The Meaning of Passport Colors – A Complete Guide

meaning of passport colors

That dandy little book that you never let out of your sight on a foreign trip could be a little more exciting than the somber tones you’re used to. Soft baby pink, bright neon green, or even lemon yellow. Just imagine how splendid that’d be!

Well, then why doesn’t a passport sport more fun colors?

Why are there different passport colors?

Are passport colors symbolic of something?

If the passport colors intrigue you, you’re not alone. Read along to know the meaning of passport colors and decipher the colorful world of your passport. In the next five minutes, you’ll learn:

  • Fun facts on the meaning of passport colors
  • The meaning of passport colors by country

Meaning of Passport Colors – Fun Facts

  • There are four main colors of passports worldwide—red, blue, green, and black. All passports in the world are in different hues of these four primary colors. You might wonder why do passports come only in these 4 colors? This is because dark colors conceal dirt and damage, and impart a formal appearance.
  • No international body or strict dictum regulates the passport color of different nations. It is up to the country’s preference.
  • Passport color is a matter of national identity. The colors are tied to the geography, culture, religion, and politics of the nation.
  • Guidelines on how to write the information contained in the passports (including each size, font) are recommended by the International Civil Aviation Organization.
  • A binding rule is that passports ought to be made of materials that bend without creasing. They must remain readable by machines between 14°F-122°F temperature, and 5%-95% relative air humidity.
  • Standard U.S. passports weren’t always blue. This change happened only in 1979. Prior to that, the ordinary U. S. passport was red (1926 to 1941), followed by green (1941-1979).
  • Some out-of-the-ordinary passport colors are Sweden’s pink temporary passport (also known as the emergency alien’s passport), and Canada’s white temporary passport.
  • Few nations have started adding other identifying marks or sequences to their passports. A prime example is Finland’s incorporation of the sequence of a running moose into their passport. You can see the animal running like in a flipbook as you turn the pages quickly.
  • Several countries have also introduced intricate artwork to their passport that’s unique to the region.

Meaning of Passport Colors – The U.S. and Beyond

Different countries are characterized by one of the four passport colors. But, there can be a variation of color and hues even within a single country. The U. S. is the perfect example.

First, we’ll investigate passport colors in the U.S. in-depth, before moving on to a bird’s-eye view of the passport colors and their meanings on a global scale.

Passport Colors in the U.S.

Contrary to popular belief, not all U. S. passports are blue. Passport color is assigned based on the status of the applicant.

U. S. passports come in five colors. Let’s decode their meaning:

1. Blue Passport for Ordinary Citizens

What does the blue passport mean? The plain old blue passport signifies you’re an ordinary citizen. But, you’re not alone. The majority of U.S. passport-holders have blue passports. They are commonly referred to as “regular” or “tourist” passports.

Blue passport books are normally valid for 10 years; five years if issued to anyone under 16. Validity also changes under special circumstances like lack of sufficient documentation, history of lost or stolen passports, and debt to the U.S. government.

The blue passport is issued to anyone who wants to travel as a:

  • Tourist
  • Flight crew member
  • Businessperson
  • Employee
  • Student

There is another variant of the blue passport, known as the no-fee passport. They are issued to employees of the:

  • American National Red Cross
  • Department of Defense
  • Peace Corps
  • Others who are assigned duties overseas

2. Brown Passport for Government Officials

Brown means business. These are no-fee official passports assigned to:

  • Employees of the U.S. Government
  • Active members of the military who travel abroad for duty

If authorized by the Department of State, their family members can also get their hands on a brown passport, from the Special Insurance Agency of the Washington Passport Agency.

With evidence of your official status, it’s easy to get one of these. But they are valid for only five years at most, and cannot be used for leisure travel. Brown passports must be returned when the governmental employee’s duty ends.

American citizens can simultaneously hold both blue and brown passports. Blue for tourism, and brown for duties.

3. Black Passport for Diplomats

The color of the U.S. State Department. Diplomats (like Foreign Service officers) who travel internationally for the interests of the State Department flash the swanky black passport to get through.

Much like the brown passport, these too have a maximum validity of five years, and cannot be used for leisure travel. Black passports are issued only at the Special Insurance Agency of the Washington Passport Agency.

4. Green Passport for Noncitizens

Green is for refugees. A green passport or green card is technically not a passport, since it does not indicate U. S. citizenship. It serves as a refugee travel document for noncitizens.

Green passports are issued by the U. S. Department of Citizenship and Immigration Services. It is also a mark of permanent residence.

5. Gray Passport for Service Contractors

Contractors traveling to the U. S. to support the government are entitled to a gray passport. These are known as service passports.

Gray passports are issued because third-party contractors can’t use a regular blue passport for travel. Issued by the Special Issuance Agency in Washington, gray passports don’t require a fee. They are issued on a limited basis.

Passport Colors outside the U.S.

On a global scale, passport colors have a broad significance. In some countries, the color is connected to faith, while elsewhere it might be linked to political history, or even the landscape.

1. Red Passport—an Ancient Tinge

The second most common passport color after blue, with approximately 68 countries under its banner. It is one of the oldest passport colors. Many countries with a blue passport today, used to be red. The U.K. and U.S. are the best examples.

The shades of red used in passports range from bright orange to burgundy. Although the shades don’t have much significance in and of themselves, they are characteristic colors of the countries they represent.

Here are some country-related facts regarding the red passport, its history, and significance:

  • The Philippines uses burgundy (the most common shade of red) in passports.
  • Countries with past or present communist regimes also use red. Like Slovenia, China, and Russia.
  • Members of the Andean community, (Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, etc.) have burgundy passports.
  • All countries of the European Union, except Croatia, use deep red/maroon passports.
  • Switzerland, although a part of the EU, uses bright red with a white cross that mirrors its flag. It also symbolizes their culture.
  • Countries like Turkey, Macedonia, and Albania, who wish to be part of the EU, imitate the red trend.
  • The world’s most powerful passport is Japan’s dark red citizen passport. It has a 10-year validity and access to 190 countries.
  • The second spot is taken by Singapore’s unique orange-red passport.

2. Green Passport—the Complexion of Faith

Want to know the meaning of the green passport? Prophet Muhammad wore a green cloak and turban. Green is also the color of Qurans and the domes of mosques. Found in the middle of the color spectrum, green has immense religious significance to Muslim nations. It finds a prominent place on their national flags and passports.

But, Islamic countries are not the only ones to use green passports. About 40 national passports sport hues of green today. Let’s learn more about the venerable green passport:

  • Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, Morocco, and all other predominantly Muslim countries use green passports.
  • Green is chosen by countries of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Think Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Niger, the Ivory Coast, and Senegal.
  • The world’s third strongest passport, which is South Korea, uses a dark green shade. Although there is a buzz of changing the color to blue soon.

3. Blue Passport—the Hue of the New World

The most widely used passport color in the world, spanning over 70 countries. As more countries rapidly change their passport color to blue, this number is only going to grow.

Some intriguing blue passport facts:

  • The United States has been officially issuing blue citizen passports since 1976. It supposedly matches the blue hue of the national flag.
  • Post-Brexit, the United Kingdom also shifted to blue. It is symbolic of their reclamation of national identity.
  • Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay, collectively known as Mercosur (a trade union), use blue passports, along with most other South American countries.
  • Countries that are part of the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) have adopted blue passports for geographical and political reasons.
  • The blue tint of the Lebanese passport symbolizes the Mediterranean Sea.
  • Caribbean countries and U.S. Territories, like Guam, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, are connoisseurs of blue as well.

4. Black Passport—A Rarity

Black imparts a grand appeal, owing to the stark contrast with gold-embossed lettering and intricate designs on passports. It also hides dirt incredibly well. As the most practical choice for passport color, you would think more countries would use this color, right?

However, only 10 countries have chosen black as their passport color. Let’s explore some more about the mysterious black passport:

  • Most African countries have black passports. Like the Republic of the Congo, Botswana, Zambia, and Angola, among others.
  • New Zealand also issues black passports. This is because the country’s national color is black.
  • China’s public passport is black. It issues red diplomatic passports only to government officials traveling abroad.

Beyond The Meaning Of Passport Colors

Passports are crucial to foreign travel. You need them to get in and out of other countries. Now that you know the meaning of passport colors, you’re bound to have more fun simply looking at them.

However, what happens when you are in a foreign country and your passport is lost or stolen? This is where you could benefit from travel insurance. Replacing a passport, especially on an expedited schedule, can be costly. A travel insurance plan may be able to help you recoup some of the extra expenses incurred due to a lost passport, as well as a wealth of other benefits no traveler should be without.

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