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Typical passport displaying the issuing nation, "passport", and a symbol.

A passport is a government-issued identification which allows the passenger to travel freely outside the home country (subject to regulations of other countries) and, with limited exceptions, is an essential requirement for international travel.

For many country pairs, a passport alone is insufficient and must contain a visa issued by the destination country. Neither passport nor visas guarantee entry into a foreign country -this is always ultimately subject to the discretion of the immigration officer at the border.

Even if you do not travel, passports can be used in your home country as evidence of your identity. This is useful for opening a bank account among other things.


The first convention on passports was when, in 1920, the League of Nations decided that all passports contain information in French, being the diplomatic language of that era. Today all passports contain information in at least English or French, as well as the official language(s) of the issuing nation (if not English or French).

The cover page includes the word "passport" and the name of the the issuing country in the native language(s) of the issuing country(and possibly a second language, such as English); some sort of national symbol; and special, universal symbol if it is biometric. Additionally, all EU member states have "European Union" (perhaps in another language) above the name of the issuing country.

The information page of the passport records basic information about the passport: its bearer's surname, given names, photo and date and place of birth, validity period, issuing authority, place of issue and passport number, and the dates the passport was issued and will expire. Most passports also contain a request for safe passage and right to consul in event of incarceration. Most passports issued in recent years have a machine-readable strip at the bottom of the page to expedite encoding at the relevant stations (see the relevant section below).

In some countries, the next pages are for amendments where the bearer country's issuing may place travel restrictions, change conditions for travel abroad, or amend the period of validity. In addition, pages may be included which provide helpful legal and practical information for the bearer. For instance a US passport contains 6 pages regarding websites and contacts for various reasons (travel restrictions, treasury restrictions on imports, paying taxes while in a foreign country, registering your stay in a foreign country), common sense subjects (don't be a target, be mindful of security threats, ways to lose citizenship), and important information (loss, theft, destruction, alteration, or mutilation of the passport, what to do in a natural disaster or catastrophic event, etc).

Most of the passport pages are allotted for visas where visas coming from different embassies or consulates are pasted. Stamps from passport control officers of both the bearer's home country and countries visited revealing the history of entry and exit of those countries are also found on these pages.

Extra pages[edit]

Some countries, such as the US, allow the addition of extra pages to passports. Some countries require 2 blank pages in your passport before you enter the country. If you are running low on blank pages and have a passport from a country that permits the addition of extra pages, contact your nearest passport office, embassy, or consulate and they should be able to add extra pages for free or a fee depending on the issuing country.

Other countries, such as Canada, can issue a special passport with 48 pages instead of the usual 24 for frequent travellers, Canada does not allow extra pages to be added later, so this is definitely worth doing if you expect to travel a lot. The new E-Passports only have 36 pages which is the only option.

Some countries may issue a new passport "cross-linked" (or even physically bound) to the old one. The old one must have a blank page for the authority to endorse a cross-link. This is useful not only when a passport is running low on blank pages, but also in cases where the visa outlasts the passport that contains it.

It can be possible for a person to hold multiple passports from a single country at the same time, although not all countries allow this and even for those countries where it is allowed, it is something of a rarity. Not everyone, including some immigration officials in more remote places, knows that it is both possible and legal to have 2 or more passports. If you are off the beaten tracks, it is advisable to only show the passports that are needed for that particular border, as multiple forms of the same ID can look suspicious.

Instances where 2nd (or even 3rd) passports can be issued include:

  • If there is little or no space left for new visas, but the current passport has valid visas that are still needed. In this case, both passports would need to be valid simultaneously.
  • If you need to submit your passport to 2 or more embassies at the same time for visas.
  • Some countries, such as Libya and Iran amongst others, will not allow entry to people with evidence of travel to Israel, so a new passport will be necessary for travel to those countries in this case. See the Israel article for more information.

Kinds of passports issued[edit]

Diplomatic/Official passport[edit]

These passports are issued to goverment members for official visit to an alien country. The way that a diplomatic or official passport is treated varies between countries, diplomatic immunity is not automatically granted *no matter* if you actually hold a diplomatic passport or not, you will be likely to be constrained to the destination airport until the authorities can actually verify your identity (especially if you represent a goverment with not so friendly relationships with the destination country), and in almost all cases you also need a very specific diplomatic or official visa to be eligible to enter with such a passport.

