Russia, all the way to Iran and Oman, and China and Japan – although the further east one gets, that is less likely to reflect any ambition to join the European Union, and more an indication of conformity to what is the world's most popular passport colour.
Blue, on the other hand, is the most popular colour in the Americas, all the way from Canada, via the U.S. and Brazil, down to Argentina. The laissez-passer for the U.S. has been navy blue since its bicentennial year, 1976, when the colour was chosen to match a shade in the American flag. Before that, U.S. passports were green (2).
Black is also the colour for Mexico, Nicaragua and Trinidad and Tobago. Nevertheless, blue is the colour for the other members of the 15-nation Caribbean Community (Caricom). It would seem that Mercosur, the South American economic association comprising Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela, follows the same rule. Blue, some say, symbolises the New World, perhaps because old-worlders needed to cross an ocean to discover, colonise and populate it.
Mercosur's South American rival, the Andean Community, appears to prescribe red for its four member countries, which would explain why Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia's passports are in that colour – as well as those of Chile, a former Andean Community member. Jamaica also sports a red passport. Honduras is America's sole green spot.
Green is most popular in Africa, where one imagines it symbolises either the continent's verdant lushness, or the Islamic religion. The latter would explain why green spills over into southwest Asia (Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, some of the 'stans). There is also a more prosaic reason for green's preponderance in Africa: it is the preferred colour for most (but not all) member states of Ecowas, the Economic Community of West African States.
Black is also most prevalent in Africa, from Algeria via Sudan and Congo to Botswana. The few non-African black passports, besides Croatia, are Iraq, Kyrgyzstan, India and New Zealand (doubtlessly a nod to the country's treasured All Blacks rugby team).
Does the world map of passport colours tend towards order or chaos? If the former, then perhaps one day all the passports in the Americas will be blue, all European ones red, all Islamic ones green, allsubsaharan African ones black. And all others the colour of the region they would most like to adhere to. But perhaps the latter is more preferable. The passport club could certainy use a few extra colours. How about a passport in bastard-amber, gingerline, drunk tank pink or banan?
Strange Maps #784
Got a strange map? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(1) Former mayor of London, leading campaigner for Brexit, currently British Foreign Secretary.
(2) And not, as earlier stated, green the 1930s, and burgundy and black at later dates. Reader David Hecht explains: “all (regular) passports were green; there were -and are- however, burgundy and black U.S. passports to this day”.
“Black passports (or 'black books' to use the jargon of the well-traveled government employee) are reserved to diplomatic personnel: if you ever read or hear of an American "traveling on a diplomatic passport," you may rest assured that the color of their passport is black. These carry the imprint 'Diplomatic Passport'”.
“Next down in the hierarchy are 'red books'. These are U.S.-government ("For Official Use Only") passports that are issued to civil servants who are not diplomatic personnel. Red books are marked 'Official Passport'”.
“Finally, there are ordinary passports, blue since the Bicentennial and green prior to the changeover”.
Some mysteries take generations to unfold.
- In 1959, a group of nine Russian hikers was killed in an overnight incident in the Ural Mountains.
- Conspiracies about their deaths have flourished ever since, including alien invasion, an irate Yeti, and angry tribesmen.
- Researchers have finally confirmed that their deaths were due to a slab avalanche caused by intense winds.
In February 1959, a group of nine hikers crossed through Russia's Ural Mountains as part of a skiing expedition. The experienced trekkers, all employed at the Ural Polytechnical Institute, were led by Igor Dyatlov. On the evening of February 1, all nine appear to have fled their tents into the Arctic temperatures, for which they were unprepared. None survived.
Six of the members died of hypothermia; three suffered from physical trauma. Some members were missing body parts—a tongue here, a few eyes there, a pair of eyebrows for good measure. According to reports, no hiker appears to have struggled or panicked. They were likely too quickly overtaken by the hostile environment in Western Russia.
All the members were young, mostly in their early twenties; one member, Semyon Zolotaryov, was 38. Good health didn't matter. Given the uncertain circumstances—what made them flee into the bitter cold?—the incident known as Dyatlov Pass has long been the type of Area 51-conspiracy theory that some people love to speculate about. A vicious animal attack? Infrasound-induced panic? Was the Soviet military involved? Maybe it was the katabatic winds that did them in. Local tribesmen might not have liked the intrusion.
