Here in Thailand, foreigners are greeted through the immigration gates of Suvarnabhumi airport with a pretty innocuous looking passport stamp.
Don’t get us wrong, it does what it’s meant to do – there’s no mistaking when we should usher ourselves out of the country – but it’s not particularly cool.
And this is true for most countries in the world.
But a few nations, cities and landmarks have really gone above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to the design of a truly funky passport stamp. They’re making the sort of stamps worth showing off about when you finally get back home. It’s really an ingenious tourism ploy if it helps draw in the punters over the border…
Here are a few of our favourites.
1. Churchill, Canada
We had never heard of Churchill – a small town near Hudson Bay in Canada – but after seeing their passport stamp, which brands them as the Polar Bear Capital Of The World, it’s safe to say that it’s been added to the bucket list.
As you’d expect, Churchill is home to a large population of polar bears, which migrate to the shores of the bay every winter time, and is one of Canada’s fastest growing ecotourism destinations.
The principality of Monaco is known worldwide as one of Europe’s playgrounds for the rich and famous – in 2014, around 30 percent of its population were recorded to be millionaires. The passport stamp reflects this with its rich red coloration and the inclusion of the principality’s coat of arms, which symbolises the 1297 conquest of Monaco by François Grimaldi.
3. Machu Picchu, Peru
Machu Picchu is a historic Inca sanctuary located almost 2,500 metres above sea level in the Andes Mountains, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the 7 wonders of the world. Predictably, it attracts its fair share of tourists and (also predictably) the authorities pander to it by providing visitors who attempt the Inca Trail with a souvenir passport stamp of the site.
We initially thought that the Seychelles’ entry stamp depicted kidneys, or perhaps a large bottom, but after some research it transpires that the funny shapes actually represent the coco de mer nut – a sole species found endemic on the islands. Before research on the nut was carried out in the 18th century, it was thought to have grown from a mythical tree at the bottom of the ocean and wealthy magnates would decorate them with jewels and diamonds for show.
As Antarctica – home to the South Pole – is managed by around 50 different countries as part of the Antarctic Treaty System, there are no official passport stamps given to the few ‘tourists’ and adventurers who make their way to its shores. Souvenir stamps are plentiful, however, and this one – adorned with a friendly penguin – is definitely the cutest.
The (to put it mildly) disputed territory of Palestine’s passport stamp doesn’t look particularly beguiling, but is interesting for what it represents. Traveller forums are full of contracted threads over entry into Israel and the Palestinian territories, including discussions on whether previous stamps in the passport from other Arab nations are banned, the often intrusive nature of immigration control upon entry (Israeli immigration have been known to request access to social media and email accounts) and more.
7. Norfolk Island
Much like Monaco, Norfolk Island’s passport stamp – in the shape of a bell and adorned with its coat of arms – is impressively noble, given the territory’s somewhat diminutive size and murky past. Located between New Zealand and New Caledonia in the South Pacific, Norfolk is home to just over 2,000 people and a huge number of pine trees. It was home to a number of British penal colonies until the mid-19th century and was known as ‘hell in the Pacific’ for its harsh treatment of prisoners.
8. Galapagos Islands
The extraordinary Galapagos Islands to the west of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean, illustrate their amazing wildlife heritage on their passport stamp. As a province of Ecuador, these stamps are for novelty value rather than anything official, but we do love the national park’s depiction of a sea turtle and hammerhead shark.
9. Ushuaia, Argentina
As the southernmost city in the world, Ushuaia in Argentina goes by the name of ‘El Fin Del Mundo’ – the end of the world. And, of course, upon arrival, you can get the stamp to prove you’ve been there. Reportedly extraordinarily beautiful, Ushuaia is found in a windy setting between the Martial Mountains and the Beagle Channel.
What’s the coolest passport stamp that you’ve collected?