Remarkable Ways Passports Work

Sitting at the airport recently with my airline ticket and passport in hand, I wondered how passports came to be THE recognized form of identification around the world. Without a passport, travel outside a person's country of country of birth is virtually impossible.

Passport History

The holder of a passport certifying both the nationality and identity is generally entitled to utilize the document as a form of identification when traveling internationally. A standard passport contains information including, name, date and place of birth, signature and a photograph of the certified holder of the passport.

Many countries throughout the world are migrating to a new form of passport known as an E-Passport, which contains biometric information embedded onto a microchip within the passport. These passports allow the data to be machine read with the addition of making them difficult to counterfeit. As at April 2017, 96 countries currently issue biometric style passports.

Whilst there are some early recorded histories of a form of passport, the credit for the first 'true' type of passport was given to King Henry V of England to assist his subjects destined for foreign lands to identify who they were. The earliest reference is recorded in an Act of Parliament in the year 1414. By 1540, travel documents for those resident of England were issued by the Privy Council of England where the term passport became a commonly used term for the document.

The Imperial Diet of Augsburg required its citizens to hold imperial documents for travel at the risk of permanent exile. As the growth of railway infrastructure & wealth increased throughout Europe in the beginning of the mid-nineteenth century, large volumes of citizens traveled without the need for formal identity documents, as it was thought to be too difficult to manage the movement of people in this way.

Up to and including the First World War (WW1)this remained the case, where regular citizens passed through European borders relatively unchallenged. After the outbreak of war, European governments introduced border passport requirements for both reasons of security, and to ensure the control of emigration of persons with skills deemed to be useful. At the end of the war this process of identification remained, despite the number of objections by the public, who considered the practice to be dehumanizing.


The League Of Nations

The League of Nations was an Intergovernmental organization operating between 1920 to 1946, and formed as a result of the Paris Peace Conference which ended after the First World War. In 1920 a conference was held specifically named The Paris Conference on Passports and Customs Formalities and Through Tickets. At this time, a set of guidelines & formalities were agreed upon including the general booklet styled design.

Follow up conferences held in both 1926 and 1927 finalized further details. However, it was not until 1980 that a standard was implemented, carried out under the auspices of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Whilst there are a number of different types of passports in general terms, only one passport can be issued to each national citizen with the exception of a Family Passport.

In many countries when a citizen applies for a new passport, they are required to surrender the old one, if one had been previously issued due to security reasons. Most countries have their own terms and conditions which are required to be met when a passport is issued either new or as a replacement. The life of a passport is generally between five to ten years. When traveling, most countries require passports to have at least six months validity remaining on arrival, together with at least two to four blank pages remaining available.

Standard passports display on the cover, the national coat of arms of the issuing country, although several groups of counties have previously agreed to adopt a common design for use on the cover of their respective countries passport.

Types Of Passports

Standard Passport

Standard passports are made up of a blue or black cover and are issued for ordinary travel between countries including those taking a business trip or traveling on vacation. Standard passports contain a total of 42 pages, 34 of which are visa pages, which accept passport stamps and can have up to ten year's validity. Some countries issue passports containing the details of the children which are registered to the same document, the equivalent to what may be referred to as a family passport.

Frequent Traveler Passport

Much the same as a standard passport, however this passport contains additional pages up to a total of 66 in all, and is not available in all countries.

Diplomatic Passport

Diplomatic passports are issued to top ranking government officials, diplomats or diplomatic couriers and where required, that of their families. Some diplomats of a higher grade may be granted diplomatic immunity by their host country however this status does not apply in all instances and must be granted by the host country.

Emergency Passport

Emergency passports or temporary passports can be issued to citizens who need to travel urgently where their passport has been lost or reported stolen. Laissez-passer are also used in these instances.

Official Passport

Sometimes referred to as service passports, these are issued to employees of governments for work related travel. Their accompanying dependents in some instances may also be listed in the document.

Collective Passport

Used primarily to predefined groups who intend to travel together to specifically nominated destinations, such as a school travel excursion.

Family Passport

Issued to include the traveling members of the entire family group. Most countries no longer utilize family passports due to the greater risk of child abduction when a marriage breaks down

Children's Passport

Nationals under the age of 18 may be issued with this type of passport. Children's passports are generally half the cost of a standard passport and contain 34 visa pages with a validity period of five years. Children aged 16 years and older may be issued with a passport containing a validity period of ten years.


Sometimes issued by either national governments of international humanitarian organizations including the United Nations (UN), which are used for travel on humanitarian grounds, for official travel, or as an emergency passport in the event it has been lost or stolen.

Fake Passports

Contrary to what is reported, passport fraud represents a large and ever growing problem for authorities around the world. Whist small scale fraud is dotted at points around the world where amateur forgers do their best to undermine the process of identification, there exists a network of professionals who produce for a lucrative fee, or at the behest of secret government authorities by any means, including the theft of a person's identity, documents which have proven to be authentic enough to pass at checkpoints around the world.

