Britons enjoy the widest range of visa-free travel in the world – being able to visit 173 countries with just a passport, it was revealed today.

The UK’s citizens are on a par with those from Finland and Sweden for visa-free access – while nine out of the top ten in a new index are European Union countries, with only the US based outside.

Afghanistan comes bottom of the table, with only 28 countries available for entry without a visa, while Iraqi passport holders can go to 31, and Pakistan and Somalia are tied in third-worst with 32.

The study by residence and citizenship planning group Henley & Partners found the other EU countries in the top ten are Denmark, Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands.

The organisation has been producing an annual Visa Restrictions Index since 2006, to represent the freedom of travel for passport holders, as well as the international relations and status of countries.

Countries rising up the table – which asserts that there are 219 countries in the world – include South Korea, which is now in 24th place with 166, Malta in 27th with 163, and Hong Kong at 35th with 152.

Other countries improving their scores this year are St Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, the United Arab Emirates, Venezuela, Zimbabwe and India.

The group of countries taking up 11th to 20th place are Canada, France, Ireland, Japan, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Austria, New Zealand and Switzerland.

A Henley & Partners spokesman said: ‘In today’s globalized world, visa restrictions are an important tool for governments to control the movement of foreign nationals across borders.

‘Visas are a standard requirement for most countries as certain non-nationals wish to enter their territory.

‘At the same time, visa requirements or the lack thereof, are also an indication of the relationship between individual nations and the status of a country within the international community of nations. ‘

A World Tourism Organization report found that three-quarters of people in the world need a visa before travelling to Europe, reported The Independent.