QCOSTARICA TRAVEL – What colour is your passport? Blue? Red? Green? Black? In general these are four standard colours of the key to getting into other countries, according to the interactive passport database Passport Index.
Travelers don’t have a lot of say in how their passports look. It’s hard to take a flattering picture, you can’t choose which inspiration quotes frame your stamped pages, and you can’t choose the colour of your passport cover.
Somewhat surprisingly, the colour of your passport follows no strict system of country categorization—though that’s not to say the colours are totally random, either.
“Most passports in the world are based on blue and red primary colors,” says Passport Index Vice President of Marketing Hrant Boghossian, though there’s an enormous degree of variation in hues. And while geography, politics, and even religion come into play when a country selects its passport cover, there are no guidelines or regulations dictating the color of these national documents.
The process for selecting colours
There are “many possible scenarios” as to why countries opt for a particular colour, according to Boghossian.
“Members of the European Union use burgundy, while Caricom states use blue passports,” he said. Caricom, or the Caribbean Community and Common Market, includes 15 Caribbean countries and dependencies.
So what can we infer about passport color? Boghossian says it’s a matter of national identity.
There may be geographical and political motives for using certain colours. “Some could argue that the burgundy red is due to a past communist history,” Boghossian said. He added that blue passports were generally symbolic of the “new world” — North America, South America, Oceania, etc.
Red passports. In South America, burgundy (red) passports are used by members of the Andean Community (also known for past EU-ambitions) of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador. Venezuela and Chile also use burgundy passports Argentina and Brazil use blue.
Blue passports. In Central America, all countries – Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Belize – use blue. Boghossian told Business Insider that Caribbean, or Caricom states, typically use blue, though it’s common in the “New World,” as well. In North America, Mexico, the United States and Canada issue a blue passport.
Although all the foregoing countries issue blue passports — Costa Rica’s passport, for example, has a Global Passport Power Rank of 28, meanwhile, the U.S. has the fourth-best ranking passport and Canada sixth. Click here for the Passport Index by rank.
The United States’ passport, however, only became navy blue in 1976—to match the shade found in the American Flag. Before that? “We believe the first travel documents in the U.S. were red,” Boghossian told Travel + Leisure. Green passports were used in the 1930s, followed by burgundy ones, [and] black passports in the 1970s.”
Green passports. “Most Islamic states use green passports because of the importance of the colour in their religion,” Boghossian shared with Business Insider. Variations of green are also used by members of ECOWAS—Economic Community of West African States—including Niger and Senegal.
Black passports. Here’s another, far more practical, interpretation for selecting passport colors. Dark colors (even deep shades of blue and red) show less dirt and tend to look more official. Examples include the Republic of Botswana, Zambia, and New Zealand—though for the latter, black is also considered one of the country’s national colors.
Ultimately, you can infer about colour as much as you want, but passports represent something much greater than geo-political and economic ties. “We forget that [passports] belong to people. For some, they are a barrier. To others, a right of passage,” Boghossian said to Travel + Leisure.
“Governments around the world have the freedom to choose the color and design,” reiterated Boghossian. “Unfortunately, only few have understood the importance of this document on their country’s brand identity.”
Boghossian cited Norway, which recently unveiled its winning passport design from a nationwide competition, as an example of a country using its passports to define its distinct personality and characteristics. The colors? Vibrant and hip.
Other nations opt for styles that reflect their individual character and identity.
“Swiss passports are bright red,” Boghossian offered as an example. “The passport of Turkey has changed to burgundy, in hope to join the EU.”
Passports are also dictated by what’s practical. Sometimes the colour of travel documents comes down to what’s available.
“Passport production is a highly controlled process, and only few companies around the world are doing it,” Boghossian said. The cardstock used for passport covers is “usually supplied by a third party” and therefore “only comes in certain colour variations to meet the required standards,” he said.
Some of the coolest passport designs include ones with UV artwork like ones from Canada, the UK, the US, and China that expose “hidden” images under UV light. And then there’s Finland’s animated image of a moose running, which was released in 2012.
According to Boghossian, the UK has a unique passport variation: the Queen’s Messenger passport, which is used by a handful of individuals to deliver important information to British consulates and embassies around the world.
Outside the four key passport colours, Boghossian cited exceptional countries like Canada, whose citizens use white passports as temporary travel documents. Norway offers passports in different hues with sleek minimalist designs.
You can see a gallery of passports, divided by location and colour, on Passport Index’s website.