British National (Overseas) passport

British National (Overseas) passport
The cover of a biometric British National (Overseas) passport
Date first issued 1 July 1987 (first version)
1 June 1990 (machine-readable passport)
2015 (current version)
Issued by  United Kingdom
Type of document Passport
Purpose Identification
Eligibility requirements British National (Overseas) status

The British National (Overseas) passport (Chinese: 英國國民(海外)護照; pinyin: Yīngguó guómín (hǎiwài) hùzhào; Jyutping: jing1 gwok3 gwok3 man4 (hoi2 ngoi6) wu6 ziu3), commonly referred to as the BN(O) passport, is a British passport for persons with British National (Overseas) (BN(O)) status. The passport was first issued in 1987 after the Hong Kong Act 1985, from which this new class of British nationality was created. Holders of BN(O) passports were permanent residents of Hong Kong, until 1 July 1997 when Hong Kong was handed over to Chinese sovereignty from British rule (especially true for non-Chinese ethnic minorities; even though born in Hong Kong).

Physical appearance


BN(O) passports are currently issued in their latest biometric versions (as of 2015) and they bear the "electronic travel document symbol" () on the burgundy-coloured cover. The text United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is present above the coat of arms of the United Kingdom; the word Passport is printed underneath the coat of arms.

Since 1990, all BN(O) passports sport a burgundy red cover almost identical to that of the British Citizen passports, except that the latter bear the text European Union on their front cover. The current BN(O) passport's cover is also identical to that of the British Overseas Territories Citizen (formerly British Dependent Territories Citizen), British Overseas Citizen, British Protected Person and British Subject passports.

Holder's page

The holder's page is identical to the identification page of British Citizen passports with the nationality being indicated as British National (Overseas). The machine-readable zone starts with P<GBR, indicating Great Britain (the United Kingdom) as the passport's issuing country.[1] The request page, made in the name of the 'Secretary of State' (currently the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), is also identical to that of a British Citizen passport. The nationality on the machine readable zone, however, is GBN rather than GBR.

Each biometric BN(O) passport contains a contactless chip, which stores digital data and includes the holder's personal data, on the Endorsement page. (Refer to the Endorsements section below)[2]


Initial rollout

Since the introduction of the British National (Overseas) nationality in 1985, most permanent residents of Hong Kong, who were British Dependent Territories Citizens, could either remain as such or immediately register for the new type of nationality, the BN(O). People who chose to remain as BDTCs, however, would not be able to renew their BDTC passports upon their expiry. Following the introduction of the BN(O) passports in 1987, renewals of BDTC passports could only take the form of registering as a British National (Overseas).

Registration for the BN(O) passports was not regarded as a popular, practical option during the early years (e.g. from 1 July 1987 to 21 December 1989, only 15% of newly issued passports were of the BN(O) type; the majority still held the British Dependent Territories Citizen passports). Permanent residents of Hong Kong had until 30 June 1997 to voluntarily register themselves as a British National (Overseas).

After the transfer of sovereignty of Hong Kong

After the transfer of sovereignty of Hong Kong to the People's Republic of China on 1 July 1997, the British National (Overseas) passport became the most popular travel document among the people of Hong Kong. From April 1997 to the end of 2006, the British government has issued a total of 794,457 BN(O) passports. The peak was reached in 2001, when 170,000 were issued in a single year.

Hong Kong permanent residents who are Chinese nationals could also opt for the Hong Kong SAR passport. By 2015, the less-expensive Hong Kong SAR passport has been granted visa-free access to more than 150 countries and territories. This makes the number of visa-free countries of the BN(O) passport comparatively smaller. As a result, only 30,000 BN(O) passports were issued in 2006 against an expectation of a peak in passport renewals.

From 2007 onwards

As of May 2007, there were 800,000 holders of valid BN(O) passports. Some 2.6 million out of the 3.4 million British Nationals (Overseas) did not renew their passports upon expiry.[3] As at 31 December 2015, there were only about 143,200 holders of BN(O) passports.[4]

As British National (Overseas) cannot be passed through jus sanguinis to children of current BN(O)s, any children born on or after 1 July 1997 to parents with British National (Overseas) status only acquired either Chinese nationality or British Overseas Citizen status on birth (although it is possible for a BOC with no other nationalities to be registered as a British Citizen). Any British Dependent Territory Citizens with connections to Hong Kong who had failed to register themselves as British Nationals (Overseas) by the end of 30 June 1997 would also be ineligible to make further claims for BN(O) from 1 July 1997, and those people would either become Chinese nationals or British Overseas Citizens.

