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Stamp Envy: Why Is Indonesia's Passport So Much Weaker Than Other Countries?

One hundred twenty-nine countries have stronger passports than Indonesia, according to recent rankings. How are these things determined?

by Cassie Martin and Natalie Stuart
26 January 2017, 6:30am

Whoever thought up the phrase "the world is your oyster," didn't have an Indonesian passport in their back pocket. The country's passport will only grant you visa-free access to 24 countries. And none are in the G20—aside from Indonesia itself, of course. Indonesian citizens can get visas on arrival for another 32 countries, but that list, while full of beautiful places like Nepal and the Maldives, is squarely in cemented to the developing world. 

recent ranking of 193 United Nations member-states—and six territories—placed Indonesia in 69th place in terms of passport strength, alongside Zimbabwe, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan. 

Only four of our regional neighbors have weaker passports than us. Citizens of the Philippines, Thailand, Timor-Leste, and Papua New Guinea all have less travel restrictions. Malaysia has the world's fifth most-powerful passport, tied with Canada and Ireland. Singapore? The second, beating out everyone but Germany and Sweden. 

So, how are these rankings determined?

"A key factor is the number of countries to which a passport holder can travel visa-free," explained Philippe May, a managing director and head of Asia-Pacific for the global financial advisor firm Arton Capital, which released this report. "Other factors are the number of countries which offer visas on arrival, the ranking of a country on the UNDP's human development index."

Countries take several things into consideration when deciding whether or not to grant visa-free arrival to citizens of another nation, May told VICE Indonesia. Diplomatic relations between the two nations are vital to the decision, but so are other factors like the likelihood, or prevalence that citizens of certain countries would overstay their visas. And in the case of Indonesia, it's massive population—250 million and counting—can work against it. 

"One issue of Indonesia is the large population," May said. "Any country allowing Indonesians visa-free access potentially risk a huge influx of Indonesian passport holders. The fact that there are terrorist activities going in Indonesia is another issue. And then the risk of Indonesians overstaying may be considered high by certain industrialized countries."

And these hurdles are hard for a country to overcome. Indonesia can boost its bilateral ties with other countries, even offer their citizens visa-free access, but while these moves may help the economy, they have little impact on Indonesian's ability to easily travel abroad. 

"If a country like they Seychelles or the Cook Islands offers the citizens of almost every other country visa-free access that will give a boost to their tourism and increase visitor numbers," May said. "But it does not mean that other countries allow them visa-free access. Reciprocity is not automatic."

So how can the central government make it easier for Indonesians who want to travel abroad? Good policy is key. A wealthier, more stable Indonesia is an Indonesia with more access to the outside world. But Indonesian citizens themselves can help as well. 

"Good diplomatic relations are one factor," May said. "But a low number of citizens overstaying their visa can also contribute to a lifting of visa requirements. Prevalence of peace and prosperity usually make it more likely for a country to get visa-free access."

But the easiest, and quickest, way to lower travel restrictions for Indonesians? Allow dual citizenship

"Having a second passport has become a necessity to improve your opportunities in life," May said. "More than 20,000 people invest each year in a second residency or citizenship."

But without some changes, the world, for many Indonesians is more crab than oyster. 

"Unfortunately, we can't choose where we are born, but in a globalized world we can decide where we live and work," May said. "The type of passport you hold will either open a lifetime of opportunities, or barriers. Not all passports are made equal."