Why are passport covers so boring?

While traveling I have noticed that the covers of passports from every country I have seen are consistently unimaginative. They are all solid colors, dark and muted, usually blue, red, or green. Why don’t countries follow the model of U.S. state license plates where they have some illustration or design to distinguish them and give them more national identity? The U.S. passport has an eagle shield embossed, but you could have color images, flags, national icons, whatever. Has not one country done this? Comparing passport covers would give us something to do while we’re standing in line to check bags.

Australian and New Zealand passports have the country’s official emblem them; so not every country is just a solid colour with [COUNTRY NAME] PASSPORT printed on it.

Otherwise, it’s an interesting question. Most passports I’ve seen keep the interesting stuff for inside (lots of cool designs on the pages of several countries).

Perhaps there’s an international treaty that says something like “A passport shall be a booklet with a solid colour and no unnecessary cover decorations, and which declares itself to be a passport of the issuing country”?

It’s probably cost related. The cover of a passport needs to be durable and somewhat waterproof. They’re generally printed on very strong paper thats coated in someway to enhance durability. As such full color printing onto such a surface would be difficult and expensive. Passports are already expensive to manufacture due to the anti-forgery measures, my recent UK passport has holographic printing on the photo page, an RFID embedded and watermarks, UV ink and other security features.

Take a look at this website (click on red, green and black to see all the covers together):

All the passports are single color with gold or metallic ink showing country name and country seal. Single color metallic printing like this is much cheaper than full color on such a heavy paper stock. The insides of the passport are more like normal paper so you can use techniques with full color there.

I think my US passport was around $100. Anything unnecessarily fancy and I think people would complain about the price.

Swiss passports look damn cool to me.

British passports cost £72.50, so cheaper than the US (for a change). They last for ten years. Child passports cost £46 and have to be renewed after five years.

My thought on design is that they have to be careful to not offend anyone. I can’t find a reference to any international agreement on it though, although there surely has to be one since they are all remarkably consistent.

All of them have some sort of picture, and all of them are pretty recognizable before having them in front of your nose. They need to follow certain standards at the very least in order to make them machine readable etc., but whether these are some sort of treaty or just a list of specs, I don’t know.

Spanish passports are free unless you’re renewing them out of their renewal period (that is, more than six months before they expire), in which case there is a small fine. This fine got waived for people renewing them to get the new biometric model when it was introduced, I don’t know if it’s been waived at other times.

In addition to cast, since passports are SERIOUS BUSINESS, countries may want them plain as possible. The immigration official, who has to check 100’s a day, really doesn’t need to see Sam the Eagle, with his olive branch and arrows, going, “Choose wisely, I’m only gonna give you once chance to get this right.”

What follows isn’t a thread jack. Last time I went to take a passport photo, and they said, “No glasses, no smiling”, for those and another reason not applicable to this discussion, my photo looked nothing like me. I never submitted it. I went back, paid for another photo, and said “OK, I heard the rules last time, but I’m gonna wear my glasses, and I’m gonna smile.” They were like, “Its your money lost, if the state department refuses it.”

Glasses are what I wear to see. I’m, helpless and hopeless without them. I wear them every waking moment and some sleeping moments if the nap is short. They are part of what I look like. I will always smile, however weakly, when an official is grilling me. My teeth, as much as they show, are part of what I look like.

Hypothetically, I get that an official checking passports is REALLY SERIOUS,and (even more hypothetically) ENTERING THE REPUBLIC OF IRAN TO SPY IS A SERIOUS CHARGE AND YOU SHOULD BE HUNG RIGHT NOW. But, really, with nothing else to do, I’m gonna crack a little smile, because, why the hell not.

But yeah, lots of citations where passport cover decoration just isn’t in the cards.

You can wear glasses for a US of A passport. What you can not have is glare reflecting off the glasses. The State department wants to see both eyeballs (no red eye either). You can have a “natural smile”. What they do not want is any goofy expressions. You have have to have full face exposure, the photo has to be a certain size with a white or off white background. You can wear a hat if it is of a religious nature but I would take off any braids or such things.

Whoever you went to for your photo either did not know the rules or was too lazy to take the photo, without glare, right

Passports are a fairly stealable item. You don’t want yours to be colorful and obvious, especially if you come from a free travel country like the US, or an EU country. If your passport is very recognizable from just a little bit sticking out of a purse or a pocket, it will be very tempting. It a US passport looks a lot like many other passports, not worth the risk.

