Many of us have travelled extensively, and something I always look for when I’m in lineups at airports is other people’s passports. I am always curious where people are from and am intrigued by the different colours of passports.
Did you know the colour is actually significant? The four common colours you see in passports are blue, maroon, green and black. There are no international regulations for passport colours; however, countries continuously choose one of these four colours to reflect their belonging to international associations, their culture, and heritage. For example, the majority of countries, which belong to the European Union, issue maroon-coloured passports to reflect their membership.
There are also countries like Turkey, for instance, who have switched to maroon passport covers, as they want to belong to the EU. There are, of course, exceptions to the rule. Croatia, for example, has a dark blue passport because their passports have been blue since 1991, when the country declared independence from Yugoslavia. In Sweden, people who have lost their travel documents get a bright pink, temporary passport. Nothing like telling the world you lost it.
Islamic countries favour green as a colour for their passports. Some African countries, where Islam plays a major role in their culture, also choose green. This is why green is often featured in the flags of these countries.
Black passports are very rare. New Zealand issues passports in this colour because, as most rugby fans know, black is the country’s national colour. Some African countries, such as the Congo, Botswana, and Angola, also issue black passports, as does China.
Those of us from Canada and the US know our travel documents are blue. Did you know there are 81 countries (out of a total of 203), who also have blue passports? These are mainly countries from the Caribbean, Australia, Ukraine, Hong Kong, and India. Prior to 1976, American passports were issued in various shades of red, green, and even beige at different time periods.
It made me wonder why most passports are dark-coloured. The reason is, as I suspected, they won’t look dirty with use, and they look more official than bright colours. The dark colours make the country’s insignia, commonly printed in silver or gold, stand out better and be more legible. In fact, China reportedly chose the black cover colour solely for aesthetic purposes.
Lastly, diplomatic travel documents often feature a different colour than regular passports. For example, Chinese diplomatic passports are red because diplomats are believed to be representatives of the Communist party. Likewise, organizations like Interpol have their own passport colour – black, whereas UN passports are always blue.
Now I had better go and get mine and see what the expiry date is. We will be travelling again soon, and you want to make sure your passport is up to date, with at least six months left, before you leave the country.
Jonathan van Bilsen is a television host, award-winning photographer, published author, columnist and keynote speaker. Watch his show, ‘Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel’, on Rogers TV, the Standard Website or YouTube.