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Some Fun Facts About Passports

There’s nothing like getting new passport photos to remind you that you’ve aged.  It’s been ten years since your last one, and the required mug-shot style photo is usually less than flattering.

My wife (that’s right 20-year-old me, I’m married.  What do you got now?) keeps assuring me I don’t always look like I just robbed a convenience store,  it’s just the nature of passport photos.

In spite of all that, getting a new passport is exciting!  It’s symbolic of potential and adventure.  Even if you don’t have immediate plans to hop around the globe, you COULD, and that’s thrilling.

With passports on my mind this week, I thought I’d do a little research, and sure enough, there are some fun facts about passports you probably never knew.  For example:

  • Queen Elizabeth II doesn’t need a passport.  All passports in the UK are issued in her name, which makes a passport for her redundant.  (In case you’re wondering, the President of the United States does have one, but it doesn’t look like yours.  More on that later.)
  • Unlike the Queen, the Pope does have a Vatican passport.  It’s number?  1.
  • I just spent $110 to renew my passport (worth every penny, I say) but Swaziland has the cheapest passport at about $5.  Luckily I’m not in Turkey where I’d be looking at around $370.
  • Speaking of renewing your passport even if you have no immediate plans to travel abroad, some countries, like China, India, and Brazil will not allow you to enter unless your passport is at least six months old!  So plan ahead!
  • We all think we know the etymology of the word “passport” and we’re almost right, but no, it’s not a seaport you’re passing through.  It comes from the French porte meaning gateway or door—supposedly referencing the grand gateways or doors that protected kingdoms in ancient times.
  • This is a map of passport ownership in the U.S. by state.

    I guess if you get to live in Mississippi, why would you ever want to go anywhere else?

    I guess if you’re already lucky enough to live in Mississippi, you have no reason to go anywhere else?

  • Different countries issue different color passports, but the only way to get a black passport is if you’re a diplomat.  If you do have a black passport, I’m jealous because you get special privileges at airport customs etc.  Oh, and the President?  He gets to keep his for life.
  • Why do passports from around the world look similar (despite the different colors)?  You can thank the League of Nations, which in 1920 established international guidelines.  And you really should be thankful—during World War I, U.S. passports were 11” by 17” documents.  A bit less convenient no?
  • The first U.S. passports were issued during the Revolutionary War, and they were designed—based on the French model—by none other than Benjamin Franklin.
  • You know those visa pages where you get your book stamped?  If you’re worried you might run out of room, you should request more pages, because while some countries will just stamp the amendments pages and let you in, others (like South Africa for example) won’t allow you to enter unless you have an entire blank visa page.

So there you have it!  I hope you enjoyed this bit of passport trivia.  Now go double check to make sure yours isn’t expiring anytime soon; you never know when you’ll need to get out of the country in a hurry.  (You know…because of wanderlust.)

Written by Ben Abbott
Marketing and Programs Coordinator for Performing Arts Abroad
To read more about Ben and his background go here.

References:  This website, as well as this one, this one, this one, and this one.

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