Contrary to what most people believe, bearers of such passports are likely to face more limitations and troubles than if simply travelling with a regular passport.

If you get to the airport with such a passport and without the proper visa you will be almost surely denied boarding.

If you are a diplomat but you want to visit a country for tourism purposes, you must do so with a regular tourist passport.

Regular (or tourist) passport[edit]

This is the most common type of passport issued. It must meet certain established criteria to be recognised and is allowed for general international travel. Government officials and diplomats who wish to travel to a third country for a holiday must use this passport.

Internal passport[edit]

In some countries (e.g. Russia) a local passport is for citizen's domestic use only; for international travel a regular (tourist) passport should be issued. An internal passport often serves to prevent the flow of persons from one region of a country to another, this is often implemented to prevent residents of a volatile region from spreading their conflict to another region.

Passport Card[edit]

Many Americans cross the Canadian border daily and new requirements require passports to travel to all nations, including Canada and Mexico. The passport card has the same status as the passport book, but in card form for the convenience of frequent border crossing and is only valid for land and sea travel between the United States and Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean (sea travel only).

If you live in the U.S. states of Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Vermont, and Washington you can also apply for an enhanced driver's license (EDL)[1]. From a US standpoint an EDL is functionally the same as a passport card and is routinely accepted for reentry into the United States by land or sea. It should be noted, however, that Canadian authorities do not regard an EDL as proof of nationality, only proof of identity, making an EDL unacceptable for entry into Canada unless presented with a birth certificate or another proof of citizenship.

Technology and security[edit]

Some countries require certain security features on passports to issue on-the-spot visas (visa on arrival), biometric and machine readable passports are the most common requirements. The machine code displayed above should be on the first page of your passport.

Over the years, the way passports are produced have changed. Passports where the front pages are handwritten still exist although they are being phased out due to security concerns.

Increasingly in the 1990s, machine-readable passports have been introduced where the personal data page is automated. That information is also encoded into 2 strips at the bottom of the page. This helps speed-up lines at most passport control stations as the officers don't need to type in most of the entries in their respective fields manually in the computers.

Most nations have implemented biometric passports - containing an RFID (radio frequency identification device) chip which contains (depending on issuing country) an electronic recording of passport data, a photograph, and/or fingerprints. Basically, an RFID station issues a signal, and the RFID chip responds with some or all of its data. They are highly useful for customs and immigration officials to quickly and better identify you.

Because current implementations conform to the NFC standard, anyone with a NFC reader can read the information. The information is encrypted with the bearer name and date of birth, but these are easily predictable. This may present a personal security problem for some travellers, e.g., in crowded places, where frequented by those who target certain nationals, e.g., to "con" or rob. If concerned, you might:

  • Inquire of the issuer as to the RFID security measures. Some passports, e.g. Swiss ones, don't respond to any signals when closed.
  • Do Internet research to understand the issues.
  • Choose to use a passport wallet that confines the RFID signals until you deliberately remove your passport for inspection by officials. Such wallets are available at some cost from better travel accessory merchants.

Where/How to apply[edit]

Your home country's passport issuing authority (usually the foreign or interior ministry) has specific information on how to do so.

  • In some countries' applications can be initiated on-line.
  • In some countries Post Offices have application forms and instructions.[2]
  • If you are a resident alien of another country, you can go to your home country's embassy or consulate to apply.

To obtain your first passport, you will have to provide substantial identification with your application. Once you have a passport, almost regardless of when issued, it can often be used to prove your identity when you apply for a new one. Usually, each application must be accompanied by one or more recent, clear, head-and-shoulders color photos of a required size for mounting and embossing in the finished document by the passport issuing centre. In recent years however, some application centers provides this facility, such as the United State Postal Service. There are apps which individuals can use to make passport photos with smartphones.[3] Individuals can also take passport photos at photo studios, some pharmacies, and printing centers.

Apply well in advance of of your intended travel. Passports take much longer to issue if you are applying from outside your country of citizenship. This can take up to two months. Booking an appointment is sometimes required.

What if I lose it whilst travelling?[edit]

Most people travelling outside of their home country have not had this problem. But a few people have had a nightmare about losing their passport. In this event, take a deep breath and contact your embassy or consulate immediately to begin the replacement process. It can often take anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks to get a new passport in a foreign country, depending on your citizenship and your location.

