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The Most Powerful Passport in the World, and Other Things You Dont Know About Your Little Travel Booklet

Image for article titled The Most Powerful Passport in the World, and Other Things You Don't Know About Your Little Travel Booklet

Photo: lunopark (Shutterstock)

Of course you need a passport to cross international borders, but they’re more than a required travel document: They keep track of your globetrotting, and there’s nuance to both the design of your passport booklet and the access it provides. Here are 12 interesting facts you may not know about your passport.

The current U.S. passport design took six years

If you had a passport prior to 2007, it looked different than the ePassport booklet you likely possess now. In the current design, you’ll find inspirational quotes and images that follow the overall theme of “American Icon.” The theme took six years to create and finalize, and was developed by a six-person committee from several government agencies. The last time U.S. passports got a complete overhaul was in 1993.

But so-called “Next Generation Passports” are coming

The State Department is rolling out an updated passport book that is intended to be more secure than the current ePassport. The Next Generation Passport will, again, have updated artwork of U.S. “architecture, history, culture, landscapes, and traditions,” and a redesigned data page.

This new version is being issued in some passport agencies as of 2021, but you can’t specifically request it, and you don’t need to replace your current passport book until its expiration date.

Passport colors are somewhat based on geography

Passports come in red, green, blue, or black, and while passport booklet colors aren’t an exact science, there are patterns related to geography and policy.

Many countries that use shades of green have large Muslim populations, or are members of the Economic Community of West African States; red is common in formerly communist countries and Nordic states; a handful of Caribbean countries and South American members of a specific customs union have blue passport books; and black is the least common color but can be found on the passports of some African countries, New Zealand, and among U.S. diplomats.

You can get your old passport back when you apply for a new one

While you do have to send in your old book when you renew your passport, in most cases you’ll get it back once your new one has been processed. (Sometimes you have to request it when you renew for a new passport.) It may come in a different package—but the important thing is that you won’t lose your stamps and visas from previous travels.

Some people are eligible for a second U.S. passport book

Certain travelers are allowed to hold two valid U.S. passports at the same time. The following circumstances may qualify you for a second passport book:

  • You have a stamp from one country that precludes travel into another country—for example, you’ll be denied entry into certain Middle Eastern countries with proof of travel to Israel.
  • You need visas frequently due to consistent international travel.
  • Your main passport is delayed in a visa process but you need documentation urgently for international travel.

Secondary, “limited validity” passports are valid for up to four years instead of the usual 10.

Passport cards are only valid for land and sea travel

While secondary passport books are rare, many Americans hold both a passport booklet and a passport card. But cards are only used at land and sea borders (not airports) when returning home from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and some Caribbean nations. You can, however, use your passport card as identification for domestic air travel.

You can no longer add extra pages to your passport booklet

In the past, you could send in your passport to have extra pages added if you were at risk of running out of space. Now you have to request a larger, 52-page book with your application or renewal if you expect to max out the standard 28 pages.

Passport gender markers are being updated

Currently, individuals can self-select a binary gender option on their passport, even if it doesn’t match other documentation of citizenship needed to apply. In early 2022, the State Department expects to fully roll out an X gender marker for those who do not identify with the binary male or female.

Visa-free travel defines who has the most powerful passport

According to the Passport Index, the citizens of the United Arab Emirates hold the most powerful passport in the world based on overall mobility—meaning these individuals have the least restrictive visa requirements. The United States is tied for fifth with a handful of European nations as well as Singapore.

Take this with a grain of salt, though—another ranking from the Visa Index places Japan at the top of the passport power list based on visa-free and visa-on-arrival access for its citizens.

The US accepts only 45 passports visa-free

On the flip side, the United States ranks at #75 on the list of most welcoming nations based on how many passports are allowed into the country without a visa. The Passport Index lists 23 countries that accept citizens of all 198 of the listed world nations without a visa, and 17 that require a visa for all visitors.

You can lose your passport if you don’t pay your taxes

The IRS can work with the State Department to deny you a passport or revoke your current one if you owe more than $54,000 in taxes. In 2019, more than 400,000 Americans were at risk of losing their passports due to unpaid taxes.

Passports and citizenship can be bought

It’s probably not surprising that, even in countries with relatively strict immigration and citizenship requirements, those with enough money can skip the line. Called citizenship by investment, these programs allow the super-rich to buy their way in. Some Caribbean countries are open for a mere $100,000, while the UK, Australia, and New Zealand demand an investment of millions of dollars.