Why My Passport Has Started Confusing Immigration Officers

Filed Under: Travel

I’m fortunate enough to have dual citizenship (I have a US and German passport), which is a great privilege. Not only does it get me access to more visa-free destinations and fast track lines, but it also increases my total passport stamping capacity.


Beyond the actual usefulness of the passports, they’re also sentimental to me. They travel with me everywhere I go, and each stamp in them represents another trip. While I renewed my German passport a bit over a year, my US passport is up for renewal in 2019, so it gets a couple more years with me. I’ll be sad to turn it in, though I guess my new passport will represent a clean slate of travel. But that’s not really the point of this post.

My US passport is a mess. It has more security stickers on the back of it than a toddler with access to a pack of a thousand stickers could pile on. It has extra pages, which are affixed as if they’re done as part of an elementary school arts & crafts project. Of course there are also all kinds of stamps and visas.

However, the past year or so there has been a further “problem,” which has led to some confusion and entertainment. The front of my passport has progressively been fading, to the point that you can’t even really tell what country it’s from anymore. That’s despite the fact that I’d like to think I take good care of my passport. The below picture actually makes it look better than it does when viewed in real life from most angles.


At first I thought it was funny, but now it gets looks at immigration, and sometimes even questions. “What happened to your passport?” I guess too much travel!

A couple of weeks ago in Kuwait the immigration officer took my passport, ran his hands across the front of it, laughed, and said “too much travel?”

So at this point I’m not sure if my identity-less passport cover is like a battle scar to be proud of, or something I should try to hide at immigration, by opening the page when I hand it over.

Has anyone else experienced extreme fading on their passport cover?

  1. Interesting. I have my passports for a few years usually (before pages run out!) and the gold letters never wears off. (Polish and Canadian). So perhaps it’s the cheap US quality?

    In fact, my Canadian passport has just run out of pages but the lettering is still perfect.

  2. Mine is the same…. completely worn out.. the best was I had engagement photos last week and my partner is Canadian and I’m a brit… when the photographer wanted to do the passports together… she had a laugh when seeing mine!

  3. I renewed my US passport around 2 years ago and and while the letters are readable, the crest is almost gone.

  4. My US passport used for travel after 2002 had been used so much that the entire front cover was faded to the point that I could barely tell the back cover from the front cover unless physically handling the passport or otherwise peering at it rather closely.

    It caused me no problems on the several hundred+ international trips on which I used it with a completely faded front cover.

  5. Do you store your passport in anything? If not, maybe a case would help. Well, for your German one at least; your American one is past the point of no return.

  6. I had the same happening to my old German passport. When I had it replaced I got the 48 page version and this one is not fading, instead the pages are loose because the stichting is crap. It’s kind of embarrasing that Germany doesn’t manage to produce a peoper passport. Let’s hope it gets better with the new version which will be launched soon.

  7. My German one has become loose from sticking. Kanada gives only 36 small pages almost filled after 2 years and my other EU one brand new.
    All that is important is photo page and machine readable area is not damaged.
    Put a hello kitty sticker on the front.

  8. Yes, the lettering and crest wore off the front of my Passport. I think it wasn’t a case of fading, maybe rubbing off, but more likely I think I think it came in contact with some kind of solvent. Maybe aftershave, sunscreen or moisturizer? Yes, it did raise questions. However by then I had more trouble though with the photo that was several years old and before I went bald. That caused considerable issues at Singapore and Hong Kong until I renewed it. No problem elsewhere.

  9. When I renewed my passport last time I didn’t have to turn in my old one. I still have it as a memento. , I always do all my passport stuff through an Expediting service so not sure if that is the difference. But I definitely have the old ones

  10. Mine had been through rainstorms camping in Central America back in the era when they used actual chemical photos under plastic instead of digital scans. The plastic coating had warped so someone could have just slipped in another photo. Every time I had a conscientious immigration officer, he’d take it back into the office and make me wait while he pulled up the official record to compare it to my document. (Back then, they didn’t each have their own computer at the immigration post.)

    And they’d admonish me about getting a renewal so they could trust it.

  11. Commiserating on the arts and crafts. Seriously. I’m glad I had to renew and am not embarrassed anymore about the extra pages that don’t line up.

