What does your passport mean to you?




By Caitlin Kelly

As Covid has slammed shut many borders, especially to Americans — boldly accustomed to ready, sometimes grateful access to other countries — it’s an interesting time to look at one’s passport, and national identity with fresh eyes.

From an EU website:

UNWTO estimated that US tourists spent €119 billion ($139,712,545,000) on international travel (excluding international transport) in 2017, showing an increase of €8 billion on 2016.


Over half of US citizens’ outbound travel is to neighboring countries, making up the top two destinations.
The entire top ten of outbound travel from the US is comprised of

  1. Canada

  2. Mexico Followed by

  3. United Kingdom

  4. Dominican Republic

  5. France

  6. Italy

  7. Germany

  8. Jamaica

  9. China

  10. Spain


But a passport isn’t just an essential for international travel. It’s a portable symbol of your country and its values, from the images printed on its pages, to the cultural baggage we carry with us as well.



Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market — and a red-coated Mountie


Here’s an essay from The Atlantic about what it’s like now to hold an American one, my husband’s.

An excerpt, written by a man with an Indian passport:


An American passport, until recently, could bring you anywhere with minimal need to worry about visas and border checks. But this is the world of immigration that Americans must now familiarize themselves with. Before the pandemic, more than 100 countries were willing to admit Americans; now, by one count, fewer than three dozen countries want you. What you have done matters little; instead, your movements are limited by factors outside of your control, and your passport locks doors rather than opening them.

I spent my university days in London envious of friends with “good passports” who could hop on a train to France or cross the Irish Sea to Dublin without any notice. My vacations, by contrast, had to be meticulously laid out. I visited consulates with flights booked, hotels reserved, itineraries planned, and travel insurance paid for, worried that I would nevertheless be rejected. On one occasion, my girlfriend and I flew from Jordan to Beirut, where colleagues had airily assured me I could get a visa on arrival. When we landed, however, immigration officials told me my colleagues were mistaken, and those rules did not apply to Indians. I was put on a flight back to Amman while my girlfriend, with her British passport, collected our bags.

Even these stories are ones of privilege: holidays undone by byzantine, hazily interpreted visa rules; reporting assignments turned down because travel could not be arranged as quickly as it could be for colleagues with British or American passports. Others have, of course, suffered far more difficult and painful experiences—an array of migrants must endure complicated refugee and asylum processes, and even those who travel for tourism or study must dig deeper into their savings than I must to pay steep application fees.



And here’s one about holding a Canadian passport, from The Literary Review of Canada,  as I do.


An excerpt:

The document is elegant. No one can dispute that. The deep navy blue of its slightly pebbled cover, the understated gilt imprint of the royal arms of Canada, which somehow looks faded even when new — the passport is a classic. Its cover may be harder, more durable, the pages inside more decorated than when I was a boy, but, in the hand, its familiarity is heavy, anchoring. A passport is a little book printed for a single situation, the condition of being between countries. To hold it is to be going from home to elsewhere or from elsewhere to home. Over time, the booklet assumes the association of distance and belonging, of leaving and returning. This year that association, often subtle, like a half-remembered smell from childhood, clarified itself in the atmosphere of trauma that overtook the world. This was the year when we remembered what it means to hold a Canadian passport…The passport gave me the sensation of homecoming, familiarity, the knowledge of my physical safety, an assumption of care that has become less and less easy to take for granted in a sickening world. To have a passport, to have papers is a blessing we could ignore before COVID-19 but not after. I would be lying if I did not acknowledge a positive presence, too, a connection with a people. I was grateful to be among Canadians…I was grateful for strong institutions. I was glad to return to a country where the administrative state is maintained and supported, not just by politicians but by ordinary people.


It’s an odd experience to live in one country, as I do, while still using the passport of another. This sometimes prompts surprise or a question from an American customs/border official.

But that slim blue object carries more weight for me than its physical size. If nothing else, it’s a comforting bit of my first home and, depending how the U.S. elections go this year, still offers me an escape some Americans now deeply envy.

15 thoughts on “What does your passport mean to you?

  1. What does my passport mean to me? Freedom to explore other cultures, immerse myself in languages other than my own… I’m glad that I grew up with experiences of living outside the UK.

    I’m sad that my red passport with “European Union” on its front is going to be replaced by a plain blue British one, with the right to freedom of movement taken away (I didn’t vote for this!!). The EU isn’t perfect, but I’d rather be in than out.

    1. I am so so so so frustrated and angry right now that stupid selfish Americans (quite rightly) have made so many countries slam their borders SHUT. If I even want to go home to Canada, Jose can’t come with me and I would have to strictly quarantine for 14 days.

  2. it certainly has lead to a paradigm shift. as an American, an ‘easy’ passport is taken for granted, and exceptions are that other countries would welcome us with open arms. how things have changed! I recently read a piece about the wealthy grabbing up multiple-country passports in a desperate attempt to maintain their freedom to travel the world undaunted.

    1. That would not surprise me.

      I predict a MASS stampede to the Canadian immigration site if Trump wins again. I can’t take 4 more years of this anxiety and toxicity. I really can’t. So I am damn glad to have another passport.

      And if I really got my act together, could get an Irish one and have EU access because of it (Irish grandfather.)

  3. I read with interest the piece from Stephen Marche. I agree with some of it, but my, the overall analogy/argument he makes doesn’t describe very well the Canada I know.

    If Trump is elected again, the consequences will be dire. Of course, there are worries that even if he isn’t, he might try to stay in office anyway. So scary that people are concerned about that possibility.

    My understanding is that Jose can enter as your immediate family member; is that not the case? An acquaintance just brought in his South African spouse on that basis. Or is the issue that you aren’t living in Canada and he would be considered as making a non-essential visit? (I think I asked a similar question before but can’t remember your answer …)

    1. Thanks…It’s the latter….My visit would be non-essential so my understanding is — no Americans are allowed in but a Canadian citizen living in the U.S. is….

      BUT…still not clear if my visit would have to be deemed essential as well. It’s all confusing.

      1. I think you are able to return at any point; the border is open to all Canadians. You would have to quarantine for two weeks. It’s not too bad (I’m on quarantine right now) as I planned to get a lot of work done and am keeping regular work hours. Then I go for my walk. I’ll be happy to get out though!

  4. Interesting topic. I’m happy to be a Canuck, but I’m not a rah-rah-Canada type of gal: I think I am lucky to be here, but I also think anyone in a free country (and yes, that includes Americans, in spite of current woes) is lucky. On a superficial level, I think my Canadian passport is super pretty! I love the imagery on the pages. I looked into getting a Norwegian passport (through my Norwegian mother) but I would have to give up my Canuck passport. So, no.

    1. Interesting…

      As you know, Canadians are not big on rah-rah, and Americans (wearyingly so) really are. Right now I have no interest in hearing one word about how GREAT America is. It’s not.

      I do love my passport. Interesting to see how different it looks from that of my American husband.

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