WHAT DOES YOUR PASSPORT'S COLOUR MEAN?
Ever wondered when waiting in the passport control queue why people carry different coloured passports? It is no secret that national passports widely differ from each other by what doors - or borders - they open for their owner (I've talked about it before in this blog post). But where does the colour variation stem from? Does it symbolise anything? For example, Fiji is bright blue, Canada is also blue but a much darker shade (almost black), whereas China is green and Russia is dark red. So, why are they the colours they are?
Passports from all countries must adhere to a set of requirements agreed by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). In 1968, an ICAO panel was initiated to standardise travel documents. Back then, only the US, Canada, and Australia conformed to the guidelines, but today the criteria such as size and format apply to all passports. However, countries are free to choose a colour for the passport cover and to use national symbols both on the front cover and within the passport itself. To be precise, they are free to choose from different shades of only four colours: blue, green, red, and black. Why? As Hrant Boghossian, the person behind the interactive passport database Passport Index, explains it, since "passport production is a highly controlled process, and only few companies around the world are doing it", the cover stock supplied by a third party comes only in certain colours to meet the ICAO standards.
A glance at the map above, with each country coloured according to its ordinary passport, does not provide any particular clues on the reasons behind why a country picks a certain colour or shade. In general, countries choose the colour of their national document based on their political affiliations, identity, and values.
Take a loot at the European Union - all member states have burgundy passports. The colour was approved in 1981, but it had taken years to come to this consensus. One year after a uniform passport was first proposed, in 1976, Britain dismissed the suggested shade of delicate lilac. Diplomats went on to spend four years trying to find a colour that would please everyone, with maroon and purple rejected in the process. Nowadays, states that have aspired to join the EU, including Turkey, Albania, and Macedonia changed their passports to burgundy as well, the move described as a "branding exercise" by The Economist.
Yet even within the European Union, there is an interesting case. The Kingdom of Denmark comprises Denmark proper (the peninsula of Jutland and 443 named islands) and two autonomous countries in the North Atlantic Ocean: Greenland and the Faroe Islands. Neither country is in the EU, but Greenlandic citizens are EU citizens and the Faroese are not. The reason is, Greenland used to be a member of the European Economic Community (EEC), which is the EU's predecessor, whereas the Faroes never joined neither the EEC nor the EU. To make it even more complicated, citizens n Greenland and the Faroe Islands can choose between the Danish EU passport and the local, Greenlandic or Faroese, non-EU passport. The Danish and Greenlandic passports have EU burgundy covers, while the Faroese is green. Either way, all of them - the Danish, the Greenlanders, and the Faroese - are considered Danish nationals.
Members of the CARICOM - Caribbean Community and Common Market - include 15 Caribbean countries and dependencies; their passports are blue. This colour is popular in the New World.
Green is natural fit the Middle East. Islamic states use green covers because of the importance of the colour in their religion: it is thought to have been Prophet Muhammad's favourite colour and is a symbol of nature and life. Other shades of green are also used for travel documents from the ECOWAS, Economic Community of West African States.
Most countries do not alter their passport's cover colour unless joining a union with other states. The US's colour has changed numerous times over the past century: it was beige (1918), then green (1921), then various shades of red (1926), green again (1941), and finally turned blue in 1976. There was even a special Benjamin Franklin edition issued between 1993-1994 with a green cover.
The purpose of the passport is not limited to certifying citizenship and personal identity. It can also designate the bearer's special status, in which case an unordinary passport is issued.
Interpol is one of the few international organisations with passport-issuing powers. An Interpol Travel Document is a travel document issued to Interpol officers for travel to Interpol member countries. At this point, it can be used in conjunction with a valid national passport in 102 of Interpol's 190 member countries. The cover of this document is black. The UN's laissez-passer comes in blue and red.
Diplomatic passports from different countries vary in colours. For example, whereas the ordinary Norwegian passport is red, Norwegian diplomats and their families get turquoise passports. In the US, the diplomatic travel document is black. A maroon or red US passport indicates that the individual is on official US Government business, but not of a diplomatic nature. They may be US military, the family of US military, a trade mission, and so on.
If you have been granted protection (asylum) in Norway, you can be issued a refugee travel document. This passport is green. If you hold a Norwegian residence permit and it is not possible for you to obtain a passport from your home country, you are eligible for an immigrant's passport. It is normally valid for 7 years and can be used as an ordinary passport to travel into and out of Norway, but you cannot use it to visit your home country. The immigrant's passport is blue.
In the light of Brexit, it is not clear whether the UK ordinary passport will remain* burgundy or go back to the former navy cover. What you might not know, though, is there is likely a British passport already without the words "European Union" on it. If you happen to hold the position of a Queen's Messenger, you will have a different travel document to hand-carry secret and deliver important documents to British embassies and consulates around the world. As of March 2015, 16 Messengers are employed full-time and two part-time. The Queen herself does not have a passport since the British passport is issued in her name. Finally, if you are a Swedish or Dutch citizen, be careful with your passport on international trips. If you happen to lose it while abroad, you will be issued a pink emergency passport. What a subtle punishment.
Happy travels! x
(see what I did here?)