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This article is about the international travel document. For Microsoft Corporation's "universal login" service, see Microsoft Passport Network.
The title page of European Union passports bears the name European Union, then the name of the issuing country, in the official languages of all EU countries. Here is a British passport.
The title page of European Union passports bears the name European Union, then the name of the issuing country, in the official languages of all EU countries. Here is a British passport.
Passport issued in Montenegro in 1887. Prior to the advent of photography, passports had a description of the bearer instead of his or her photograph.
Passport issued in Montenegro in 1887. Prior to the advent of photography, passports had a description of the bearer instead of his or her photograph.

A passport is a formal identity document or certification issued by a national government that identifies the holder as a national of a particular state, and requests permission, in the name of the sovereign or government of the issuing country, for the bearer to be permitted to enter and pass through other countries. Passports are connected with the right of legal protection abroad and the right to enter one's country of nationality. Passports usually contain the holder's photograph, signature, date of birth, nationality, and sometimes other means of individual identification. Many countries are in the process of developing biometric properties for their passports in order to further confirm that the person presenting the passport is the legitimate holder.

A passport is usually necessary for international travel, as it normally needs to be shown at a country's border, although there exist agreements whereby the citizens of some countries can enter some other countries with other identity documents. It may be stamped or sealed with visas issued by the host country authorising entry.

Some governments try to control the movements of their own and other citizens by issuing so-called internal passports. For instance, in the Soviet Union, all citizens were issued propiska to control their movement around the country. This system has been partly retained in Russia.

As identifying documents, passports are frequent subjects of theft and forgery. See also micronations.



Types of passports

Ordinary citizens are issued with ordinary passports for regular travel.

Diplomatic personnel are issued diplomatic passports which identify them as diplomatic representatives of their home country. As such, they enjoy certain immunities and privileges in the country they are performing their duties in.

Service passports are issued to the technical and administrative personnel of diplomatic missions such as embassies and consulates. These personnel have less immunities and privileges than diplomatic personnel. The details are laid out in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

Some countries issue official passports to some of their civil servants, for travel on official purposes. Bearers of official passports may, in certain cases, require a visa, whereas bearers of normal passports would not.

A group passport may be issued, for example, for a school trip. All children on the trip would be covered by the group passport for the duration of the trip.

The modern concept of a multi-journey, multi-destination passport issued only by the holder's country of nationality, dates only from the mid-twentieth century. Before this, passports could generally be issued by any nation to any person, but for a very limited time and generally for a single journey. In this way, early passports are more similar to modern visas than to modern passports, whose primary function is to prove the identity and nationality of the holder. Until the 1920s passports were a single paper page. The modern 'booklet' style passport originated as a commercial product in the UK, as a leather pouch containing a booklet for entry and exit stamps, and a small pocket for the passport. The design was copied by the UK government a few years later.

The term 'passport' most probably originates not from sea ports, but from medieval documents required to pass through the gate ('porte') of city walls. In medieval Europe such documents could be issued to any traveller by local authorities and generally contained a list of towns and cities through which the holder was permitted to pass. This system continued in France, for example, until the 1860s. During this time passports were often not required for travel to seaports, which were considered open trading points, but were required to travel from them to inland cities. Early passports often, but not always, contained a physical description of the holder, with photographs being added only in the early decades of the 20th century.

Following the world wars, the League of Nations (International Conference on Passports, Customs Formalities and Through Tickets, 1920), and later the United Nations and the ICAO, issued standardisation guidelines on the layout and features of passports. These guidelines have largely shaped the modern passport.

In recent years there has been a movement to introduce biometric information to passports to improve identity security. It is at present questionable whether such technology is sufficiently developed and robust for this task. The U.S., for example, has twice delayed the introduction of this technology due to poor reliability results.


Technical characteristics

Identity page of an American passport
Identity page of an American passport

Passports have a standardised format. They begin with a cover identifying the issuing country, then have a title page also naming the country, followed by pages giving information about the bearer and the issuing authority. Then, a number of blank pages are given for foreign countries to affix visas, or stamp the passport on entrance or exit. Passports are numbered by the issuing authority.