    The front on my old passport was definitely fading but hadn’t disappeared and I don’t travel nearly as much as you do.

  12. I’m sure you know this, but they eventually return your old passport when you turn it in to renew it…

  13. I keep all my passports in a clear cover and despite all the travel they still look new. They are full of stamps and visas but the covers are in mint condition. Maybe better care?

  14. Never had this problem. I always have 2 Dutch ones at the same time so if one goes to embassy for visa i can travel with the other. I never take the thick one. If full i just order a new one. Even before expire date thats fine.

    So always in good shape and full after two years and valid 10. But thats ok.

    I do always ask to punch the old to take it home and keep it.

  15. My passport cover is quite faded too, though not as bad as yours. When I added new pages a few years back the woman at the passport office warned that the office might require that I apply for a new passport book rather than adding to a “damaged” passport. I too have a sentimental attachment to my worn, stamped pages, so I insisted she submit it anyway. Picked it up the next day without issue. This is of course irrelevant now that the US has changed policy to not add pages.

  16. I thought mine was bad, but yours is worse than mine.
    I always have a cover, however, it os fading the letters.


  17. That’s why there is a thing called passport holder.

    I started using one when mine was in a slightly better condition than yours is now, and it worked out perfectly

  18. I don’t have this problem because I always put my passport in a leather case that covers the front of the passport. It’s also a privacy thing so that people don’t readily see your nationality. It’s a way to help stay discreet!

  19. Do you carry your passport in your pocket for extended periods? That could be a factor – moisture, temperature, humidity.

  20. My (Philippine) passport is the same way. I always get funny looks whenever I present my passport at the immigration desk. I know the feeling

  21. Use a passport cover. While some airports/officers will ask you to take it off, others won’t, and it will def. cover up the front. I live in SE Asia, where the officers are pretty chill, and I never get asked to take off my cover.

  22. I know the problem. Have a german passport only, but they are meant to be so solid with all the hard plastic inside that bending them over and over again by immigration officers almost broke the passport page from the stamp pages. Fixed it with tape and get a usually “Is this a real passport” look from immigration officers every now and then 😉

  23. I keep mine in a leather passport cover unless I am required to remove it. I believe it cost less than $10. Keeps my passport from getting messed up since I travel a lot in tropical places.

  24. I have several replacements of my passports because they keep on expiring over and over again and they all look brand new because I use them a few times a year. In fact last year I used my Mexican passport for the first time ever for a trip to Colombia, beside that I’ve had only travelled as an American.

  25. The front cover of my European passport has completely faded (you can only see the imprint – there’s no ink there any more) and no-ones given it a second glance. I don’t think any customs officers will find it remotely confusing, and I’m sure they see it all the time!

  26. I guess it means you don’t believe in putting your passport in an RFID-protected cover. If you think a cover like that is bunk, you should write an article about it, and that’s a day’s worth of blog writing for you. I see nothing funny about letting your passport deteriorate, when it could be the life-and-death travel document under extreme circumstances.

  27. My US passport is about as old as yours, and I’ve had 2 books of pages added to it over the years so it gets a lot of use. The front looks perfect. I dont’ use a passport cover, but I also don’t carry it around on my person ever. I keep it in a carry-on only during my trip. I also don’t use hand lotions much nor manhandle it much.

    My guess is you either keep it in a pocket where it gets sweaty, or you use hand lotion while handling it.

  28. yours looks better than mine. There is zero gold print left on mine. I also have three add-ins in there so it’s as thick as a paperback book. Still has four years left on it, but I’ll likely need to replace it soon.

    Never had any issue entering the US or other countries with it. Usually just elicits some comments like “wow, you travel a lot”. I like it personally and will be sad when I do replace it.

  29. Avoiding the problems that this could cause is worth a lot more than the 2/10 of the renewal cost that you would lose by renewing 2 years early. Renew today!

  30. After reading your post it’s pretty apparent you view this as some type of badge of honor (the post has a gloating ora about it even if you do consider hiding it at immigration), but it’s nothing more than neglectfylly stupid and could cause a mountain of problems. You really want to deal with that in the Middle East or anywhere for that matter?

