Case studies: Countries moving up in 2020

The Gambia

  • The Gambia moved into the top position in the Index (alongside Seychelles and Benin)
  • 2020 Index ranking: no. 1 (up from no. 20 in 2019, no. 19 in 2018, no. 18 in 2017, and no. 18 in 2016).
  • 2020 Liberal access (visa-free or visa on arrival to Africans): 100% (up from 53% in 2019).

The Gambia rose to the top of the Visa Openness Index moving up 19 places in 2020 by offering visa-free entry to all African travellers, and almost doubling its score in the last year.

In September 2019, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and Gambians Abroad declared the country a visa-free zone for all charter and scheduled flights.30 The move applies to African Union citizens and those from Commonwealth and select countries.

A top performer on the Index over the last five years, The Gambia has fully liberalized its visa policy in line with its commitment to African integration, having signed up to the Free Movement of Persons Protocol and the Single African Air Transport Market in addition to having ratified the AfCFTA.

At the 63rd UNWTO Regional Commission for Africa, the country’s Minister for Tourism and Culture also highlighted critical communication and connectivity areas that need to be addressed on the continent including greater air access and affordable airfares.3

The new visa policy adopted by The Gambia’s Ministry of Tourism and Culture supports the country’s strong focus on promoting regional tourism alongside the domestic market. As part of this, the government plans to boost the tourism sector by encouraging travellers from across the continent to engage with African culture during their travel in the country.

The Gambia ranks among the top 20 fastest growing economies worldwide in terms of travel and tourism contribution to GDP, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC). In 2019, the sector made up 17.7% of the economy and was responsible for 18.2% of employment.35 The country has received a WTTC ‘Safe Travels’ Stamp for adopting health and hygiene global standardized protocols for the safety of travellers and the workforce.


  • Nigeria joined the top 10 countries, moving up 8 22 places.
  • 2020 Index ranking: no. 8 (up from no. 30 in 2019, no. 29 in 2018, no. 30 in 2017, and no. 25 in 2016).
  • 2020 Liberal access (visa-free or visa on arrival to Africans): 98% (up from 34% in 2019).

Nigeria moved into the top 10 countries of the Index for the first time, rising 22 places since the last edition, achieving a record 153% increase in its visa openness score in the last year.

The Nigeria Visa Policy 2020 is part of the country’s reform programme under the National Immigration Service’s Borders Strategy 2019-2023, and it includes an increase in the number of visa classes to better connect visas to the purpose of travel. A new border management information system is also being rolled out, which puts a greater emphasis on technology and automation to improve security and transparency. Biometric eVisas are also available.

Nigeria’s declared commitment to support free movement of Africans within Africa39 and grant Africans visas on arrival has been widely welcomed by governments and businesses.

The relaxation of the visa policy aims to attract investors and skills, drive trade and promote tourism. Nigeria ranks among the largest African economies in terms of travel and tourism contribution to GDP, totalling USD 18.1 billion in 2019 according to the WTTC.

As a hub for trade, technology and investment on the continent, Nigeria has made strong progress to improve its business environment. Thanks to the country’s reforms on business registration, the entry and exit of goods and people, transparency and information, Nigeria rose a significant 15 places in the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Index. At the same time, the country signed the African Continental Free Trade Area in 2019 and is set to follow with ratification, while setting up a National Action Committee on the Agreement.

Sierra Leone

  • Sierra Leone moved up to just below the top 20 countries in the Index
  • 2020 Index ranking: no. 22 (up from no. 33 in 2019, 2018, and 2017, and no. 32 in 2016).
  • 2020 Liberal access (visa-free or visa on arrival to Africans): 57% (up from 32% in 2019).

Sierra Leone moved close to the top 20 most visa- open countries on the Index in 2020, rising 11 places on the ranking and improving its score by 60% since the last edition of the Index.

In September 2019, the Immigration Service underthe Ministry of Internal Affairs shared the news that all African visitors would be able to obtain visas on arrival into Sierra Leone for a USD 25 fee and, at the same time, ECOWAS nationals would be able to gain visa-free entry.

Sierra Leone, with a total of 179 improvements, is one of the countries featured among the UNWTO African destinations that improved visa procedures the most over the last decade.

The visa policy fits within the country’s efforts to boost tourist arrivals and increase tourism receipts, matched by initiatives to reduce airline ticket prices to increase competitiveness. Sierra Leone is seen as an emerging visitors’ destination, and ranks as 7th out of the top 20 fastest growing economies on travel and tourism based on WTTC reports. The sector contributed 12.9% to GDP growth in 2019, adding USD 3.9 billion to the overall economy.

In line with the momentum on closer integration on the continent, Sierra Leone has signed up to the Free Movement of Persons Protocol and the Single African Air Transport Market, as well as having ratified the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). In 2020, according to the World Bank’s Doing Business Index, the country also promoted faster trading across borders. In addition, a workshop was held in 2020 to validate the National Trade Strategy in line with the AfCFTA to reposition the country towards more diversified goods and services.

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