Why Do US Passport Colors Differ?

May 8, 2024

3 min. read


us passport color meaning

It’s mostly common to picture a blue-colored American passport. However, it’s not the only passport color that is used in the US. And it’s not always been the blue color for holders of tourist passports.

Let’s learn what US passport colors are and what their meaning is.

In Focus

  1. US Passport Colors
  2. Types of US passports: blue
  3. Black passports
  4. Brown American passports
  5. Gray US passport covers

US Passport Colors by Department of State

Back in history, the US passport had a few colors and shapes. Starting from 1780 up till 1917, the U.S. passports issued by the U.S. Department of State were introduced by an official piece of paper. There was no book-shape or protection of any kind. Now, passport photos also have strict parameters that were set by the authorities for an applicant to follow unlike old times.

Through time, some simple passport covers and protection were starting to appear. First, the passport was glued onto a piece of protective brown cloth. Then a green harder cover on top of the brown cloth was added for more protection, but made the passport quite bulky. The usability of the passport improved over the years.

In the period from 1926 up to 1941 US citizens used to apply for red passports. Later on, the passport acquired a green color again. In 1976, the passport turned blue and is still the same color as the American flag’s blue shade.

The 200th anniversary of the Consular Service of the US gave a chance to US citizens to obtain a commemorative specially-issued green passport in 1993-1994.

The application of US passport types, their colors, and their meanings still vary. Let’s learn a bit more about it.

Pro tip


Regardless of the passport cover color and kind of passport you apply for, you need to know the US passport photo requirements. You must follow the rules on the right size, background, clothes, headwear, glasses, etc. This way, you’re sure, you’ll get valid passport photos done for your passport application.

Blue passports and green passports

The blue cover US passport is given to US citizens for traveling, work, study or business, and members of international flight crews. It’s usually called a tourist, ordinary, or regular passport. Additionally, a blue passport is issued to the employees of the American National Red Cross, Peace Corps volunteers, or the Department of Defense.

It can be also given as a travel document to non-citizens, re-entry permits, refugee travel documents, and advance parole travel. The latter has a greenish shade of blue in it. The blue passport validity covers from 5 to 10 years. For 10 years when issued to persons 16 and older or five years when issued to those under 16.

Black passport cover

Black US passports are exceptionally issued by the Special Insurance Agency of the Washington Passport Agency. It’s issued to officials, to the US president and their immediate family. It’s never used for personal traveling and is valid for 5 years.

Maroon American passports

These are the official American passports that are endowed with a maroon or brownish color. They are utilized by politicians, FBI agents, and other officials of the United States government to visit other countries as official representatives. The immediate family is also entitled to such a document by the US government authorization. Brown passports are also military passports. Such an official passport is free of charge and valid for 5 years and can be used only for official purposes.

Gray US passport covers

Some of the third-party contractors have to go abroad to support the US government. While they do not qualify for an official maroon (brown) passport, they are issued gray service passports. These are also no-fee documents with a 5 year-expiration period.

US passport color: FAQ

Does the US president get a special passport?

The president of the United States usually has 2 passports. One of the American-flag blue color is for personal travel, the other is a black passport issued for official affairs abroad and traveling outside the country.

Why do countries change their passport color?

The countries change the color of their passports for different reasons, but more often it’s due to major governmental changes, like revolution, or leaving a union or commonwealth.

What color was the first US passport?

The first United States passport had no particular color and was introduced by a large official piece of paper. It was larger than a sheet of modern legal paper. It has no color or protection of any sort.