  31. That’s it? “Whats happened to your passport?” No other issues? No funny looks, no further questions asked? An article about one query? Lucky, I thought there was more to this story… let down. Now, more photos of F and J experiences! hahaha

  32. Left Handed Passenger – Clearly he doesn’t use an RFID case, like virtually everyone.

    Name one single life or death case scenario that a passport with no cover ink would put you in? I can’t think of a single event that even comes close. Terrorists kidnap you and decide to kill anyone who isn’t American but they’re illiterate and don’t understand anything except the logo?

  33. One return trip to the US, the CBP agent was thumbing through my passport and looked up a me with a suspicious look, saying “you sure been to a lot of countries.” lol.
    Like seriously, that’s not a crime, not even for an American citizen. It may be come a crime soon though lol.

  34. My UK passport looked like this for around 80% of its life. (The first couple of years I had it I did lots of backpacking and had it in my pocket). The only time I had any comments from immigration officers was a couple of times entering the UK where they didn’t have the automated gates.

    Although I am disappointed to now have an empty clean new passport, it is a bit of a relief to not have to worry that I might get stopped somewhere for it.

    And an excuse to try and fill up the new one!

  35. My passport has also been worn out in two and a half years. I’ve never had a problem with immigration officers as once you go to the first page it says where it is from, and it is your personal information that matters rather than where the passport was issued. Hope I helped where possible.

    P.S. My passport is Spanish and I’ve been with it worn out in my last trips to Malaysia, Singapore and the UK, and I haven’t been told once anything about the front.

  36. I am a German/American and have only held a US Passport up until now. I should be able to get a German passport without much effort and I have undertaken the first steps to do so. What I do wonder about is how using the two doesn’t create any immigration problems. For example, most of the time I fly US to Germany/Austria, if I enter Europe with the German passport and then try to enter back into the US with the US passport won’t there be questions on why there was no arrival stamp from Europe? I am wondering about this because I recently had both a customs and a customs duty free agent question me on if I had two passports in Germany. I guess speaking fluent German does have it’s advantages but in this case it created confusion on why I had a US passport and if I also had a German one.

  37. For someone who is so into international travel, it is surprising that having a passport case has not made it to your list of accessories. Or do you think that having a “worn out” look gives it a more authentic/road-warrior appearance?

  38. Can’t Americans get their passport returned to them as a souvenir after you renew? I’m Canadian and I always ask for mine back. They run the old one through a hole punch and void it so it’s unusable. I collect all my old passports.

  39. Enjoy it while you can — the US will no longer add additional pages to an existing passport. Instead, you now have to re-apply for a whole new passport/renewal when you run out of pages. On the positive side, you can get the 52-page passport for the same price as the normal 28-page book.

    My passport is ~7 years old now and no fading, despite being carried in my work bag every day. No signs of fading/wear on it.

  40. Had this happen to a passport of mine years ago. A lot of traveling, and for a brief period I had to carry it as my primary form of ID.

    Was only an “issue” once. Before the 2004 EU expansion, was driving from the Czech Republic into Germany near Dresden. The Czechs had an exit checkpoint, and were looking at passports. Handed mine over, and the guy opened it and got a very concerned look on his face. Told me to wait while he took it over to the other two guys at the checkpoint (was a very small one with little traffic, so they were just standing around). Got that “oh shit” type feeling wondering what it was about as he showed it to his colleagues and pointed at me.

    Thankfully, one of the other guys just started laughing, grabbed my passport from his hands, turned it over it, and opened the front of it. As the label on the front was completely worn off, the guy has opened the passport from the back, saw a blank page instead of the picture page, and got concerned. I don’t understand a word of Czech, but it was easy to tell his colleagues were teasing him pretty hard about it, haha. He quickly handed me my passport back and sent me on my way.

    I made sure to hand it over either open or with the front up thereafter, until I got it replaced.. and without carrying it in a pocket, haven’t had it rub off like that again.

  41. @Charlie McMillan yeah, in fact, they give us our old passports back when they give us our new ones, which they have punched holes in the old one.
    I have several US passports I keep as keepsakes, and to compile the list of countries I’ve visited.

  42. I wonder whether you could get the cover logo reprinted on.
    Maybe I’d start a new printing business.

  43. I have 3 EU passports through descent and US jus soli. So 4 passports to me is priceless not only in travel but banking as well as buying land (farmland). Many never understand the true value to citizenship. Priceless.

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