Passports used to carry information (family name, given names, date of birth, place of birth, etc.) only in textual form. In recent years, however, passports issued by many countries have become more complex.

Machine readable passports have a standardised presentation, bearing a zone where some of the information otherwise written in textual form is written as strings of alphanumeric characters, printed in a manner suitable for optical character recognition – that is, reading by a machine. This enables border controllers and other law enforcement agents to process such passports quickly, without having to input the information manually into a computer – for instance, in order to check in a database if the passport was not stolen, if the holder of the passport is not a criminal, or to record the movement of foreigners.

Biometric passports with RFID Chips will carry supplemental information about the bearer, in a digitised form.


In 1920 the International Conference on Passports, Customs Formalities and Through Tickets mandated that passports be issued in French and at least one other language, though many countries, particularly in Asia, now issue passports in English and the language of the issuing country. Belgium allows its citizens to choose which of its three official languages (Dutch, French, or German) should appear first in the individual's passport. Passports issued by European Union member states bear all of the official languages of the European Union. United States passports, once issued in English and French only, have been issued in English, French, and Spanish since the second Clinton administration.

Soviet passports were only printed in Russian and French, even though the USSR was a diverse country of many languages. This was due to the fact that Russian was designated as the language of international communication, putting the other union languages at a disadvantage.

Common passport designs

The front cover of passports bears the full official name of the issuing country, and often its coat of arms or other complex symbol. Here, this French passport bears, in golden imprint, Union européenne (European Union), République française (French Republic) and the emblem of the Republic (fasces).
The front cover of passports bears the full official name of the issuing country, and often its coat of arms or other complex symbol. Here, this French passport bears, in golden imprint, Union européenne (European Union), République française (French Republic) and the emblem of the Republic (fasces).

The member states of the European Union are perhaps the best-known countries to have a common format for their passports. European Union (EU) passports have standardised layouts and designs, although the photo page can be at the front or in the back of the booklet and small differences in design indicate which member state is the issuer. Ordinary EU passports are burgundy-red, with the words "European Union" written in the national language or languages (e.g. Dutch, French, Finnish, Maltese) on the front, below which is the official name of the country, the national seal, and the word for "passport", in the respective language(s), can be found at the bottom. Malta was the first country of the new EU states from Central Europe and the Mediterranean to issue EU passports. Estonia began issuing EU passports in July 2005. Others such as Poland, Latvia and Cyprus are likely to follow in the coming years.

The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) recently began issuing passports to a common design, featuring CARICOM's symbol along with the national seal and official name of the member state in its official languages (i.e. English, French, Dutch). The first member state to issue CARICOM passports is Suriname, to be followed by Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Guyana, Antigua and Barbuda and other countries.

The declaration adopted in Cusco, Peru, establishing the South American Community of Nations signalled an intent to establish a common passport design, but this appears to be a long way away. Already, some member states of regional sub-groupings such as Mercosur and the Andean Community of Nations issue passports that bear their official name and seal along with the name of their regional grouping. Examples include Paraguay and Ecuador. Member states of the Andean Community of Nations have agreed to phrase in new Andean passports bearing the official name of the regional body in Spanish by January 2005, although previously issued national passports will be valid until their expiry date.

Government restrictions and special cases

Although most countries recognise the passports of most other countries, there are a number of exceptions. Generally these exceptions are due to circumstances where one country does not recognise another territory's administration as a sovereign state. Some countries also decline to accept passports that do not afford the bearer the right to live in the issuing country.

Most countries make it a policy not to accept passports issued by authorities they do not recognise as states. The usual one-off exceptions are persons involved in negotiation between authorities (analogous to diplomatic talks) and those offering humanitarian relief. Standing exceptions include passports issued by the Hong Kong and Macau Special Administrative Regions of China (See below). In Brazil, citizens of such countries must apply for a Brazilian laissez-passer, a type of travel document usually allowing only a single entry into the issuing country.

