Photo: Chanting Lee/Shutterstock

The 7 Coolest Passports Around the World and the Stories Behind Their Designs

Art + Architecture
by Morgane Croissant May 11, 2018

A passport can say a lot about a person. It tells strangers where you’re from and how easy or difficult it is for you to travel the world, but its color is also an indicator of what your status in that country is. If your passport is bent and the front is covered in stickers, you’re likely well-traveled. If it’s filled with stamps and shiny visas, you’re sure to be a hard-core nomad. If your passport has water damage and all the visa pages are curled up, you’re probably in need of a new one, ASAP. But what does the design of your passport reveal about the culture of your homeland? Here are the 7 coolest passports from around the world and the stories behind them.

1. The Canadian passport

At first glance, the Canadian passport looks rather ordinary. It’s got an unusually-soft and pliable cover that is navy blue with the Royal Coat of Arms of Canada gold gilded on its front. The good stuff is to be found inside. Just like with any other passport, to avoid forgery, each visa page on the Canadian passport has a unique design that features important historical figures and buildings, significant symbols, natural wonders, etc. But, unlike run-of-the-mill passports, the Canadian one becomes incredibly colorful and artsy when one shines a black light on it.

Canada is not the only nation with counterfeiting-prevention holographic UV-light art; Norway, China, Hungary and Germany (among others) also have this beautiful feature on their new passport.

norway passport

A example of a visa page on the Norwegian passport

Photo: Neue Design Studio

Norwegian visa

A example of a visa page on the Norwegian passport

Photo: Neue Design Studio

2. The Gabonese passport

Gabon passport

Photo: Wikimedia

Before the older version of the Gabonese passport is phased out by the much-less exciting (but still fun) biometric one, let’s acknowledge how cool the initial design was. Black and debossed with a round, golden image of a woman breastfeeding her child, the old Gabonese passport is the only passport featuring this very natural act — and nipples. The new Gabonese passport is green with the country’s coat of arms on it, i.e. two panthers holding a shield.

Gabon passport

Photo: Wikola

Both the old and new versions feature the motto “Union, Travail, Justice” (“Unity, Work, Justice”) in French. Gabon is a former French colony and retains strong ties with France.

Note that the new Gabonese passport is very similar to other African passports. A coat of arms displaying animals holding a shield is also found on the passports of the following countries:

  • Zimbabwe (kudus)
  • Uganda (a crested crane and an Ugandan Kob)
  • Swaziland (lion and elephant)
  • Somalia (leopards)
  • Sierra Leone (lions)
  • São Tomé and Príncipe (a falcon and a parrot)
  • Namibia (oryx antelopes)
  • Malawi (a lion and a leopard)
  • Mauritius (a dodo bird and a sambar deer)
  • Lesotho (Lesotho ponies)
  • Kenya (lions)
  • Gambia (lions)
  • Congo (elephants)
  • Chad (a goat and a lion)
  • Botswana (zebras).

3. The Japanese passport

Japan passports

The Japanese passport cover can be either red (10-year validity) or blue (5-year validity).
Photo: Yobab/Shutterstock

The Japanese passport is minimalistic. There is no complicated coats of arms to analyze because the only decorative aspect featured on the front cover is a shiny, golden flower. And no, it’s a not the famous cherry blossom. It’s actually a chrysanthemum, a flower that is the symbol of autumn in Japan, but also of the country itself. According to The Japan Times, the Japanese monarchy is referred to as the “Chrysanthemum Throne” and the chrysanthemum is also depicted on the ¥50 coin.

Although the outside of the Japanese passport will remain as is, the security features and the visa pages will be soon be updated. Instead of the current cherry blossom design found on the immigration stamp pages, there will be twenty-four views of Mount Fuji, each on a double page. The Mount Fuji depictions that will be used are those of 18th-century Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai. According to Condé Nast Traveler, the changes will be implemented before the 2020 Olympic Games that will take place in Tokyo.

Japan passport

Photo: Japan Foreign Ministry

Passports of Japan

Photo: Japan Foreign Ministry

4. The Swiss passport

The Swiss passport is truly representative of the Swiss culture. The cover is very thick , so it gives an impression of luxury. The front is bright red with a white cross in the top right corner, mirroring the flag almost perfectly. The red cover with a white cross design is not new; it’s been used in different forms since 1959. The rest of the front cover has crosses embossed. To sum it up, it’s sleek and definitely an eye-catcher when walking around a foreign airport.

But it does not stop here. The inside is also incredibly cool. Each visa page has the white Swiss cross in its center and is very colorful.

Swiss passport

Photo: Dezeen

5. The Finnish passport

Although the Norwegian passport is often hailed as the fanciest in the world, the Finnish passport has nothing to envy its Scandinavian neighbor’s travel document. Granted its cover is slightly boring (burgundy red with the Finnish coat of arms embossed in gold right in the center of the front cover), the inside is super fun. A reindeer in the bottom right corner of every visa page starts running as you flip through the pages. See for yourself in the video below:

On January 2017, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Finland, a new passport design was introduced and it’s unfortunately not as creative. The cool reindeer on the visa pages has been replaced by winter scenes. But there’s some good news. The Finland 100 jubilee logo is embossed on the back cover and the visa pages will feature UV prints of northern lights and snowflakes. You lose some, you win some.

Finnish passport

Photo: SuomiFinland100

Finnish passport

Photo: SuomiFinland100

Note that the Slovenian passport also works as a flipbook:

6. Lebanon

The old and the new version of the Lebanese passport.
Photo: Graphicshoplb

Biometric Lebanese passports were issued in 2016 to replace the very outdated hand-written version that the country used until then (it was high-time to have a more secure travel document). This new passport was designed by GraphicShop and, in an interview with bananapook, they explained some of the design choices they made.

The Lebanese passport is blue to symbolize the Mediterranean Sea and has one cedar tree embossed on its front cover and another one gold gilded in the top right corner. Cedar trees are found all over the country, as well as on the Lebanese flag, and there are mentioned in the national anthem, so it’s only natural to find the cedar so prominently featured on the country’s passport.

Inside, the passport showcases 22 Lebanese landmarks, each on the width of a double visa page. Also on each double page is a sun that starts from the east on the first visa page and that ends at the west on the last one, so the passport works as a flipbook. Under UV light, each visa page shines and, instead of the sun’s, you can see the moon’s movements in reverse as you flip through the pages.

7. Egypt

The Egyptian passport is rather strict-looking. It has the Eagle of Saladin (the Egyptian coat of arms) gold gilded on its front cover, but there’s no other decorative elements. Inside, it’s just as mundane. The 52 pages all feature the same image of King Tutankhamun.

But there are a couple of fun things to be said about the country’s passport nonetheless. First, the shade of green of the cover is very unusual. Second, the travel document is read from right to left, so what we usually call the “back cover” is the front cover and vice-versa. This feature is not unique to Egypt, it is found in some, but not all, Arabic-speaking country (Arabic is written and read from left to right) such as:

  • Afghanistan
  • Algeria
  • Bahrain
  • Djibouti
  • Iran
  • Iraq
  • Libya
  • Morocco
  • Qatar
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Sudan
  • Tunisia
  • Yemen

This is also the case for the Israeli passport, but not for the Japanese passport.

Note that if you want the Egyptian passport to pop a little more and have some cool ideas, you can submit your design with the hashtag #NewEgyptianPassport on Twitter.

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