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  • Writer's pictureTania Wee

Why is Malaysia's passport red?

With international travel in the slums, never have we missed our passport more than now. But as we gaze longingly at that severely underutilised red book that once took us places, have you ever pondered why our passport is red?

It’s often assumed that passport covers can only be made in shades of blue, black, green, and red. After all, these are the passport colours often seen on social media postings - always alongside a half covered boarding pass and a #soblessed #traveller caption (and sometimes, a glass of Champaign)

And generally speaking, it’s pretty much true that countries opt for these dark, official-looking hues. We would assume that the colour would indicate its entry level worldwide. But here's the truth behind it. There’s no official regulation forcing these countries to select black and primary colors. Should our country wish it, we could actually have stunning bright pink or the Pantone colour of the Year as our passport cover.

Plain dark colours are selected, simply because they look official hence why darker shades of blue, red, green and black are the preferred colours for many countries. While these are the main four colours, there are many hues of these colours that helps sent our passports apart. Also dark colours are also quite simply less likely to show dirt and wear.

The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) can make suggestions about the typeface, type size, and font, the details are at the discretion of the issuing state. They only require that all passports (or any machine-readable official travel document) must be made of a material that bends, rather than creases. They must be stable in temperatures between 14 and 122 degrees Fahrenheit, and should remain readable in humidity conditions between 5 and 95 percent.

“Nothing stipulates the cover color,” confirmed Anthony Philbin, ICAO’s chief communications officer.

This was also confirmed by William Waldron, the vice president of security products at Holliston, LLC (which makes passports for more than 60 countries), "Any color that’s in the Pantone book, we can make,”

So how does a country pick its colour? Geopolitics and religion come into play when a country determines the color of their passport. For example, Muslim countries, for example, largely prefer green passports, because the hue is so significant to the religion. In the meantime, blue typically represents new world countries or Caribbean states.

And passports with a red cover are often chosen by countries with a historical or current communist system or are members of the European Union. Black passports are the rarest but boy, do they look smart. These are held by some African countries - Botswana, Zambia, Burundi, Gabon, Angola, Chad, Congo, Malawi and others. Citizens of New Zealand also have black passport covers, because black is the country's national color.

So why is our passport that hue of red? Well, the answer is quite simply because our government likes that colour. And practically, it does look smart and official. So when the time comes when we can once again queue up at immigration lines together, take a look around and see if you can spot the colours of your fellow travellers.

You can also check out Passports of the World to learn more about each country's passport and entry requirement, especially during this pandemic.

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