Also, entrance visa stamps are cool. My first two passports have tons of entrance visa stamps, and those are fun to compare. I went to lots of communist countries, especially on my first passport. I even went to lots of SSRs inside the USSR. It’s a very cool-looking passport. My father traveled so much in communist countries in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, that he had to have supplemental booklets for his visa stamps a couple of times. I have my father’s old passports, and they are totally cool. They might be museum pieces some day, if there’s ever a Cold War museum. Or a Cold War exhibit at the Smithsonian museum of US History.

Off-topic a bit : just renewed the passports for Clan Piper a few weeks ago at our local Canada passports office (which was way less stressful than renewing a US passport, let me tell you!)

I got there about quarter to four on a Friday afternoon, and by quarter after I was having my application looked over by a friendly passports officer, approvingly ticking off all my boxes.

In the next queue over, there was a bit of kerfluffle, as the fellow was being told he needed to get a divorce certificate from the Queen’s Bench, and they would be closed for the day now, and not open Monday due to the stat holiday, and he was going on with some loudness about how he was travelling by the end of the month, and so on.

My passport officer said to me, somewhat conspiratorially: "You know, we only get two types of people coming in late on a Friday afternoon. People like you (as she ticked off my boxes approvingly) who will get their passport on schedule, and people like that gentleman, who won’t. "

Passports arrived on schedule a couple of days ago. :slight_smile:


All of my life, my driving license had me wear my glasses on the picture since I had a requirement for correction.

This year, when for renewal I got a REAL-ID compliant license, I got asked to take them off. So the folks at Driver Services around here seemed to also have problems to avoid reflections (no flash, but fluorescents overhead - the camera is a PC-cam on top of the clerk’s computer screen so you’re grabbed right where you stand). They stopped accepting your own-supplied pics when they went to all-digital back in 2010-ish so no chance to even find someone who can handle it.


YMMV but that sounds a lot more stressful than renewing a US passport. We don’t have to wait in line, hear other people’s disgruntlement, or deal with passport officers.

Yep, I had exactly the same experience - it took me three attempts to get a compliant photo - my glasses in the first one (even though there was no glare and because I’m longsighted, they make my eye colour easier to see). The size of my head in both the first and second attempts. It’s my head. I can’t make it smaller.

I had to go to a human photographer who guarantees compliance in the end. I can’t get a compliant photo from a booth.

So I think your argument has merit. Passports are serious business; they are handled by serious people with serious attitudes. There’s no space for pretty in this context.

British passport covers used to have a little cut out window on the front that showed the passport number on the first page. The newer EU passports don’t have this, all of the covers are identical.
One place I worked insisted on taking copies of consultants passports to show compliance with immigration and work permit rules. Their policy stated they needed a copy of the front cover and the photo page. That made sense when there was a window, but not when they’re all identical. But rules are rules!

Well, their national symbol is a big plus.

Well maybe that will change back soon enough. #brexit

The original artists weren’t that great.

That’s why you buy a passport cover to put your passport in. Lot’s of companies make them in every imaginable design.

Time was, you only really needed a passport for some countries, and they were one-offs for each occasion. I have my great-grandmother’s passport for a trip to Russia in the 1880s, and it’s a big sheet of paper, more or less of the weight of the kind of paper £5 notes were then printed on (though bigger than foolscap), with the standard pre-printed text, reading more like a letter of introduction. No photograph, but handwritten entries for the varying personal data, and a Russian rubber stamp or two.

Wikipedia tells me that

*During World War I, European governments introduced border passport requirements for security reasons, and to control the emigration of people with useful skills. These controls remained in place after the war, becoming a standard, though controversial, procedure. British tourists of the 1920s complained, especially about attached photographs and physical descriptions, which they considered led to a “nasty dehumanization”.[12]

In 1920, the League of Nations held a conference on passports, the Paris Conference on Passports & Customs Formalities and Through Tickets.[13] Passport guidelines and a general booklet design resulted from the conference,[14] which was followed up by conferences in 1926 and 1927.[15]

While the United Nations held a travel conference in 1963, no passport guidelines resulted from it. Passport standardization came about in 1980, under the auspices of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). *