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.
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.
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.
- 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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