A United States passport is a powerful document to have, ranking 7th in terms of travel freedom according to the 2021 Henley Passport Index. The Henley Passport Index is a global ranking of countries' passports according to the travel freedom they afford their holders. The U.S. passport is tied for 7th place with passports from several other countries: Czech Republic, Greece, Malta, Norway, and the United Kingdom.
Where can U.S. passport holders travel visa-free?
As of October 1, 2021, US citizens can travel visa-free to 185 countries and territories (though a few require a visa on arrival). Note, however, that some of these countries do implement stiffer requirements after one has stayed a certain length of time—typically 30, 60, 90, or 180 days.
Perhaps most importantly considering Europe's popularity as a vacation destination, US citizens do not need a tourist visa to enter any of the 27 countries of the European Union—or the United Kingdom, which recently left the EU.
Countries that still require a visa ... and possibly something more
In countries where visas are required, travelers must typically pay registration fees, departure taxes, and travel fees. For example, if a U.S. citizen wants to travel to Russia, a visa is required, can take up to three weeks to process, and costs $139.
Many countries require potential visitors to be fingerprinted and photographed. Additionally, countries including Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Niger, require an International Certificate of Vaccination. This practice has become particularly prevalent since the global COVID-19 pandemic that began in early 2020.
Finally, some countries screen potential visitors based upon their previous destinations. In Libya, Sudan, and Syria, anyone with Israeli entry or exit stamps on their passport may be denied entry into the country.
China also requires a travel visa for US citizens. The application must include travel dates, itinerary, and proof of onward travel out of China. The application must also be typed and have no handwritten corrections. Additionally, every visitor to China between the ages of 14 and 70 is fingerprinted upon arrival and departure.
Which country is off-limits to U.S. citizens?
US citizens are not permitted to travel to North Korea, with or without a visa. The travel ban took effect in 2017 after a United States student died after being released from a North Korean prison. Failure to adhere to the rules can result in criminal penalties and having one's passport revoked. To travel to North Korea, US passport holders need to obtain a special passport validation from the United States government.
Always double-check before departure
Before traveling, it is necessary to check the visa requirements of one's destination. It's also important to check any travel advisories a country might have, which are issued by the U.S. Department of State for unsafe countries.