What does your passport colour mean?

Dr . Antoine Saliba Haig | 24 Feb 2017

Citizenship Comparison

Take a look around in a passport-control queue, and you will instantly notice that passports come in different colours, the main ones being red, blue, green and black. However, there are many variants of these 4 main colours being used by different countries, with each hue representing important variations which are quintessential in the workings of residency and citizenship law. A passport is a gateway to other countries, however it is also an attestation that an individual is a citizen of a particular country. The latter is of particular importance because nationality may have several implications. The truth is that not all citizenships grant the same benefits and opportunities – some may even act as a deterrent when a State has been black-listed.  Passports are documents which are unique to the State which issues them. 

Symbolism & Historic Ties

How does a State choose a particular colour over the others?  Often, it all boils down to historic or symbolic reasons. Colours are linked or associated with a particular country for a multitude of reasons. If we take predominately Islamic countries as an example, these mostly favour a green passport. As highlighted by Christopher Beam, green symbolises nature and life, which makes it very potent in desert conditions, and it is also believed to be Prophet Muhammad’s favourite colour. 

The European Union has adopted a burgundy colour for its member states' passports, with the exception of Croatia. Choosing a single colour for all member states was no easy feat. It required consensus among countries with very different views and whose pride and political grudges often deterred the union from reaching an agreement. Even the burgundy colour was not a wholly happy settlement. The British felt uncomfortable at the thought of their passports bearing French influence in the choice of the burgundy colour, and many countries still missed their larger navy-blue passports which had remained widely unchanged from the times of the League of Nations which had set a number of standards for passports back in 1920.

The reason behind the burgundy colour is not clear. Some are of the opinion that the burgundy red is reminiscent of a past communist era, but this can be widely debated.

Although the aim of finding a unitary colour for all EU passports was to further consolidate the idea of a European Citizenship, the EU cannot stop other countries from adopting a similar or the same colour. In fact, we find that Turkey has elected to use the burgundy colour as well, probably in the hopes of joining the EU in the future.

Several countries have decided to opt for colours that reflect their identity and give a flavour of their national character. The bright red Swiss passport feels like a good fit to the neutral State, and blue seems only natural for Caricom countries, that is, the Caribbean Community and Common Market. Moreover, blue passports are generally seen as symbolic of the ‘New World’, which is why several States have opted for this colour, including North America with a blue that matches the blue on its flag, and a number of States in South America and Oceania.

Practicality

Practically is also a very important factor. There is a very limited number of companies in the world which produce passports as it is a highly controlled process. Moreover, printers are limited by the cardstock available for the use of passports which comes in a limited range of colours.  

Usually, darker colours are preferred by the countries themselves for practical reasons as well; dirt will not show as much and a darker colour will contrast better with the crest, giving the document a more official and professional look.

Innovation - designing the modern Passport

Despite their unquestionable importance as official documents, there is no reason why passports need to be dull. Many countries are taking the opportunity to use their passports not only as a way to identify their nationals, but also to promote their national identity by differentiating their passports. They do so through unique UV artwork which truly does turn these documents into works of modern functional art. Countries such as Canada, the UK, the US and China have all jumped on board with the idea of artwork visible under UV light. The Finnish passport even doubles as a flip book of a walking moose!

The possibilities are endless; and it even seems that some countries are breaking away from the mould and are opting for crisper colours rather than the usual dark reds, blues greens and black. The Norwegian Passport has recently been redesigned with bright white, turquoise and red colours, for immigrants diplomats and standard passports respectively. The design has also changed with a background of the Norwegian landscapes with the northern lights becoming visible under UV light. The sleek and minimalist design manages to capture the essence of the Norwegian character perfectly and makes the Norwegian passport truly unique. 


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