In most countries, the passport (sometimes including counterfeit ones) is state property which may be withdrawn at any time. In some countries the executive authorities may declare a passport void, although such cases may be subject to judicial review. judicial decision may be needed for other countries. For instance, typically, a person on bail must temporarily surrender his passport while awaiting trial if he poses a flight risk.

Some countries impose particular political and ideological requirements or prohibitions on passport applicants, issuing passports, and perhaps exit-visas, only to those who meet those requirements.


Some countries decline to accept Tongan Protected Person passports, though they do accept standard passports issued to Tongan citizens.

Many micronations, such as Sealand, issue passports and other citizenship documents. With the possible exception of passports issued by the World Service Authority, no UN member country recognises these documents as valid for transfer or entry, though many micronations continue to issue them.


Both Hong Kong and Macau are special administrative regions of the People's Republic of China (PRC). Under the auspices of the Basic Laws, they are vested with rights to issue passports, to contract agreements to abolish visa requirements with other countries and to exercise immigration control on foreign nationals, all on their own. Passports issued by the respective authorities state that the bearer is a Chinese national with a right of abode in the issuing SAR. The National People's Congress has also delegated powers to Hong Kong and Macau to administer China's nationality laws in their respective realms.

The PRC does not recognise Taiwan's administration as a sovereign state, but considers the island as part of China. Despite presence of mutual immigration control, neither side of the Taiwan Strait considers travelling to and from the mainland and Taiwan international.

Taiwan residents entering Mainland China use a special permit issued by mainland public security authorities and usually collect this permit in Hong Kong or Macau. On the other hand, Taiwan's administration once required residents who go to the mainland to obtain official approval beforehand and would fine those who did not. However, often unable to ascertain if someone has broken this rule, the authorities practically could not enforce the requirement except on those who have lost their travel documents in the mainland. It has been outright abolished except for officials of the administration.

At a port of entry in Taiwan, there is a conspicuous facility where mainland residents must surrender their passports and other travel documents issued by mainland authorities. On the other hand, Taiwan residents keep their identity documents issued by Taiwan while in the mainland.

As Hong Kong is a part of the People's Republic of China, travelling to and from Hong Kong and the mainland is not considered international travel. The Public Security Bureau of the Guangdong province issues a special permit (dubbed Home Return Permit) for Hong Kong residents who are Chinese nationals to enter and exit the mainland. Although it has been proposed that the HKSAR passport should supplant this permit, the proposal is dismissed.

Although many ethnic Chinese in Hong Kong hold British National (Overseas) and British citizen passports issued under the auspices of a programme instituted by UK in 1990, the PRC Government considers them its nationals, and does not recognise these passports they hold.

Although a Hong Kong resident can use neither British National (Overseas) nor HKSAR passports in its own right for entering Taiwan, these passports must be used in conjunction with a special travel permit issued by Taiwan's administration. First-time travellers must apply beforehand but most other travellers can collect this permit upon arrival, subject to certain restrictions.

On the other hand, Taiwan residents travelling to Hong Kong apply for entry permits and collect them at specified airlines. Repeated travellers satisfying certain conditions may apply online.


The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) issues passports, but only Turkey recognises the statehood of Northern Cyprus. TRNC passports are not accepted for entry into the Republic of Cyprus. The Republic of Cyprus also refuses entry to holders of Yugoslavian passports "bearing a renewal stamp with the name 'Macedonia'" (source).


Many Muslim countries will not allow entry to people with evidence of a visit to Israel in their passport. To help foreigners circumvent these restrictions, Israel does not require visitors to have their passports stamped upon entry, making it difficult for those countries to tell if a citizen or tourist went there. Many of these nations are aware of the exit stamps placed in passports by Egypt and Jordan at their land borders with Israel and may block entry based on the presence of these stamps. For example, an traveller may be denied entry to certain countries because of the presence of an Egyptian exit stamp indicating the person left Egypt at Taba, at the Israeli border. Some nations will void old passports and reissue new passports to their nationals based on the presence of evidence of a visit to Israel, recognising the passport's function is compromised.

