What proportion of Americans have a passport?

We know that it is low compared to most other developed countries – but how low? and is it still that low? I found myself asking these questions when, earlier this week, the actor and activist Sean Penn was interviewed by Trevor Noah on “The Daily Show”. He quoted a figure of 28% for the proportion of Americans with a passport.

I’ve now checked and actually Penn is way off. The current figure is 42%. Thirty years ago, the figure was a mere 3%, but it rose gradually so that, in 2007, it was 27%.

The pace of growth accelerated further in January 2007 when U.S. citizens travelling by air between the USA and Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Bermuda were required to have a valid passport. Previously, it was possible for them to enter those countries without one, but the law was changed in the aftermath of 9/11.

At 42%, the US figure is still much lower than the UK which is 76%, but the USA is a huge landmass and Britain is a small island. At 42%, the proportion is still low – but it’s probably not as low as you thought and, in the next few years, a majority of Americans should have a passport. Now they need to travel abroad more often and more widely to gain some appreciation of the wider world and the States’ place in it.

More information and a graph here.


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