North Korea and the 2017 Passport Index

Stephan Haggard (PIIE) and Kent Boydston (PIIE)



Last week Arton Capital released its annual Passport Index, a ranking of all passports by the number of countries their holders are permitted to enter visa-free. The top countries are no surprises: Germany (160); Sweden (159); Denmark, Finland, France, Spain, Singapore, Norway, and the United Kingdom (158 each). The United States and South Korean are next at 157 countries.

North Korea, unsurprisingly, ranks near the bottom as DPRK citizens are only allowed to enter 39 countries visa-free. The 2017 Passport Index lists 40 countries with visa-waiver arrangements with North Korea but the index was completed before Malaysia canceled the program last month. But North Korea in fact does better than several countries, admittedly many of which are war torn or otherwise failing states such as Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and Somalia.

But those 39 countries constitute a story. Pyongyang continues to maintain visa-waiver agreements with 13 countries in Africa. North Korea has a history of exporting arms and services across Africa: from small-weapons exports to erecting triumphalist statues for dictators, and dispatching officials to provide training in authoritarian policing. (Don’t say the North Koreans don’t understand specialization and comparative advantage.) To be sure, Pyongyang has recently faced diplomatic blowback from some of its African partners amid international condemnation of Pyongyang’s nuclear program and human rights record, and South Korea’s subsequent diplomatic efforts on the continent. For example, Botswana cut diplomatic ties with the DPRK in 2014 and Uganda announced that it was terminating its military ties with North Korea in 2016, although it has not yet completely done so (see Panel of Experts report page 46.)

The problem visa-waiver agreements pose is the advantage they offer nefarious North Korean actors to slip through the cracks.

The Panel of Experts report on North Korean sanctions released last month extensively parses Pyongyang’s continuing efforts to earn hard currency through illicit activities in Africa. (Earlier this week Steph Haggard analyzed the report here.) Not surprisingly a number of the countries on the visa-free list also show up in the Panel of Experts reports, from Tanzania—with its history of registering North Korean ships—to other countries that have hosted North Korean work teams or bought military gear. A report by the Institute for Security studies, recently reviewed by Marcus Noland, contains a number of recommendations on how African states can improve their DPRK-related sanctions enforcement.

Closer to home, after Singapore and Malaysia cut their agreements, North Korea still maintains visa-waiver ties with Cambodia, Laos, Macao, and Timor-Leste. As the Malaysian case showed, the problem visa-waiver agreements pose is the advantage they offer nefarious North Korean actors to slip through the cracks. As the Malaysian Glocom revelation showed, North Korea had been working with Malaysian firms to circumvent UN sanctions. Visa-waiver programs make it easier for North Korea to shift these operations to other jurisdictions in Southeast Asia.

Another cluster of troubling cases are island countries that have served as havens for tax shelters and the registration of shell holding companies.

Of course, you don’t need a visa-waiver program to issue a visa. But what are the gains from making it any easier for North Korea to use your country as a platform for illicit activities? If you want to do due diligence on sanctions leakage, this list of countries is probably a reasonable place to start.

The following are the countries which still maintain a visa-waiver program with North Korea:

  • Armenia (visa on arrival)                               
  • Bangladesh (visa on arrival)                                         
  • Belarus (visa-free)                                          
  • Cambodia (visa on arrival / eVisa)                                            
  • Cape Verde (visa on arrival)                                        
  • Comoros (visa on arrival )                             
  • Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) (visa on arrival / eVisa)                                             
  • Djibouti (visa on arrival)               
  • Dominica (visa on arrival)                                             
  • Ecuador (visa-free)                                         
  • Ethiopia (visa on arrival)               
  • Gambia (visa-free)                                          
  • Guinea-Bissau (visa on arrival)                                   
  • Guyana (visa-free)                                         
  • Haiti (visa-free)                               
  • Iran (visa on arrival)                                        
  • Jordan (visa on arrival)                                  
  • Kyrgyzstan (visa-free)                                   
  • Laos (visa on arrival)                                       
  • Macao (visa on arrival)                                  
  • Madagascar (visa on arrival)                                       
  • Malawi (visa on arrival)                                                                 
  • Maldives (visa on arrival)                             
  • Mauritania (visa on arrival)                                         
  • Micronesia (visa-free)                                   
  • Mozambique (visa on arrival)                                     
  • Nepal (visa on arrival)                                    
  • Nicaragua (visa on arrival)                                           
  • Palau (visa on arrival)                                     
  • Palestinian Territories (visa-free )                             
  • Samoa (visa on arrival)                  
  • Seychelles (visa on arrival)                                           
  • Sri Lanka (eTA)                 
  • St. Vincent and the Grenadines (visa-free)                                          
  • Tanzania (visa on arrival)                              
  • Timor-Leste (visa on arrival)                                        
  • Togo (visa on arrival)  
  • Tuvalu (visa on arrival)                       
  • Uganda (visa on arrival)

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