Some countries offer "emergency passports" if you can convince them that you can't wait out the normal turnaround time. These documents usually expire within a year of issue, and often raise eyebrows and slow you down when going through immigration at airports and land borders. They take a much shorter time, often just hours, to obtain than a full-blown replacement passport. The process can be bolstered by having a copy of the original, as discussed below. A police report is useful and may even be required by your embassy/consulate, even if there was no crime involved. Don't forget to bring a couple of passport photos.

Make Copies[edit]

Seasoned travellers often carry multiple machine or photo copies of their passport (and other important documents, e.g., visas) when abroad, stashed in locations separate from the originals, e.g., folded together in their wallet, in their luggage, or even scanned into a computer.

  • This is especially useful when travelling in areas where risk of loss or theft is high. Lacking an original, a copy could save you from problems with local authorities by quickly showing them at least something that indicates you are authorised to be there...before they arrest you.
  • Copies also may make issuance of a substitute for a lost passport easier to obtain (through your embassy or consulate, so you can at least return home. You should also make/get a copy of any entry visa required to enter a country.

Use original passports when demanded by authorities, e.g., checking in for a flight, at immigration as you reach another country, for cruise ship embarkation processing.

  • If afoot, with your passport elsewhere (e.g., at your hotel), a copy and government-issued photo identification are decent authorities reason to check your hotel before official action.
  • If cruising, unless the ship's staff states that passports are necessary for a port visit, leave them in your cabin's safe and take the copies and ID instead.

Copies are best done in colour, and at least of the primary page(s) of each original. Two adjacent pages of two passports can often fit on a single sheet of copy paper.

Giving your passport to others[edit]

In some countries hotels are required to keep photocopies of your passport, if you don't want to trust hotel staff with your passport, e.g. if staff have to leave the hotel premises to make a copy, you will be able to provide your own - no need to be overly paranoid, but having staff run across town with a passport worth more than they make in a year, to find the only Xerox in town, might prove too tempting for some people. In any case you should never hand over your passport as a security or guarantee under any circumstances, except as required by law or as a condition of release on bail.

Expiration and Travel[edit]

In practical terms, the last date when you can use a passport is well before the expiration date. As you start international travel, most "public carriers" (e.g., cruise lines) will demand that your passport have considerable time before it expires...typically six months. They are helping to ensure that you won't violate the laws of countries you'll visit. You may have to stay longer than planned, e.g., due to serious injury or illness. Overstaying your passport or a visa can be serious.

If your passport fails to have enough time before expiring, you may be denied boarding.

If your passport expires while you are abroad, contact your home country's nearest embassy or consulate immediately. In some cases, they might be able to issue you a new one, for a fee, in a few weeks.

Passports from many countries (Australia, EU nations, US ...) remain valid for 10 years or 5 Years for people who renewed/gotten their passport as an minor, depending on country and the applicant's age if he/she is an minor. In the US, you are an minor when you are under 16 while others are under 18. Other passports, such as Canadian, only for five. In any case, they will expire, and if not used occasionally, you may forget. Issue of a new passport can take as long as 3-4 months, but many countries offer express or expedited service and can issue passports in as little as 24 to 48 hours without the use of a third party. Never pay a third party for passport services, always deal with the official government office or embassy/consulate. Stay aware to avoid great disappointment.

Other Restrictions[edit]

A passport may be treated as a privilege to citizens of the said country. This means the citizen concerned may be required to surrender it to local authorities at certain times such as when they are subject to criminal investigation. Moreover, some passports issued by some countries may expire earlier than usual, and this may indicate that the holder is nearing the required age for conscription.

In some cases, countries with poor or no diplomatic relations may bar the bearers of the other country's passport (or merely having stamps of that other country) from seeking entry. This is the case, for instance, with Israeli passport holders, and sometimes those with just an Israeli stamp, who are usually not permitted to enter most Arab/Islamic states.

For people with dual citizenship remember to be careful about the following issues:

  • If you have two passports issued from two different states, in almost all cases, you must use the passport you used to enter the country to exit it.
  • Some countries still do not recognize dual citizenship so you may have some legal trouble using or even just possessing another passport issued from another state. Contact both countries of citizenship before you travel to make sure that you will not arrive on any problems.
  • Sometimes you may even have to travel through the third country to drop off either passport to avoid its being confiscated by the other country claiming you to be its citizen or national.

See also[edit]

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