The Sovereign Military Order of Malta is reported to have the rarest and most obscure passport in the world today. A Catholic order with its sovereignty recognized in the year 1113 by Pope Paschal, it has only 500 passports in the world, currently in circulation.
Since losing the island of Malta in 1798, the military order's sovereign land has been restricted to two extra-territorial properties in Rome. From these locations, it issues its own postage stamps, passports and currency. In total, the Order is made up of over 13,500 knights, dames and chaplains together with 80,000 permanent volunteers and 25,000 employees.
The exterior of the Villa del Priorato di Malta on the Aventine hill in Rome
Diplomatic passports of the Sovereign Order of Malta are granted only to the members of the Sovereign Council (the government) to it's heads, and members of it's Diplomatic Missions (as well as their consort and minor children). Further, with very few exceptions, they are issued to senior figures in charge of a special missions within the Order of Malta. The validity of the passport is for a period of four years only, and is strictly linked to the duration of the assignment.
The Sovereign Order of Malta maintains under the provisions of international law, full diplomatic relations with 106 States. All of these States accept the diplomatic passports of the Sovereign Order of Malta as a valid document. Countries that do not accept the Order's passports include the United Kingdom, the United States and New Zealand.
Currently, the Sovereign Order of Malta is active in 120 countries, where it helps care for people in need through its medical, social and humanitarian works. The Catholic Order operates as a charitable organization offering medical aid across the world, with the Order especially involved in providing assistance to people living in the amongst armed conflicts and natural disasters. It is also has permanent observer status at the United Nations.
Grand Master Festing: The Grand Master is officially classed as a prince and has the status of cardinal within the Catholic Church.
Additionally the Order notes on its site, 'It is neutral, impartial and apolitical.' Since 2005, the Sovereign Order of Malta diplomatic passports have become aligned with the rest of the world, and include biometric features which are compliant with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards.