Packing a passport for travelling to another country is a no-brainer, but did you ever give thought as to why countries choose certain colours to define their key travel document? At busy Gatwick Airport this past spring, I noticed a sea of red, green and blue as we queued to pass through an automated customs screening.
I recently discovered Passport Index, an extensive passport archival site sporting a rainbow of passport colours on its homepage. The site ranks each passport by visa requirement, power rank (Canada is sixth globally) and individual rank (based on individual country and visa characteristic). Stats geekery aside, why does one country pick red, the other green?
Passports are generally red, green, blue or black — with shade variations of each.
EU members normally go for burgundy (with the exception of Croatia) while members of the Caribbean Community and Common Market (Caricom for short) use blue. Design-forward Switzerland goes for bright red to match its country’s flag. Looks like Japan’s isn’t too far off that red vs. burgundy trend.
According to Passport Index’s Vice President of Marketing, Hrant Boghossian, it could be argued that burgundy harks back to communist times, while blue is symbolic of the “New World” (e.g. North and South America, Oceania). He added that sometimes passport colour simply boils down to what’s available at the time.
Some countries base passport colour on faith: green was thought to have been Prophet Muhammad’s favourite colour, making it the perfect colour to represent Islamic and Middle Eastern countries.
I’ve only owned US passports in blue, but green, red and black have also been used over the years. Since 1941, the US has required Americans to have one in their possession when travelling abroad.
The US actually uses THREE defining colours for its passport: black for diplomats, maroon for US government employees and Congressmen travelling on official business and blue for national citizens.
Darker colours show off less dirt and for this reason are handed to diplomats to look more official.
“Passport production is a highly controlled process, and only few companies around the world are doing it,” Boghossian offered, adding, “the card stock used for passport covers is usually supplied by a third party and therefore only comes in certain colour variations to meet the required standards.”
Check out Finland’s current passport that doubles as a flip book containing a walking moose:
Passports now include tech features such as embedded microchips and biometric data (fingerprints, iris patterns, photographs). While Malaysia was first in line to use these new elements, Sweden, Japan, the UK, US, Germany and several others have evolved their passports as well.
From raised inks to laser-cut numbers, passports are not only getting a refresh in colour but in safety and durability too. It’s always fun to view some of the designs under a UV light as well.
Check out Canadian, British, US and Chinese passports if you come across them (and happen to have a UV light handy, of course).
Norway has the hands-down winning design, which bunks the black, red, blue and green scenario altogether! And check out one of the fancy interior pages (above).
Flickr photo credits: Brazilian passport, Enio Godoy; Japanese passport, Toshiyuki IMAI; Filipino passport, Edwin Sarmiento; Eastern European passports, Ivana Jurcic.