16 Mar 2017
BANGKOK If you judge the quality of the welcome mat by the number of nations that enjoy easy-visa entry then Cambodia is top of the class.
Cambodia tops Paspport Index’s ‘Welcoming Countries Rank’, 2017 with a score of 198 passports that it accepts for visa-on arrival, visa-free or electronic visas (eTAs) travel.
It shared the top rank with 13 other nations all scoring 198 passports eligible for easy entry.
From Asia only tiny Timor Leste joined Cambodia in the top rank.
There were surprises probably the biggest being Thailand that had a low score of just 74 passports that were eligible for the visa-free or visa-on-arrival welcome mat. It was ranked a lowly 63, well behind Indonesia that is welcoming to 169 passports and was ranked 16.
Even India, often perceived as a stickler for traditional visa process, out ranked Thailand at no 23 with an impressive 145 passports that eligible for a visa-free or visa-on-arrival welcome.
Passport Index’s ‘Welcoming Countries Rank’ is now in its second year and measures how countries stack up in offering visa-free, visa-on-arrivals and electronic visas.
It also ranks passports for their individual travel power with Germans, Singaporeans and Swedish passport holders enjoying the most visa-free, or visa-on-arrival travel options.
Myanmar was ranked 97 with only 8 passports eligible for visa-free or visa-on-arrival travel.
Ranked 84, Vietnam also performed badly with just 23 passports on the welcome mat.
Myanmar and possibly Vietnam should have performed better. Myanmar has a popular eVisa that might not have registered in the ranking, while Vietnam has recently extended visa-free travel to some European nations and introduced its own eTA last February. But it is possible Passport Index was not aware of these developments, or they did not fit its ranking criteria.
Landlocked Laos also a member nation of ASEAN performed much better than its neighbours with a ranking of 15 with 171 passports getting the welcoming treatment.
Malaysia ranked 17 with 165 passports, Singapore ranked 19 with 162 passports and Philippines ranked 20 with 159 passports.
Thailand may argue that it doesn’t need to be too welcoming as it attracts over 32 million tourists annually, but tourism officials may be unaware that this simple ranking indicates visa polices are stricter than what visitors might perceive.
Revisiting its tough visa rules for retirees and long-stay visitors might be a good place to start. Easing visas for medical tourists would help to keep Thailand among the top list of destinations that specialise in medical travel.