Or perhaps it was aliens. Or a Yeti. Have we talked about Yeti aliens yet?
These theories and more have been floated for decades.
a: Last picture of the Dyatlov group taken before sunset, while making a cut in the slope to install the tent. b: Broken tent covered with snow as it was found during the search 26 days after the event.
Photographs courtesy of the Dyatlov Memorial Foundation.
Finally, a new study, published in the Nature journal Communications Earth & Environment, has put the case to rest: it was a slab avalanche.
This theory isn't exactly new either. Researchers have long been skeptical about the avalanche notion, however, due to the grade of the hill. Slab avalanches don't need a steep slope to get started. Crown or flank fractures can quickly release as little as a few centimeters of earth (or snow) sliding down a hill (or mountain).
As researchers Johan Gaume (Switzerland's WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF) and Alexander Puzrin (Switzerland's Institute for Geotechnical Engineering) write, it was "a combination of irregular topography, a cut made in the slope to install the tent and the subsequent deposition of snow induced by strong katabatic winds contributed after a suitable time to the slab release, which caused severe non-fatal injuries, in agreement with the autopsy results."
Conspiracy theories abound when evidence is lacking. Twenty-six days after the incident, a team showed up to investigate. They didn't find any obvious sounds of an avalanche; the slope angle was below 30 degrees, ruling out (to them) the possibility of a landslide. Plus, the head injuries suffered were not typical of avalanche victims. Inject doubt and crazy theories will flourish.
Configuration of the Dyatlov tent installed on a flat surface after making a cut in the slope below a small shoulder. Snow deposition above the tent is due to wind transport of snow (with deposition flux Q).
Photo courtesy of Communications Earth & Environment.
Add to this Russian leadership's longstanding battle with (or against) the truth. In 2015 the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation decided to reopen this case. Four years later the agency concluded it was indeed a snow avalanche—an assertion immediately challenged within the Russian Federation. The oppositional agency eventually agreed as well. The problem was neither really provided conclusive scientific evidence.
Gaume and Puzrin went to work. They provided four critical factors that confirmed the avalanche:
- The location of the tent under a shoulder in a locally steeper slope to protect them from the wind
- A buried weak snow layer parallel to the locally steeper terrain, which resulted in an upward-thinning snow slab
- The cut in the snow slab made by the group to install the tent
- Strong katabatic winds that led to progressive snow accumulation due to the local topography (shoulder above the tent) causing a delayed failure
Case closed? It appears so, though don't expect conspiracy theories to abate. Good research takes time—sometimes generations. We're constantly learning about our environment and then applying those lessons to the past. While we can't expect every skeptic to accept the findings, from the looks of this study, a 62-year-old case is now closed.
Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook. His most recent book is "Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."
New data have set the particle physics community abuzz.
- The first question ever asked in Western philosophy, "What's the world made of?" continues to inspire high energy physicists.
- New experimental results probing the magnetic properties of the muon, a heavier cousin of the electron, seem to indicate that new particles of nature may exist, potentially shedding light on the mystery of dark matter.
- The results are a celebration of the human spirit and our insatiable curiosity to understand the world and our place in it.
If brute force doesn't work, then look into the peculiarities of nothingness. This may sound like a Zen koan, but it's actually the strategy that particle physicists are using to find physics beyond the Standard Model, the current registry of all known particles and their interactions. Instead of the usual colliding experiments that smash particles against one another, exciting new results indicate that new vistas into exotic kinds of matter may be glimpsed by carefully measuring the properties of the quantum vacuum. There's a lot to unpack here, so let's go piecemeal.
It is fitting that the first question asked in Western philosophy concerned the material composition of the world. Writing around 350 BCE, Aristotle credited Thales of Miletus (circa 600 BCE) with the honor of being the first Western philosopher when he asked the question, "What is the world made of?" What modern high energy physicists do, albeit with very different methodology and equipment, is to follow along the same philosophical tradition of trying to answer this question, assuming that there are indivisible bricks of matter called elementary particles.
