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This article is about the international travel document. For Microsoft Corporation's "universal login" service, see Microsoft Passport.
The title page of passports bears the name of the issuing country, then the name European Union, in the languages of all EU countries. Here is a British passport.
The title page of European Union passports bears the name of the issuing country, then the name European Union, in the languages of all EU countries. Here is a British passport.

A passport is a formal identity document or certification issued by a national government that identifies the holder as a citizen of a particular country, 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 citizenship. 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 authorizing entry.

Some governments try to control the movements of their own and other citizens and issue so-called internal passports. For instance, in the Soviet Union, all citizens were issued propiski 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 Sealand.


Types of passports

Diplomatic personnel are issued diplomatic passports which identify them as diplomatic representatives of their home country. Bearers of diplomatic passports are typically exempt from certain formalities (e.g., their luggage is not searched at country borders). See diplomatic immunity.

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.

Technical characteristics

Passports have a standardized 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 (last 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 standardized 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 manually 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 will carry supplemental information about the bearer, in a digitized form.

Governmental restrictions

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 individual may well find themselves blocked from entering certain countries because of the presence of an Egyptian exit stamp indicating the person left Egypt at Taba since the only possible place this person could have gone was Elat, Israel. 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 that the passport is now unable to properly perform its function.

Because of US treasury restrictions on US citizens who visit Cuba, that country will similarly not stamp a passport, if requested.

Because the People's Republic of China (PRC) refuses to recognize the statehood of the Republic of China (ROC) administering Taiwan, PRC authorities never stamp ROC passports but require Taiwanese to use different travel documents to enter Mainland China. The ROC once required all ROC nationals to get official approvals before going to Mainland China and would fine those going without approval. However, not stamping ROC passports by the PRC made it very difficult to know if ROC nationals have been in Mainland China without obtaining proper approvals as required. Practically only those who lost their ROC passports in Mainland China could be discovered and fined by the ROC. As of now, only specific persons, such as ROC public officials, require official approvals before going to Mainland China.

In most countries, the passport is state property which may be withdrawn at any time. Depending on the country, this right of the state may be exerced arbitrarily by the executive, or may be only applied in certain circumstances following a judicial decision. For instance, typically, passports may have to be temporarily surrendered by people on bail and awaiting trial if there is a risk that they might flee prosecution.

Prominent people with left-wing views, such as Paul Robeson, were once prevented from traveling abroad by this method by the US government. 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.

International travel without passports

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

Reciprocal agreements

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:

Some citizens from some Latin American countries like Brazil and Argentina, Brazil and Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay, can travel between the two countries bearing only national IDs or passports without visa, usually for a limited period of 90 days, but allowed to work in the other country for that period. 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.)

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 authorization, as it is not a member of the EEA.

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.

Limitations on acceptance of passports

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 refuses to accept the existence of another territory or government as a legitimate country.


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).


A number of Muslim countries do not accept Israeli passports, largely due to their governments' current or historical refusal to recognise Israel as a legal state. These countries are:


Many micronations, such as Sealand, issue passports and other citizenship documents. No UN member country recognises these documents as valid for transfer or entry, though many micronations continue to issue them.

Political and ideological requirements for passport holders

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

North Korea

North Korea strictly limits the granting of passports to a small trusted minority. Membership of the Korean Workers' Party is essentially a prerequisite.


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. Religious parties insisted the restoration of the religion column. 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.


Countries issuing more than one type of passports

See also

Further reading

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

External links

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