US Passport Colors Explained [Ultimate Guide]

Find out all about US passport colors and the meanings behind them.
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Did you know that the cover of American passports hasn’t always been blue?

In the past, the US State Department issued passports in different colors. From 1926 until 1941, US citizens received red passports.

After that, US passports were issued in green.

In 1976, the United States passport changed to the blue covers we are familiar with today—the same shade found on the American flag.

However, even now, US passports come in 4 different colors, depending on their intended purpose. 

Curious about current US passport colors and the meanings behind them? Keep reading or jump to a specific section:

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US passport color meanings

Passport colors are not random, with each color corresponding to a different type of passport. Listed below, you can find a detailed breakdown of each type and who is qualified to receive what document.

US passports come in 4 distinct colors based on purpose—blue (tourist), maroon (official), black (diplomatic), and gray (service).

Blue US passports (tourist or type “P)

The blue US passport is just a regular, ordinary passport, also known as a “tourist or type P passport.” It has a navy blue cover and is issued to most American citizens who want to travel abroad. 

You get a blue US passport if you want to travel for business, for employment or education, as a tourist, or as a member of an international flight crew. These “American-flag blue” passports are issued by all US passport agencies.

There are also some special no-fee blue passports that are issued to employees of the American National Red Cross, Peace Corps volunteers, and to Department of Defense employees who travel abroad.

Did you know? In the 19th century, the US government required travelers to obtain passports only during wartime. That changed in 1914—since then, anyone who wanted to cross US borders needed a valid passport.

Black passports (diplomatic)

A black passport is a diplomatic document issued to the US president, his immediate family, certain top officials, and diplomatic personnel. It has a validity period of five years, is exempt from any fees, and cannot be used for leisure travel.

And no, black passport holders don’t go through the same procedures as everyone else. As a rule of thumb, State Department employees collect the president’s and his entourage’s passports and handle customs procedures for them.

This US passport type is also issued only by the Special Insurance Agency of the Washington Passport Agency.

Maroon American passports (official)

Maroon US passports (sometimes confused with brown or red passports, which don’t exist) are known as “official passports.” 

These documents are issued to employees of the US government who must travel abroad for official business—politicians, FBI agents, and bureaucrats will all have maroon official passports. Moreover, family members of said officials are also eligible for maroon US passports pending authorization by the Department of the State.

Likewise, said passports are also issued to active-duty members of the military (and their families) who are required to travel overseas. 

American citizens can hold a blue passport and an official or military passport at the same time, but they use the maroon-colored passport for official travel and the blue tourist passport for personal and leisure travel.

Unlike the standard-issue blue tourist passport, official passports are no-fee passports, which means they are free of charge for their passport holders. Additionally, they only have a maximum validity of five years. 

These passports cannot be used for leisure travel and must be returned to the government when the employee’s governmental duty ends.

Did you know? Passport photos didn’t always look like mugshots! Back in the day, you could use nearly any picture you wanted for your identity document. Sounds interesting? Click to read more about the history of passport photos!

Gray US passport books (service)

United States passports with gray covers are service passports for contractors who are traveling to support the US government but who do not qualify for a maroon official passport. 

These service passports can be used in cases where a regular blue passport doesn’t allow travel. 

They are no-fee passports valid for up to five years and are issued by the Special Issuance Agency in Washington.

USCIS green passport books (other)

The green passports issued by the US Department of Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) are not actually passports but are refugee travel documents. Despite their look, green passports do not indicate US citizenship.

Green passports (they’re actually a shade of bluish-green) are issued to refugees who are living on US soil but who are unable to get a passport from their country of origin. Individuals in these circumstances can then use them to get travel visas and for readmission back into the United States.


What are the 4 colors of passports?

US passports come in 4 colors based on their intended purpose: 

• Black (diplomatic)
• Maroon (official) 
• Gray (service personnel or support staff who do not qualify for official passports) 
• Blue (tourist or type P passport)

Additionally, USCIS issues green, passport-type books to refugees who, for various reasons, are unable to obtain passports from their home countries.

How many colors of US passports are there?

US passports come in four different colors: blue, maroon, black, and gray.

What does a green US passport mean?

Green US passports do not exist. A green passport-type booklet is issued by USCIS to refugees who arrive in the US and are unable to secure a passport from their home countries.

What is the brown US passport?

Maroon “official” passports, issued to federal employees of the US government, are often described as brown or red passports.

Closing thoughts

Now that you’ve learned about the significance of US passport colors, you might want to get started on your own passport application or renewal.

The thing is, no matter whether you’re applying for an official maroon passport or a standard blue tourist document, all applicants must provide a passport photo that meets the stringent requirements of the US State Department

That’s where Passport Photo Online comes in—convenient biometric photos from home with guaranteed acceptance. Try our Passport Photo Booth App for iOS or Passport Photo Maker App for Android today.

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