British, Swedish and Finnish passports give the widest range of visa free travel in the world, according to the annual Visa Restrictions Index from Henley & Partners.

British passport holders are able to visit 173 countries out of 219 in the world without needing a visa, as are citizens of Finland and Sweden, the report reveals.

UK expat travel

Being a citizen of a country that is a member of the European Union is a key determinant of ease of movement across frontiers with nine out of the top 10 countries in the EU. Denmark, Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands and the United States also place in the top 10.

The survey also reveals a wide gap between the old EU and the new. For example, of the former Iron Curtain countries Hungary performs best. Bulgaria and Romania are a long way down the list while Russians are allowed visa free access to 95 countries, one more than citizens of Turkey.

South Africa is the highest placed African nation which is significantly better placed than the four lowest European countries of Bosnia Herzegovina, Albania, Belarus and Moldova which is below Cuba, Kazakhstan and Zimbabwe.

There is no change at the bottom of the list with Pakistan and Somalia in joint third worst place with passport holders able to travel to just 32 countries without a visa, then come citizens of Iraq with 31 countries and finally Afghanistan with passports holders able to access just 28 countries, or 23% of the world's nations.

The firm says that there is a strong correlation between average wealth and access to open frontiers. The second group of countries after the top 10, for example, includes Canada, Japan, Norway, New Zealand and Switzerland.

Citizens of the two most populous nations, India and China, come low on the list. India may have 1.2 billion people but an Indian passport gives visa free access to just 52 countries, one fewer than Burkina Faso and Indonesia.

China with a population of 1.3 billion can only access 44 countries without a visa, behind Vietnam, Cambodia and East Timor. But citizens of Hong Kong and Macau, both autonomous regions of China, can travel to many more countries. A Hong Kong passport gives visa free access to 152 nations.

Small wealthy countries don’t do particularly well. San Marino, Andorra and Monaco fail to break the 150 barrier, but citizens of Liechtenstein can undertake visa free travel to 159 countries.

The list, which was produced in cooperation with The International Air Transport Association (IATA,) takes into account a number of new regulations introduced in 2013 including the new visa regime in Kosovo, visa exemptions applicable to nationals of Croatia as a new member of the European Union and temporary visa exemptions in Albania, for nationals of some GCC member states. It does not reflect the new visa regime in Senegal which came into force in August.