Muslim countries not accepting Israeli passports are:


Exiting from the region under Republic of Korea's administration (commonly known as South Korea) directly to the North is not international travel from the South's point of view. The Republic of Korea's constitution considers the North as part of its territory, although under different administration. In other words, the South does not view going to and fro as breaking the continuity of a person's stay, as long as the traveller does not land on a third territory.

The privilege of a passport in North Korea is limited to a select few. Membership of the Korean Workers' Party is essentially a requisite.


Pakistan imposes a requirement on its Muslim citizens when they apply for a passport, requiring them to agree to the following:

  1. I am a Muslim and believe in the absolute and unqualified finality of the Prophethood of Hazrat Muhemmed (peace be upon him) the last of the Prophets.
  2. I do not recognize any who claims to be a prophet in any sense of the word or any description whatsoever, after Hazrat Muhemmed (peace be upon him) or recognize such a claimant as a prophet or a religious reformer as Muslim.
  3. I consider Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani to be an impostor nabi and also consider his followers whether belonging to the Lahori, Qadiani or Mirzai groups, to be non-Muslims.

With the issuance of the new biometric passport in 2005 (in which the religion column was to be deleted), the above declaration would have been made unnecessary. However, this decision was recently reversed by the Pakistan Government on religious parties' resistance. After much debate, the column has come back. New passports will carry religion columns; passports already printed will bear a rubber stamp mark declaring a person's religion.


Saudi Arabia

The Government of Saudi Arabia does not officially recognise dual nationality for Saudis. Citizens who have dual nationality generally keep this confidential when in Saudi Arabia. If a second passport is discovered, it may be confiscated and the carrier arrested.

Spain and Gibraltar

The Government of Spain has had a policy of not accepting British passports issued in Gibraltar, on the grounds that the territory's government is not a competent authority for issuing such documents. Consequently some Gibraltarians have been refused entry to Spain when travelling on these documents. However, the word "Gibraltar" now appears beneath the words "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland", as appears in passports of other British colonies and dependencies.

United States

An excerpt from an old U.S. passport showing travel restrictions
An excerpt from an old U.S. passport showing travel restrictions

Prominent people with views that were considered to be associated with communism, such as Paul Robeson, were once prevented from travelling abroad by the U.S. government. W.E.B. Du Bois, founder of NAACP, was falsely labelled as pro-Communist and denied a U.S. passport. He renounced U.S. citizenship afterwards. However, the U.S. Supreme Court held in the 1958 case Kent v. Dulles that international travel was an inherent right which could not be denied to American citizens. Even so, the Department of State still has the right to screen people before issuing a passport and to revoke a passport.

At various times, US passports have been issued with a list of countries or regions to which the holder is forbidden to travel. These countries have previously included Albania, Cuba, People's Republic of China, Iran, Iraq, North Korea and Vietnam. In 1957 China protested their inclusion in this list and successfully campaigned for its removal. Because of U.S. treasury restrictions on U.S. citizens who visit Cuba, that country will similarly not stamp a passport, if requested.

International travel without passports

In some circumstances, travel between countries may be done without showing a passport. These include:

Reciprocal agreements

Cover of a Canadian Passport
Cover of a Canadian Passport
Cover of an Indian passport
Cover of an Indian passport

Some countries have a reciprocal agreements such that a visa is not needed under certain conditions, e.g. when the visit is for tourism and for a relatively short period.

