The World’s Most Beautiful Passport Art
Before passports became the world standard in identification, they were simpler, uglier things: essentially stamp pads for customs officials. Today, government agencies are working to stay ahead of counterfeiters by making it prohibitively difficult and expensive to forge documents. A single modern passport might utilize 30 different materials from 60 manufacturers. The books contain microchips, are made from special materials, and are packed with sophisticated visual features that are tough to copy—and that some countries are using to intriguing, even inspiring, effect.
Multivariate ink changes colors when viewed from different angles, and tiny fluorescent fibers or spots on the paper can glow beneath a customs official’s blacklight. Wavy intaglio-printed background designs provide a visual mesh in which microprinting and nanoprinting can hide tiny, perfectly formed, raised letters and numbers invisible to the naked eye. Holograms offer shifting three-dimensional images; embossed items and “hot foil stamping” can add bumpy texture to a flat page. Even the string binding your passport together may be microbraided with multiple colors and fluoresce under UV light. Blend these high-tech features with creativity and a dose of national pride, and you get passport books populated with animated animals, blossoming with flowers, and concealing special secret images.
Here are some of the more beautiful, fun, and surprising passports around the world.
The Emerald Isle’s passport is a light-green playground of Gaelic games, runestones, poetry, and music. The first page features a topographical map of the country, bookended by Gaelic and English versions of Ireland’s guarantee of citizenship to those born on the island. Snatches of W.B. Yeats, the Irish National Anthem, and looping Celtic designs romp across the pages, and decorative “headstones” on the edge of each page can be curled around and connected while you’re waiting in line at customs.
Canada’s most recent passport design debuted in July 2013 and quickly became Internet-famous for its creative use of blacklight-only images. Optically variable ink is used to paint an invisible second design atop each page’s visible art; under blacklight it reveals a neon “night view” of each scene. Watch fireworks explode over Canada’s Parliament building; see the sky fill with stars above Niagara Falls, and try to count the glowing maple leaves. Beautiful.
If Norway’s entrant looks like it could win a design competition—well, it did. The minimalist abstract look and pastel colors were dreamed up by an Oslo design firm for a national contest. Stylized line-drawings of majestic Norwegian landscapes change under blacklight to reveal the Northern Lights in long flowing ribbons. The book is available in different colors that reflecting the holder’s immigration status: red for regular citizens, white for immigrants, and turquoise for diplomats.
The United Kingdom
The latest British passport, launched late in 2015, celebrates 500 years of creativity with portraits of mathematicians, inventors, architects, and artists—from artist John Constable to mathematician and computer pioneer Ada Lovelace—and the clocks and wheels and buildings and paintings they dreamed up. Every page features a watermark of one particularly well-known British playwright, so don’t be surprised if your customs agent channels Shakespeare. (“Is this a non-native fruit or vegetable that I see before me?”)
China’s booklet features blacklight-only images on each spread, including amber peeks inside places like Macao and Shanghai. There’s also a political scandal hidden in the pages: a map tacitly “claims” the South China Sea and Taiwan—areas China says it owns but other nations dispute—with a series of dashes. This poses a special challenge for customs agents in countries like the Philippines and Malaysia: does stamping this passport mark agreement?
Kiwis style themselves the world’s greatest travelers, so it’s no wonder they’ve created passports to be proud of. Silver ferns decorate the cover, which opens to reveal a journey across scenes of New Zealand’s natural beauty (its landscapes doubled for the fictional Middle Earth in the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy), as colors turn from dawn (orange) to dusk (purple), and as your point of view moves gradually skyward. Scoring your own New Zealand passport might be tough, but there’s a consolation prize for visitors: your visa stamp will read “Welcome to Middle Earth.”
Finland debuted a design update in August 2012 that featured an old-school flipbook of a moose walking (see it here!) across the page. (There are an estimated 100,000 moose in Finland, sharing the forest with their smaller, not-afraid-to-work-on-Christmas cousins, reindeer.) Other animals appear in the passport too, and a set of four embossed snowflakes on the back cover complete the wintry design. A Finnish passport is normally good for five years, but if it’s issued to a male between 18-30 who hasn’t yet completed his compulsory military service, the passport will expire on the last day he can legally complete the service. No escaping!