Passports issued by the United States for international travel come in several different colors. If you are a private citizen traveling for your own business or pleasure purposes, your regular passport book - often called a tourist passport - is likely to have a dark blue cover.

Diplomats traveling on behalf of the government use black passports (diplomatic passports) to identify themselves as diplomats entitled to immunity and privileges.

Those uninterested in international travel by air can carry a passport card, which has no passport cover, to enter Canada, Mexico, Caribbean countries, and Bermuda by land borders or sea ports.

The government also issues a red passport, which is used by individuals traveling on government business without diplomatic status.

Passport Details

The red U.S. passport, also described as maroon, is valid for five years after issuance to a U.S. citizen. Unlike fee passports, you do not have to pay for a red passport because your travel is on behalf of the government. Those who travel with the red U.S. passport are members of Congress, members of the military, family members of military personnel, and any other private citizen who might be conducting international travel at the request of the government.

A red passport is only issued to people who are at least 18 years of age. The State Department will issue minor children traveling with red passport holders a no-fee blue passport.

Applying for a Red Passport

To obtain an official United States passport or a red passport, an American citizen must complete form DS-11 or DS-82, provided by the State Department. A birth certificate or an old official travel document, along with two standard passport photos are also necessary, as well as a memo that authorizes the applicant to hold the new passport.

  • The memo must include information on the destination, length of stay, purpose of travel and date the official business concludes.
  • Military members must have the memo signed by an officer holding a rank of O-5 or higher.
  • Private citizens require an approved signature from an authorized branch of the U.S. government.

Renewing a Red Passport

The requirements to renew an official passport, or red passport, are similar to those for a first-time passport. However, the application form to be completed and submitted will always be the DS-82, not the DS-11.

A woman whose name has changed since her original passport was issued will need to submit a marriage certificate as well.

Passport Assistance

The United States government agency sponsoring your trip will be able to help you complete your passport application. Some agencies and branches, such as the U.S. Army, require you to fill everything out online, and there is a process in place to assist you. Remember that even official passports take several weeks to process. Apply for your passport as soon as you know you will travel overseas, and expect to wait at least two to four weeks for your special passport.

To conduct your own research go to the official website of the U.S. Department of State