A few countries have agreements allowing for cross-border travel without passports (but generally with identification). Examples include:

  • The United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland: Citizens of the UK and Ireland require no passport to travel between the two countries; however, the Irish government has since 1997 required a suitable form of photographic identification to be carried. Other EEA nationals must show a national ID card or Passport. All other nationals require a passport. Many nationals also require visas for both countries. See Common Travel Area
  • The NAFTA countries: the United States, Canada, and Mexico, although after a recent announcement, all persons entering the United States, including U.S. citizens, will be required to have a passport, even from Canada and Mexico, starting as early as December 2005. The Canadian Government has responded to this by stating that soon U.S. citizens will be required to have a passport to enter Canada.
  • The Nordic countries, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, including Faroe Islands and Greenland. (Called the Nordic Passport Union, this area joined the larger Schengen treaty region in 1997.)
  • Lebanese citizens entering Syria do not require a passport if carrying their Lebanese IDs. Similarly, Syrian nationals do not require a passport to enter Lebanon either, if carrying their Syrian IDs.
  • Indian, Nepalese and Bhutanese citizens do not require a passport to travel between the three countries. However some identification is needed to cross the borders.
  • Croatia does not require a passport for citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina who have a Bosnian ID card. Likewise Bosnia and Herzegovina does not reguire Croatian citizens to have a passport only a Croatian ID.

Many Latin American nationals can travel within their respective regional economic zones, such as Mercosur (Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay) and the Andean Community of Nations (Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela) or on a bilateral basis (e.g. between Chile and Peru) without passports, presenting instead their national identification cards or voter registration cards for a limited period. Often, this travel must be done overland rather than by air. There are plans to extend these rights to all of South America under the new South American Community of Nations.

EU, EEA, and the Schengen treaty

Citizens of the European Economic Area (the European Union plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway) enjoy the freedom to travel and work in any European Union country without a passport or visa, although transitory dispositions may restrict the rights of citizens of new members to work in other countries.

Furthermore, countries that have signed and applied the Schengen treaty (a subset of the EEA) do not implement border controls between each other, unless exceptional circumstances apply. (Most of the balance of EU countries, plus Switzerland, have signed the Schengen treaty, but not applied it yet. The main reason is, that, according to EU laws, the member states which had joined the EU in 2004 would have to meet strict criteria with respect to their efforts protect EU external borders before intra-EU border controls between the old member states and such new member states may be lifted. Switzerland requires some time to adopt national databases to those of the EU.)

As a consequence of the above, for instance, a French citizen may travel to the United Kingdom, another EEA nation, and then freely work in that country. However, since the UK has not signed the Schengen treaty, he will have to carry at least a national ID card, which will normally be checked at the border. On the other hand, if and when Switzerland applies the Schengen treaty, the French citizen will be able to travel to Switzerland without being stopped at the border, but he will not be able to work freely in that country without authorisation , as it is not a member of the EEA (this notwithstanding the fact that, in most cases, such authorization to work would nevertheless have to be granted by Swiss authorities according to a specific treaty on free movement which had been concluded between the EU and Switzerland). Further, most European countries require all persons to carry or, at least, possess an identity card or passport. So while Switzerland will not check our French traveller at the border, he may have to show his ID card at some stage within the country, although in practice this is rare. Except at the border, ID cards are not required by UK law; however, there is a de facto requirement to prove your identity to conduct business. Our French traveller would have to show ID to obtain a UK bank account or to prove his eligibility to work.

Refugees and stateless persons

Stateless persons (those to whom no country will grant a passport or citizenship) generally travel internationally on transit documents issued by the United Nations under the terms of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. These are accepted in lieu of passports by most governments. Similarly, refugees and asylum seekers often travel under non-national interim documentation, rather than the passport of the country from which they are fleeing.

The Vatican City

The Vatican City has no formal immigration controls. As the only entrance to the tiny country is overland from Italy, the de-facto immigration requirements of the Vatican City are the same as those of Italy. However, having crossed the border into Vatican City, they are liable to Vatican law not Italian, retaining their authority as a separate state.

Countries issuing more than one type of passport

See also


  • Lloyd, Martin (2003). The Passport: The History of Man's Most Travelled Document. Stroud, UK: Sutton Publishing. ISBN 0-7509-2964-2.

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