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Why Are US Passports Blue?

blue US passport in front of American flag

Each country is free to set the color of their own passport books. Currently, U.S. passports are the same shade of blue as the star field in the American flag.

That said, there are other types of passports issued by the United States Department of State that are not blue. For example, passports for U.S. officials carrying out official government duties are a reddish-brown color. Diplomatic passports are black. Service passports issued to contracted government workers are gray.

Standard U.S. Passports were not always blue

red American (US) passport from 1930The first passports issued by the U.S. State Department from 1780-1917 were simply official pieces of paper. These documents had both identifying information and a message of introduction from the Secretary of State to officials in the destination country. There was no booklet or protection for the document of any kind.

Starting in 1918, the passport document was folded and glued onto a piece of protective brown cloth. This resulted in the first booklet-style American passport, which measured a slim 4 1/2 inches by 6 1/2 inches. This was a welcome change from the previous passport, which was larger than a sheet of modern legal paper.

Three years later, in 1921, the State Department added a green cover on top of the blown cloth one for added protection. The green cover was made of a harder material. This was great for protecting the passport, but it made the document bulkier and more cumbersome to travel with.

This unpopular design was replaced in 1926 by the first pocket-sized, U.S. passport. The hard cover remained, but the size was shrunken down to a more manageable 3 3/4 inches by 6 1/8 inches. The cover was also changed to a deep red with gold detailing. The United States would continue to issue passports in this smaller size and in various shades of red until 1941.

During World War II, the U.S. passport would once again receive a visual overhaul. Among the changes made by the “Type VI” passport design (issued from 1941-1956) would be yet another color change. This time, the American passport changed back to a deep green color once again. The cover would remain green through 1960.

In 1961, the U.S. passport cover was officially changed to blue. The cover material was also adapted to be more durable and resistant to damage from the elements.

At the same time, certain special passports were given their own official colors: the diplomatic passport was changed to its current black color and the official passport was given a maroon cover. These colors have remained largely unchanged ever since.

The only other significant change in the American passport’s coloring would be in the 1976 Bicentennial Passport. This “Type IX” version traded the gold leaf embossed printing on the passport cover for a silver aluminum foil.

Passport colors in other countries

hand holding green saudi passport and documentPassports come in a wide variety of colors and hues across the globe. Since each country is free to select their own passport color (or colors), there is a rainbow of these official documents passing through border crossings each day.

Most passports tend to be variations of red, blue, green or black. While there are no hard-and-fast rules about passport colors, there are some patterns to the choices countries have made.

  • Green is a popular passport color for Islamic countries. Green has a religious meaning tied to both the prophet Muhammad and to a faithful respect for nature.
  • Red has communist connotations and remains the passport color of many former Soviet states. Other countries that feature red prominently in their flags (like Japan and Switzerland) have also chosen red passports.
  • Blue is a common passport choice for nations that either border the sea (like Kenya or Suriname) or have significant amounts of blue in their flags (like Australia or America).
  • Black passports tend to come from African countries that feature the color black in their flags. Furthermore, some nations choose to use black for special-issue passport variations (like the United States).

To learn more about passports in other countries, check out The Passport Index. This site is dedicated to assessing and ranking the travel power of each nation’s passport. Their homepage features cover images of 199 different nations’ passport covers and is a tribute to the beauty and variety in these international design choices. At a glance, it becomes clear that while most nations tend to opt for basic tones – reds, blues, and greens - there are certainly some outliers.

For example, Norway’s most recent passport design was created based on a national contest. The winning design comes in bright, modern tones of blue and red and feature the northern lights when held under a black light!

 

The United States passport colors have gone relatively unchanged for nearly half a century. Design choices aside, the value and importance of a U.S. passport remains steadfast. Is your passport up to date? Still hanging on to that green passport book from the 1950s? Click here for our comprehensive guide to renewing your passport. You never know when you might need it!

 

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