About British Passports

Updated March 23, 2017

A British passport is burgundy in colour and can be issued to anyone who has some form of British nationality. The various forms of British nationality each have a corresponding passport and they are: British citizens, British Overseas Territories citizens (formerly British Dependent Territories citizens), British Overseas citizens, British Subjects, British Protected Persons and British National (Overseas). No British national has a legal right to a passport; instead, passports are issued by the discretion of the British government under royal prerogative.


The British passport is used as an identification document as well as for travel. The various forms of British nationality have different rights and privileges and the passports are coded accordingly. For example, passports belonging to British citizens have the country code, GBR, while those for British Overseas citizens have the country code, GBO. Some passports also have endorsements that specifically state certain privileges associated with the passport. For example, British nationals from the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, who are not residents of of the United Kingdom, have in their passport, the endorsement: "Holder is not entitled to benefit from European Community provisions relating to employment or establishment."


One of the benefits of having a British passport is visa-free access or visa-on-arrival for short-term visits (usually not longer than three months) to certain countries. It is estimated that about 190 countries grant such access to British citizen passport holders, while about 170 countries grant the same privileges to British National (Overseas) passport holders.


British passports are issued by the Identity and Passport Service (IPS) in the U.K., by the lieutenant governor in the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, by the governor in British Overseas Territories and by the Passport Section of a British Consulate, Embassy or High Commission in foreign countries. If you live in the U.K., the best place to start your passport application process is the website of the IPS, and if abroad, the Commonwealth and Foreign Office website.

Time Frame

The time frame for receiving a passport in the U.K. after applying is three weeks. If you apply by post, you should receive an answer in three weeks. If you apply online, it will take three weeks for the IPS to send you a printout of the documents for your signature and additional time for the passport to be processed. First-time passport applicants are advised to allow up to six weeks to receive their passports. It is not advisable to make concrete travel plans until you have received your passport. There is a fast-track, one-week service and same-day premium service for a higher free. Appointments have to be made in advance by calling the 24-hour Passport Advice line. Passport fees vary depending on whether it is an adult or children's passport, if it is a first passport and if it is normal or premium processing.


The British passport has the coat of arms of the United Kingdom on the front cover. Today's passports are biometric and contain Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips that work with facial recognition systems and contain specific information of the holder and cannot be forged. British nationals who are not residents of the U.K. have on the front page of their passports the words, "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern island." These passports are called look-alike passports. On the other hand, passports of British citizens, who are also European citizens, have in addition the words, "European Union."

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About the Author

Faith O has covered politics and general news in Washington DC, Chicago and Maryland. Her writing has appeared in the Associated Press, Prince George's Sentinel, Northwest Indiana Times, Chicago Defender and Daily Southtown, among others. She has a Masters of Journalism from Northwestern University's Medill School and a Bachelor's degree from Hampshire College in Amherst.