How Many Americans Have A Passport?
How many Americans have a passport? This was a question a British friend had asked me a few years ago, probably based upon the assumption that much of the world has about Americans, which is that the majority of Americans do not have passports. I had no idea what the answer was, so I decided to do a little research, and the answer is somewhat surprising.
The quick answer is that yes, the majority of Americans do not have a passport. The percentage of Americans who have a valid passport, according to the most recent statistics as tabulated by the State Department, is about 46%. This number excludes passport cards, which are identification cards that only allow sea and overland entry to the U.S. from Canada, Mexico and certain parts of the Caribbean, but not the rest of the world.
To get this number I took the number of outstanding valid passports in circulation as estimated by the State Department — the number is 138,675,021 — and divided that by the total U.S. population according to the Census Bureau, which as of December, 2016, was 325,103,000 (minus the the approximately 11.1 million people who are undocumented residents and 13.3 million legal permanent residents that live in the U.S. but cannot obtain passports or have valid passports issued from other countries).
For those keeping score, the fact that 46% of Americans have a passport means that a little less than half the population can’t fly to Canada, let alone travel to any other country in the world.
Has This Number Been Going Up or Down Year-Over-Year?
As reflected in the graphic above courtesy of the U.S. Department of State, 2016 showed a pretty healthy increase in the number of passports issued from 2015, and an overall trend upwards since the 10-year low of 2011. However, given the increase in population year-over-year, the percentage hasn’t actually gone up from 46% over the past few years.
Which States Have the Highest Percentage of Passports?
Here comes the fun part. I decided to take this data and see which U.S. states have the highest and lowest percentage of their population with valid passports. As can be viewed in the top graphic, those states with the lowest percentages are clustered in the South, Midwest, Upper Midwest, and the Great Plains States. Perhaps not surprisingly, those states with the highest percentages tended to be on the border of Canada and Mexico, along both coasts, and those states with higher urban populations.
Mississippi was the lowest, with just 17%, followed by West Virginia (19%), Alabama (22%), Arkansas (22%) and Kentucky (23%). The state with the highest percentage was New Jersey with 62%, followed by New York (59%), Massachusetts (58%), and Alaska, Connecticut and Delaware (all were at 55%).
I decided to then compare my state-by-state calculations with the results of the recent 2016 presidential elections. As can be seen above, there is a striking correlation between the states that voted for Trump in 2016 and those states with the lowest number of passport holders. Those states that voted for Clinton had the highest percentage of passport holders (Alaska is a notable exception — a state which is historically conservative, but not surprisingly has a high percentage of passport ownership given its remote location).
In fact, the top 19 states with the highest percentage of passport holders (states where at least 44% of the population has passports) were all states that voted for Clinton (Alaska was the sole exception). Alternatively, the bottom 11 states in terms of passport ownership all went for Trump.
Of the bottom half of states with the lowest percentage of passport holders, only 1 of those states went for Clinton (New Mexico). Of the top 25 states, only 6 voted for Trump (24%).
Below is a sortable list of all 50 states and the percentage of each state’s population that has a valid passport.
I’m probably the last person in the world to defend anyone who doesn’t have a passport, which by this very fact, completely precludes them from even the opportunity to travel outside the United States. However, rather than attempting to list out the reasons I think this is obviously not a good thing, I thought I’d propose a few reasons why this may be the case.
One factor discouraging foreign travel is quite simply that it’s cost-prohibitive for the average American, many of whom are still reeling from the Great Recession. When factoring in the costs of traveling abroad from the U.S. (which tends to be much higher than other parts of the world given its location), even the cheapest international trip is simply beyond the means for the average American, especially given the lingering effects of the Great Recession and years of wage stagflation for the majority of the country.
No doubt Americans just don’t have the history and drive that, say, the British have for international travel. In the 2009 edition of The Best American Travel Writing, noted travel writer Simon Winchester had this to say on the subject:
There was essentially no empire (the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and a scattering of Pacific islands excepted), and hence little by way of imperial legacy. The country is formidably isolated by thousands of miles of ocean from almost anywhere truly foreign, and getting abroad is very much more costly. Americans seldom went to seek their fortunes overseas, as British so often did . . . [and there] is little tradition of American exploration (aside from exploration-as-entertainment put on for the benefit of a number of some rather dubious but fashionable clubs and societies).
Further, there is a lack of tradition of Americans traveling abroad given America’s size and therefore lack of need to travel to other countries to experience relatively different geographic and cultural differences.
Then factor in America’s relatively low number of paid vacation days granted by their employers, and you can quickly begin to see the many reasons many Americans simply don’t see the need to obtain a passport.
Maybe It’s Not That Bad
It’s also worth pointing out that although this number isn’t great (and certainly is far below the percentage found in countries in other parts of the world such as in Europe), at least Americans aren’t as bad in this respect compared to, say, the Chinese, where only about 5% of the population has a passport.
Finally, Americans that do have valid passports actually travel a lot. The United States ranks third in terms of the number of departures to countries other than their own (behind Hong Kong and Germany) with 68.3 million trips abroad. A good number, unless you compare that to the numbers from countries with far less populations that rank above or near the U.S. in this statistic (Germany, the U.K., Poland, Canada, Italy and France are right behind the U.S.).
How to Get a Passport
To find out how to get the process going if you don’t have a passport, all you need to do to start is to visit the official U.S. Passports and International Travel web site for the U.S. Department of State by clicking here.
Matt Stabile is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Expeditioner. The Expeditioner was founded in 2008 and is headquartered in New York City. You can read his writings, watch his travel videos or contact him at any time at TheExpeditioner.com.