New Zealand's black book of travel is a source of pride, however the passport design might have a flaw that could lead to more than embarrassment for Kiwi travellers

Being turned away at the gate because of some seemingly 'cosmetic' passport wear-and-tear is the stuff of travel horror stories.

However, there are a number of issues that can render a passport useless.

As an official travel document, passports must be free of signs of tampering or forgery. Border agents assessing travel documents are trained to check for defects on the picture page displaying traveller details.


In 2015, German tourist Andreas Hunter, 26, found this out the hard way when he was denied entry to New Zealand due to the ragged condition of his passport.

"Significant" or travel-halting damage can include water or moisture marks, torn out or damaged pages, and – most worryingly - damage to the cover.

Significant: Hunter, 26, was told his passport was too badly damaged to travel on. Photo / Supplied, Jetstar
Significant: Hunter, 26, was told his passport was too badly damaged to travel on. Photo / Supplied, Jetstar

Recently it was exposed that the New Zealand black book has a problem.

New Zealanders have noticed their passports are warping and experiencing "wear and tear" at a greater rate than other nationalities. Sadly this is not due to Kiwis being any more likely to travel than any other nation.

Last month the Department of International Affairs said it was "aware of a minor problem with the cover of some passports, which may result in the cover curling".

This problem was brought to light by when a traveller from Christchurch, Sunny Neison, was so "embarrassed" by the state of his passport that he wrote to his local MP.

Following a damp winter, the DIA says curling cover pages of these passports is mostly due to a mix of travel wear and tear, and moisture.

The DIA responded to the Herald's request for comment saying that this warping in "no way affects the validity" insisting that it "never gets so curved that it would not be accepted when travelling".


The DIA said that it was "satisfied that the passport is a quality product fit for purpose" using high specification materials that "exceed International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Standards".

The silver fern on the cover of the New Zealand book are a source of pride for many and, arguably, make it one of the most unique passports in the world.

However, its tendency to warp is a less desirable feature.

The passports of Singaporean and Australian nationals - which do not have such large silver embellishments - hold up far better to similar conditions.

The silver fern design which first came into use 10 years ago was manufactured though a contract with the Canadian Bank Note Company.

The Ottawa-based printing firm which also make Kiwi bank notes, produced biometric passports for New Zealand and countries in the Caribbean.

While the silver ferns were a creative touch, the main reason for reissue was to introduce new biometric passports.

This latest iteration was brought in to allow Kiwis to use airport e-gates and biometric systems at international borders. However, when CBN won the contract in 2009 New Zealand passports had a maximum validity of five years.

In 2014, after much grumbling by Kiwi travellers and a successful petition, the lifespan was brought up to 10 years – in line with the travel documents from most other nationalities.

With minimum redesign, the books were expected to do twice the active duty for which they had been designed. It seems little surprise that New Zealand passports are beginning to look a little dog-eared.

A spokesperson for the CBN company said it had a strict policy "regarding the security documents we produce" and could only refer the question to the DIA.

"We amend various elements of our passports regularly but we have not materially amended the construction of the cover page in 2014 or since," said the Department when asked for comment.

The DIA says that the lifespan is all about how you care for your passport "the document meets high-quality standards, people should minimise direct access to excessive sunlight and keep away from water".

"The critical element of the passport is the data page which is constructed with robust polycarbonate and this would need to be materially damaged to affect the validity of the passport."