Deficits in the Standard Model
Jumping thousands of years of spectacular discoveries, we now have a very neat understanding of the material composition of the world at the subatomic level: a total of 12 particles and the Higgs boson. The 12 particles of matter are divided into two groups, six leptons and six quarks. The six quarks comprise all particles that interact via the strong nuclear force, like protons and neutrons. The leptons include the familiar electron and its two heavier cousins, the muon and the tau. The muon is the star of the new experiments.
For all its glory, the Standard Model described above is incomplete. The goal of fundamental physics is to answer the most questions with the least number of assumptions. As it stands, the values of the masses of all particles are parameters that we measure in the laboratory, related to how strongly they interact with the Higgs. We don't know why some interact much stronger than others (and, as a consequence, have larger masses), why there is a prevalence of matter over antimatter, or why the universe seems to be dominated by dark matter — a kind of matter we know nothing about, apart from the fact that it's not part of the recipe included in the Standard Model. We know dark matter has mass since its gravitational effects are felt in familiar matter, the matter that makes up galaxies and stars. But we don't know what it is.
Whatever happens, new science will be learned.
Physicists had hoped that the powerful Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland would shed light on the nature of dark matter, but nothing has come up there or in many direct searches, where detectors were mounted to collect dark matter that presumably would rain down from the skies and hit particles of ordinary matter.
Could muons fill in the gaps?
Enter the muons. The hope that these particles can help solve the shortcomings of the Standard Model has two parts to it. The first is that every particle, like a muon, that has an electric charge can be pictured simplistically as a spinning sphere. Spinning spheres and disks of charge create a magnetic field perpendicular to the direction of the spin. Picture the muon as a tiny spinning top. If it's rotating counterclockwise, its magnetic field would point vertically up. (Grab a glass of water with your right hand and turn it counterclockwise. Your thumb will be pointing up, the direction of the magnetic field.) The spinning muons will be placed into a doughnut-shaped tunnel and forced to go around and around. The tunnel will have its own magnetic field that will interact with the tiny magnetic field of the muons. As the muons circle the doughnut, they will wobble about, just like spinning-tops wobble on the ground due to their interaction with Earth's gravity. The amount of wobbling depends on the magnetic properties of the muon which, in turn, depend on what's going on with the muon in space.
Credit: Fabrice Coffrini / Getty Images
This is where the second idea comes in, the quantum vacuum. In physics, there is no empty space. The so-called vacuum is actually a bubbling soup of particles that appear and disappear in fractions of a second. Everything fluctuates, as encapsulated in Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. Energy fluctuates too, what we call zero-point energy. Since energy and mass are interconvertible (E=mc2, remember?), these tiny fluctuations of energy can be momentarily converted into particles that pop out and back into the busy nothingness of the quantum vacuum. Every particle of matter is cloaked with these particles emerging from vacuum fluctuations. Thus, a muon is not only a muon, but a muon dressed with these extra fleeting bits of stuff. That being the case, these extra particles affect a muon's magnetic field, and thus, its wobbling properties.
About 20 years ago, physicists at the Brookhaven National Laboratory detected anomalies in the muon's magnetic properties, larger than what theory predicted. This would mean that the quantum vacuum produces particles not accounted for by the Standard Model: new physics! Fast forward to 2017, and the experiment, at four times higher sensitivity, was repeated at the Fermi National Laboratory, where yours truly was a postdoctoral fellow a while back. The first results of the Muon g-2 experiment were unveiled on 7-April-2021 and not only confirmed the existence of a magnetic moment anomaly but greatly amplified it.
To most people, the official results, published recently, don't seem so exciting: a "tension between theory and experiment of 4.2 standard deviations." The gold standard for a new discovery in particle physics is a 5-sigma variation, or one part in 3.5 million. (That is, running the experiment 3.5 million times and only observing the anomaly once.) However, that's enough for plenty of excitement in the particle physics community, given the remarkable precision of the experimental measurements.
A time for excitement?
