To travel abroad, one needs a passport, a travel document issued by that person’s government that normally includes information about the holder: name, date of birth, sex, nationality and place of birth. The passport helps to attest the identity and nationality of its holder.
The passport holder is normally allowed to re-enter the country that issued the passport in accordance with the laws of that country. Holding a passport does not necessarily grant the person entry into any other country, nor to consular protection while abroad, or other privileges such as immunity from arrest or prosecution.
Usually, a national passport is not issued to stateless people. They may be able to get a refugee travel document to enable them to travel internationally, and sometimes to return to the issuing country.
One of the earliest known references to a document that served the role similar to that of a passport is found in Nehemiah 2:1-9 in the Bible. In this autobiographical book, also called the “Memoirs of Nehemiah”, dating from approximately 450 BC, emerges the story of a man dedicated to the single purpose of the welfare of his people.
While serving as cupbearer to the king at the Persian court in Susa, Nehemiah received permission from his master Artaxerxes I to fortify Jerusalem and served as governor of Judah for two terms, the first lasting twelve years (445–432 BC).
In the month Nisan of the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when the wine was in my charge, I took some and offered it to the king. Because I had never before been sad in his presence, the king asked me, “Why do you look sad? If you are not sick, you must be sad at heart.” Though I was seized with great fear,
I answered the king: “May the king live forever! How could I not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates consumed by fire?”
The king asked me, “What is it, then, that you wish?”
I prayed to the God of heaven and then answered the king: “If it pleases the king, and if your servant is deserving of your favour, send me to Judah, to the city where my ancestors are buried, that I may rebuild it.”
Then the king, with the queen seated beside him, asked me, “How long will your journey take and when will you return?”
My answer was acceptable to the king and he agreed to let me go; I set a date for my return.
I asked the king further: “If it pleases the king, let letters be given to me for the governors of West-of-Euphrates, that they may give me safe-conduct till I arrive in Judah; also a letter for Asaph, the keeper of the royal woods, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the temple-citadel, for the city wall and the house that I will occupy.”
Since I enjoyed the good favour of my God, the king granted my requests.
Thus, I proceeded to the governors of West-of-Euphrates and presented the king’s letters to them. The king also sent with me army officers and cavalry.
In the medieval Islamic Caliphate, a form of a basic passport, the bara’a, a receipt for taxes paid was in vogue. Muslim citizens who paid their zakah, and Dhimmis, the non-Muslim citizens of an Islamic state who paid their jizya as taxes were allowed to travel to different regions of the Caliphate.
The British Passport
In England, the earliest reference to documents for travel is found in a 1414 Act of Parliament. It is generally believed that King Henry V, who reigned England from 1413 until his death at the age of 35 in 1422, was the first to come up with the idea of issuing the first true passport to help his subjects to prove their identity in foreign lands.
Between 1540 and 1685, the Privy Council of England granted travel documents and used the term “passport”. They were signed by the monarch until the reign of Charles II.
Etymologically, the term “passport” is derived from the document issued by the local authorities to travellers, allowing them to pass through the “porte” (French: the door, the gate) of a city wall. Generally, such documents contained a list of towns and cities the document holder was permitted to enter or pass through. At that time, a passport was not required for travel to seaports, which were considered open trading points, but it was required to travel inland from sea ports.
At that time, the passport was a simple single-sheet paper document penned in Latin or English. From 1772 onwards French was used instead.
From 1794, the Office of the Secretary of State began issuing the British passports. From then on, the Secretary of State signed all passports in place of the monarch and formal records started to be kept.
By 1855 passports became a standard document issued solely to British nationals and English was used to write passports, with some sections translated into French.
From 1914 onwards, the passport included a photograph of the holder.
Does Queen Elizabeth II carry a passport?
“When travelling overseas, does Queen Elizabeth II carry a passport?” is an oft-asked question.
In 1945, when the Queen was 18, she was a member of the Auxiliary Territorial Service. At that time, she was given a driver licence, which became redundant in 1953 when she became Queen Elizabeth II. The World War II document signed just ‘Elizabeth‘ is one of the exhibits at the Adjutant General’s Corps Museum in Peninsula Barracks, Winchester. It was given to the then 18-year-old Princess in 1945 when she was a member of the Auxiliary Territorial Service.
Now, the front cover of a British biometric passport issued since 2006, features the Royal Arms, and the first page declares:
‘Her Britannic Majesty’s Secretary of State requests and requires in the name of Her Majesty all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary.‘
In the realms, namely in the 15 Commonwealth countries where the Queen is Sovereign, a similar formula is used, except that the request to “all whom it may concern” is made in the name of the realm’s Governor-General. In Canada, the request is made in the name of “Her Majesty,” by the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
As a British passport is issued in the name of Her Majesty, it is not necessary for The Queen to possess one. However, all other members of the Royal Family, including The Duke of Edinburgh and The Prince of Wales, have passports.
The US Passport
The United States now issues three types of passports: blue, maroon and black.
American passports had green covers from 1941 until 1976, when the cover was changed to blue, as part of the U.S. bicentennial celebration. Now, around 44 million people hold the familiar blue-covered American tourist’s passport. Green- covered passports were again issued from April 1993, until March 1994, and included a special one-page tribute to Benjamin Franklin in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the United States Consular Service.
In 1981, the United States became the first nation to introduce machine-readable passports. In 2000, the Department of State started to issue passports with digital photographs.
In 2006, the Department of State began to issue biometric passports to diplomats and other officials. Later in 2006, biometric passports were issued to the public. Since August 2007, the department has issued only biometric passports, which include RFID chips. As of 2010, all previous series have expired.
Maroon-covered “official” passports are issued to the citizen-employees of the United States government assigned overseas, either permanently or temporarily, and their eligible dependents. The Maroon-covered passports are also issued to US military personnel when deployed overseas, and to members of Congress who travel abroad on official business.
Black-covered American diplomatic passports are issued to accredited overseas American diplomats and their eligible dependents, and also to citizens who reside in the United States and travel abroad for diplomatic work.
Does the US President carry a passport?
“When travelling overseas, does the US President carry a passport?” is also an oft-asked question.
Yes, the US president needs a passport, but it is not like everyone else’s. The president, his immediate family, certain top officials, and diplomatic personnel are issued diplomatic passports, for which the holder need not pay a passport fee.
When the president travels, a team of people, usually from the State Department, coordinate the paperwork of the trip and hold on to the president’s passport. After the president emerges from Air Force One, waves to the crowd, and gets in his limo, he does not stand in the queue at the host country’s customs. The employees of the US State Department take his passport, and those of the others in his entourage, through the host country’s customs procedures.
One perk of the American presidency is that even when the president is out of office, he gets to keep his diplomatic passport.
Papal visits abroad
The Pope holds Vatican passport number one. I doubt whether his passport is ever checked.
As the head of a state, the Pope travels as a diplomat and diplomats have far less trouble crossing borders than us, the commoners. The Pope also has diplomatic immunity and is given the same courtesy and protection in any country he visits just like any other visiting head of state would receive.
- Passport (en.wikipedia.org)
- Queen and passport (royal.gov.uk)
- Does the President Have a Passport? (slate.com)
- British passport (en.wikipedia.org)
- United States passport (en.wikipedia.org)
- Vatican and Holy See passports (en.wikipedia.org)
- The Travails of Traveling Abroad on a Sri Lankan Passport (tvaraj.com)