Based on existing restrictions, the number of British National (Overseas) passports in circulation, therefore, would continue to decline over the next decades, and will, at some point in the future, fall to zero, as current passport holders pass away.

Previous versions of BN(O) passports

The cover of British National (Overseas) passport was originally navy blue, as in all other types of British passport. Earlier, residents of Hong Kong were Citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies and their relevant passports bore the texts 'British Passport' at the top and 'Hong Kong' at the bottom of the cover.

When machine-readable passports were introduced on 1 June 1990, the cover colour was changed to burgundy.


The British National (Overseas) status itself does not automatically grant the right of abode anywhere (including the United Kingdom and Hong Kong). However, all BN(O)s possess the right of abode or right to land in Hong Kong by virtue of their previous British Dependent Territories Citizen status with connection to British Hong Kong. In this case, the following statement is printed in their BN(O) passport:

British Nationals (Overseas) enjoy visa-free access for up to six months as a visitor, entering the United Kingdom and the following statement is also printed in each British National (Overseas) passport:


The British National (Overseas) passports have been criticised for being too expensive, as compared to the HKSAR Passport, which has so far gained visa-free access from a similar number of countries as has the BN(O). In December 2013, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom announced backsourcing of overseas passport processing to their HM Passport Services in Liverpool. As a result, the fee for renewing BN(O) passports has reduced by 35% as of April 2014.[5]

Counterfeit scandal in the 1990s

In the early years after the transfer of sovereignty of Hong Kong, issue of counterfeit British National (Overseas) passports has once aroused international attention and government scrutiny, as such passports were being manufactured and used by illegal immigrants from the mainland of the People's Republic of China, who wished to gain direct access to the United Kingdom by route of Hong Kong.[6]

Upon crossing the Hong Kong-Mainland China border, those illegal immigrants were easily detected by Hong Kong immigration officers, since the Mandarin-speaking immigrants invariably failed to understand or respond to officers when communicating in Cantonese, the first language among Hong Kong's native population.[7]

With the introduction of biometric passports, the BN(O) passport has recovered credibility among the international community. Most immigration officers at major British and European ports of entry have been briefed on the 6 different classes of British nationalities, so that they do not confuse a person using his or her BN(O) passport to cross the borders with other types of British nationals.

Use in United Kingdom

British Nationals (Overseas) are British nationals but not British citizens, and hence do not have the right of abode in the UK. Holders of BN(O) passports can only visit UK for no more than six months (or three months when arriving from the Republic of Ireland). For longer stays or other purposes of visit, holders of BN(O) passports need to apply for the appropriate visas at the UK diplomatic missions overseas.

Holders of BN(O) passports are ineligible to register for the Registered Traveller service for clearing immigration. They can, however, register with a HKSAR passport if they have one.[8]

Use in Greater China Region

Hong Kong SAR

BN(O) passport holders who possess right of abode in Hong Kong normally use their permanent identity cards to enter Hong Kong. For those who do not possess right of abode but right to land, they can present their BN(O) passport with non-permanent identity card for clearance.

Macau SAR

Holders of the British National (Overseas) passport are allowed visa-free access for 6 months upon entering Macau. If the holder of BN(O) passport presents his or her Hong Kong Identity Card to enter Macao, the visa-free access period is lengthened to one year (12 months).

Mainland China

British National (Overseas) status is not recognized by the Government of China, so BN(O) passports are not recognized by Mainland China ports of entry controlled by Ministry of Public Security. Plus, the Government of Hong Kong does not allow BN(O)s' withdrawal of Chinese citizenship pursuant to the Nationality law of the People's Republic of China. Therefore, BN(O)s who wish to visit Mainland China must obtain Mainland Travel Permit for Hong Kong and Macao Residents in advance.


Like Hong Kong SAR passport holders, BN(O)s must obtain ″Exit & Entry Permit″ which can be obtained either online at no cost or for a fee on arrival, to enter Taiwan.[9]

See also


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