Now, results must be reanalyzed very carefully to make sure that (1) there are no hidden experimental errors; and (2) the theoretical calculations are not off. There will be a frenzy of calculations and papers in the coming months, all trying to make sense of the results, both on the experimental and theoretical fronts. And this is exactly how it should be. Science is a community-based effort, and the work of many compete with and complete each other.
Whatever happens, new science will be learned, even if less exciting than new particles. Or maybe, new particles have been there all along, blipping in and out of existence from the quantum vacuum, waiting to be pulled out of this busy nothingness by our tenacious efforts to find out what the world is made of.
- Benjamin Franklin wrote essays on a whole range of subjects, but one of his finest was on how to be a nice, likable person.
- Franklin lists a whole series of common errors people make while in the company of others, like over-talking or storytelling.
- His simple recipe for being good company is to be genuinely interested in others and to accept them for who they are.
Think of the nicest person you know. The person who would fit into any group configuration, who no one can dislike, or who makes a room warmer and happier just by being there.
What makes them this way? Why are they so amiable, likeable, or good-natured? What is it, you think, that makes a person good company?
There are really only two things that make someone likable.
This is the kind of advice that comes from one of history's most famously good-natured thinkers: Benjamin Franklin. His essay "On Conversation" is full of practical, surprisingly modern tips about how to be a nice person.
Franklin begins by arguing that there are really only two things that make someone likable. First, they have to be genuinely interested in what others say. Second, they have to be willing "to overlook or excuse Foibles." In other words, being good company means listening to people and ignoring their faults. Being witty, well-read, intelligent, or incredibly handsome can all make a good impression, but they're nothing without these two simple rules.
The sort of person nobody likes
From here, Franklin goes on to give a list of the common errors people tend to make while in company. These are the things people do that makes us dislike them. We might even find, with a sinking feeling in our stomach, that we do some of these ourselves.
1) Talking too much and becoming a "chaos of noise and nonsense." These people invariably talk about themselves, but even if "they speak beautifully," it's still ultimately more a soliloquy than a real conversation. Franklin mentions how funny it can be to see these kinds of people come together. They "neither hear nor care what the other says; but both talk on at any rate, and never fail to part highly disgusted with each other."
2) Asking too many questions. Interrogators are those people who have an "impertinent Inquisitiveness… of ten thousand questions," and it can feel like you're caught between a psychoanalyst and a lawyer. In itself, this might not be a bad thing, but Franklin notes it's usually just from a sense of nosiness and gossip. The questions are only designed to "discover secrets…and expose the mistakes of others."
3) Storytelling. You know those people who always have a scripted story they tell at every single gathering? Utterly painful. They'll either be entirely oblivious to how little others care for their story, or they'll be aware and carry on regardless. Franklin notes, "Old Folks are most subject to this Error," which we might think is perhaps harsh, or comically honest, depending on our age.
4) Debating. Some people are always itching for a fight or debate. The "Wrangling and Disputing" types inevitably make everyone else feel like they need to watch what they say. If you give even the lightest or most modest opinion on something, "you throw them into Rage and Passion." For them, the conversation is a boxing fight, and words are punches to be thrown.
5) Misjudging. Ribbing or mocking someone should be a careful business. We must never mock "Misfortunes, Defects, or Deformities of any kind", and should always be 100% sure we won't upset anyone. If there's any doubt about how a "joke" will be taken, don't say it. Offense is easily taken and hard to forget.
On practical philosophy
Franklin's essay is a trove of great advice, and this article only touches on the major themes. It really is worth your time to read it in its entirety. As you do, it's hard not to smile along or to think, "Yes! I've been in that situation." Though the world has changed dramatically in the 300 years since Franklin's essay, much is exactly the same. Basic etiquette doesn't change.
If there's only one thing to take away from Franklin's essay, it comes at the end, where he revises his simple recipe for being nice:
"Be ever ready to hear what others say… and do not censure others, nor expose their Failings, but kindly excuse or hide them"
So, all it takes to be good company is to listen and accept someone for who they are.
Philosophy doesn't always have to be about huge questions of truth, beauty, morality, art, or meaning. Sometimes it can teach us simply how to not be a jerk.
A recent study analyzed the skulls of early Homo species to learn more about the evolution of primate brains.