An example of which was the disclosure in 2010 by a former Mossad Case Officer Victor Ostrovsky, who alleged the Israeli spy agency has its own passport factory producing fake or doctored passports for use in missions around the world. He stated 'the need for these in house produced documents because you can't go around with an Israeli passport, not even a forged one, and get away or get involved with people from the Arab world. He added, 'They'll shy away right away'.

'So, most of these [Mossad] operations are carried out on what's called false flag, which means you pretend to be of another country which is less belligerent to those countries that you're trying to recruit from'. 'If they can obtain blank passports, which they have in the past from Canada, from England, they do. If not, they just manufacture them'.

He said the manufactured passports are almost identical to the originals. The comments came as a result of the high profile assassination of one of Hamas's top arms dealers, Mahmoud al-Mabhoubh in Dubai. The moment the target left the foyer of Dubai’s International Airport, the assassins were monitoring his every move.

Within five hours the target would be dead, killed in his hotel room. Dubai police identified 27 people involved in the plot, twelve of whom traveled on forged British passports, six Irish, four French, and one German, with another three traveling on Australian passports.

One of the Australian passports held by Adam Korman, who loved traveling with his family as a child, (during which time his family moved from Melbourne Australia to Israel) and now holds joint citizenship, traveling the world regularly. He noted one destination which was stamped three times over in ten months in an Australian passport bearing his name, however this was a destination he had never visited previously – Dubai. He's not alone in his experience as two other former Melbournians now resident in Israel, had their passports copied or forged for use in the assassination.

Passport Stamps

Passport stamps are a rubber stamp containing an inked impression used to imprint a passport upon entering or exiting a country. Occasionally some countries may use a substitute sticker stamp, such as Japan. Visas may also substitute for a passport stamp.


Immigration personnel stamp each passport at a point of entry or border crossing as part of their customs or immigration control measures. The stamp is used as proof of authorization to enter the country of arrival. Most countries use different stamps, ink colors and/or shapes as a visual indicator of an entry or exit stamp. In some countries including the United States and Canada, there is no formal control by immigration officials of travel documents upon exiting the country.

What Is A Passport Seizure?

Passports may be confiscated by a government official in order to stop the bearer of the passport from traveling out of the country, if the holder of the passport is suspected of committing a crime in the host country. Passports may also be seized by the issuing government to prevent flight from the country whilst under investigation, or awaiting trial.

Some countries, may also seize a passport for political reasons, including those of journalists and protesters to stop them from leaving the country. The seizure of a passport is usually only temporary, unlike that of a canceled or revoked passport. Most often it is returned to the bearer once the issues have been resolved.

Who Has Authority To Seize A Passport?

All passports are the property of the government which issued it. As the bearer of a passport you don't actually own it. Passports can and may be seized by local, state or federal representatives of the country on the orders of a judge, magistrate or other court official.

During the Rio Olympics in Brazil a number of athletes had their passports seized as a result of bad behavior in their host country. Most notable was that of Ryan Lochte and three other team members after they were involved in an incident at a gas station in Rio de Janeiro. While in custody, they made statements to the effect they were forcibly removed from a taxi and robbed at gunpoint.

However, surveillance footage revealed they had damaged the gas station before engaging in a confrontation with security personnel. Whilst Lochte fled the country, his remaining team members had their passports seized until the incident was resolved. With legal representation, they were eventually able to negotiate the return of their passports and a fine of $11,000 was paid as restitution.

What Should You Do If Your Passport Is Seized?

First and foremost, you should avoid the seizure of your passport by obeying local laws and customs of the host country in which you are visiting. However, in the event your passport has been seized as a result of being detained or arrested contact your local embassy immediately. With the legal advice provided by embassy representatives, you will likely be able to get an understanding as to what you will be required to do in order to have the passport returned to you.

The Two Most Common Passport Issues

1. Keeping A Passport In Your Back Pocket

Passports are important documents when traveling internationally, consequently it must be kept in pristine condition for presentation at borders and checkpoints. I've witnessed it many times myself during the course of my travels, where people keep their passport in their back pocket, causing damage to the booklet, spines, stitching and covers. Not to mention when they then forget it's there when they put their jeans in the wash or worse still. become the victim of an opportunistic pickpocket.

2. Not Checking The Validity Date Of A Passport

Another common rookie mistake is not checking when the passport is due to expire. The last thing you want is to arrive at the airport only to find on inspection by the check in agent, the passport date expired two months ago. Most countries require visitors to have at least six months validity remaining on their passport so consider, a valid passport may not actually provide the traveler with enough duration to complete the travel.

Do you have a passport horror story to share with us?

Sandra Hawkins

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