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The Significance Of Passport Cover Colors (Yep, There Are Reasons)

by SharonKurheg

If you have a passport and are from the United States, chances are your passport is blue. If you’re from Germany, your passport is probably burgundy. If you’re Egyptian, I bet your passport is green.

I always wondered why different countries had different colored passports. Was there a certain significance to the color, did it ever change, etc? It turns out there are indeed reasons for all of that and more.

U.S. Passports

I’m from the U.S., so I’ll start there.

Most U.S. passports are currently blue but that wasn’t always the case. The first passports issued by the U.S. State Department, from 1780-1917, were just pieces of paper. Granted, they were “official” pieces of paper, but still… The documents were folded in 1918 so they were smaller, and they were glued to a protective brown cloth. In 1921, they put a hard green cover on top of the green cloth so the passport would have more protection. In 1926, they shrunk passports even more, to the current 3.75″ x 6-1/8″. They also changed their color that year, and from 1926 to 1941, they were red. From 1941 to 1960, they were green. They switched to blue in 1960 and stayed that color ever since. Well, except for one year, from April 1993 to March 1994, when they made them green again, to honor Benjamin Franklin and the 200th anniversary of the US Consular Service. As it turned out, my very first passport was issued in January 1994, and yep, it’s green.

Screen Shot 2019-11-18 at 12.53.06 PM

My passports, issued in 1994, 2004 and 2014

The currently-blue passports are for regular U.S. citizens, but the United States also issues passports of different colors. Brown passports are for U.S. government employees, contractors and military personnel. They’re only supposed to use the brown passports for “official” work, so those people would also have their regular blue ones for personal travel. Diplomats are issued black passports. Refugee Travel Documents are light green. They look like passports but don’t indicate US citizenship. They’re issued to refugees living in the United States when they can’t get a passport from their country of origin.

Other Countries’ Passports

There are only four colors of passports – black, blue, green and red, although different shades of each color are used.

PassportColors

  • Blue passports are traditionally associated with “New World” nations (think United States, Canada and Australia), but most Caribbean countries use dark blue for their covers to demonstrate their membership in the “Caribbean Community.” Some South American countries, including Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay, also use blue for their connection with the trade union Mercosur. The U.K.’s passport had most recently been red, but with Brexit, they’re switching to blue (with the death of Queen Elizabeth, people with passports from the UK and Commonwealth countries will also have a change from all mentions of Her Majesty to His Majesty King Charles III. However, those changes will only take place when individuals’ passports expire and need to be renewed).
  • Most Islamic countries (i.e., Egypt, Morocco, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia) have green passports because green is an important color in the Muslim religion. A handful of West African countries (think Burkina Faso, the Ivory Coast, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal) also have green passports to represent they belong to ECOWAS (the Economic Community of West African States).
  • Many countries in Europe use varying shades of red/burgundy and some countries that are trying to join the European Union (i.e., Albania, Turkey, and Macedonia) have been known to change their passport color to red, as well. There are some in South America (i.e., Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru) that choose red to signify they’re part of the Andean Community of Nations. Countries that have a history of Communism also tend to choose shades of red for their passports.
  • You can find black passports in possession of citizens from several African countries such as Angola, Botswana, Burundi, Chad, Congo, Malawi, Zambia, etc. New Zealand also uses black passport covers because black is the country’s national color.

And now you know 😉

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

12 comments

Peter Bibby December 26, 2019 - 1:11 pm

Before the UK adopted the burgundy colour of the EU for their passports, the colour had been dark blue, first introduced in 1921.

Reply
derek December 26, 2019 - 4:18 pm

Republic of China (Taiwan) – green. They are not a country of Muslims.

Singapore – red. They are not part of the European Union.

Always exceptions to the rule!

Reply
Marie December 26, 2019 - 7:08 pm

My first passport was issued in 1973 and it is green

Reply
Felipe Toloza December 28, 2019 - 3:48 am

Interesante

Reply
Disneyland Closes Gates Because of Crowding; Deaf Actress Calls Out Delta - Renés Points December 28, 2019 - 7:07 am

[…] The Significance Of The Colors Of Passport Covers (Yep, There Really Are Reasons) […]

Reply
Sean December 29, 2019 - 11:30 am

Botswana passports are blue.

Diplomatic / Official are black.

Check you facts before posting.

Reply
Brutus May 6, 2021 - 9:16 pm

It’s North Macedonia now.

Reply
derek May 7, 2021 - 2:12 am

Are you sure US passports were switched to blue in 1960? How about kid’s passports because I know some kids in the early 1970’s that got green passports.

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derek September 17, 2022 - 2:22 pm

The article says that “In 1926, they shrunk (US) passports even more, to the current 3.75″ x 6-1/8″. Is that correct? In the late 1970’s, the US State Department said they were shrinking the passport dimensions to a slightly smaller size so that it would fit in most pockets, making it less likely to be lost or stolen. My guess is that the current passport is not 3.75″ x 6-1.8”. Is it 3-1.2″ x 4-15/16″?

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Simon September 18, 2022 - 4:09 pm

The story is wrong both about color and size. My first passport was issued in 1972. It is green. And it’s 3.75″ x 6.25″, larger than the current ones.

Reply
Mike September 17, 2022 - 2:50 pm

As others have mentioned, I have a US Passport from the mid ‘70s, and it is green.

Reply
Patrick September 18, 2022 - 1:52 am

My first passport USA issued in 1973 was green not blue.

Reply

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