Interesting Facts About International Passports

1. The first passport was in the Bible

Image result for bible picture
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The earliest reference to a travel document is in the Book of Nehemiah, when a Persian official was issued a letter from King Artaxerxes I of Persia requesting “the governors beyond the river” to grant him a safe passage on his travels through Judea. A similar message requesting the passport holder to be allowed to pass freely and be given assistance in a time of need is seen in most passports today except in the passports for Switzerland, Finland and Austria.

2. The first proper passport was issued in England

Photo credit: ALAMY
The passport as a form of identification was introduced by King Henry V in the 15th century, who granted passports to his subjects to help them prove their identity when travelling outside of the country. UK passports continue to be issued in the name of Her Majesty the Queen.

3. Germans have the most powerful passport

German citizens possess the world's most powerful passport, according to new research last month, with Britain slipping from joint third to joint eighth place. The ranking by Henley & Partners, a citizenship and planning firm, takes into account how many countries can be visited without applying for a visa. German passport holders can travel to 176 out of a possible 218, while Britons can visit 173.

The UK topped the 2015 rankings, alongside Germany, but ceded that spot after several countries relaxed visa restrictions to the latter. It was leapfrogged by Sweden last year and now lags behind Denmark, Finland, Italy, Spain and the US too.

4. Syrians have the least powerful passport

Syria, along with Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan, has
visa-free access to fewer than 30 countries.

5. The Israeli passport is not accepted in 16 countries

The inside pages of an Israeli passport (ALAMY)
Syria, Sudan, Iran, Iraq, Yemen and Libya all forbid Israeli passport holders from entering their countries, along with 10 other nations: Algeria, Bangladesh, Brunei, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia, Oman, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Furthermore, eight of those counties – Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen and Libya – do not accept passports that contain Israeli visas. Libya also enforces a separate ban on Iranian, Syrian and Palestinian visitors. 

Israelis are banned by their own government from travelling to Somalia, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Lebanon, Libya, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Israel also imposes travel restrictions on Palestinians in the Jewish state.

6. Armenian passport holders are banned from Azerbaijan

The Dadivank monastery in the Nagorno-Karabakh region (ALAMY)
Due to ongoing conflict between the two countries over the Nagorno-Karabakh region and its surrounding districts. However, Azerbaijani passport holders are allowed visa-free entry to Armenia.

7. Some Passports are red for a reason

Photo credit: ALAMY
The shade of each national passport is derived from just four main colours: red, green, blue or black, according to Hrant Boghossian, the vice president of Arton Group, which runs the interactive passport database Passport Index. The passport books for countries within the European Union (EU) tend to be burgundy, while those from Caricom (Caribbean Community and Common Market) states use blue, which could be for geographical or political reasons.

"Some could argue that the burgundy red is due to a past communist history," said Mr Boghossian, and that blue passports may be symbolic of the New World for countries in North America, South America and Oceania.

"The passport of Turkey has changed to burgundy as it hopes to join the EU," he also claimed.

8. Most Muslim-majority countries use green passports

Passport Index
For others, the chosen passport colour may be religiously significant, such as in Muslim countries including Morocco, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, where their passports are different shades of green.

"Most Muslim states use green passports because of the importance of the colour in their religion," Mr Boghossian said.
9. Some have unique bright colours

Some countries choose a certain colour to
distinguish itself and reflect their unique identity, such as Switzerland, whose passport is bright red. Singapore’s bears a bright orange/reddish cover, while Canada’s temporary passport book for travellers in need of emergency travel documents has a white cover.

10. Passports are not stamped when you enter the Vatican City

Despite being the world’s smallest country, visitors won’t be able to officially document their visit with a passport stamp, not even for a fee, which some other small states, such as Andorra, offer.

11. Photographs were once not required

Photo credit: ALAMY

A photograph and a physical description became a compulsory component of British passports around the start of the First World War under the British Nationality and Status of Aliens Act of 1914 after Carl Hans Lody - a German spy - entered Britain using a fake US passport.

12. Amendments were once made by hand

Edward Hands/Wikimedia Commons
Britain's blue booklet-style passport was introduced by 1920 and it contained handwritten descriptions including the holder’s profession, place and date of birth, country of residence, height, eye and hair colour and signature. Any changes to these details were struck out, rewritten and accompanied by a stamped note to confirm the changes.

13. Joint family photos were allowed

A passport photo of Italian American anarchist Nicola Sacco and his family (ALAMY)
Contrary to today’s precise requirements, the rules around passport photographs in the early years were rather lax. “They [the authorities] made no rules on how to pose for a picture. They [people] were simply asked to send one in. So they did,” Martin Lloyd, author of The Passport: The History of Man’s Most Travelled Document, told the BBC.

British families with children under 16 were able to submit a single photograph of an entire family, so long as the face of each member was clearly visible.

14. Smiles were also once allowed

Photo credit: Reuters
Before they were banned in 2004, along with long fringes and head coverings, under new regulations put in place to help facilitate facial recognition technology.

Last year,
one traveller in France filed a complaint after French authorities rejected his passport photo despite the fact that he was wearing only the slightest hint of a smile, insisting that it was perfectly possible to "smile with one's mouth shut while keeping a neutral expression". The case did not hold up in French courts.

15. The Queen doesn’t have a passport

As all UK passports are issued under her name, the Queen doesn’t require a passport for travelling abroad, but the rest of the Royal Family does.

16. Presidents get a special passport

Photo credit: ALAMY
Presidents and their immediate family members, as well as other selected government officials, are among the lucky lot to be issued diplomatic passports, which come with a host of perks including visa-free entry to many countries, travel upgrades and general VIP treatment at most airports. In some countries, such as the US, presidents are issued diplomatic passports for life, valid even after they've stepped down from their position.

17. The world's rarest passport

The Sovereign Military Order of Malta, founded as the Knights Hospitaller in 1099, is the world's oldest surviving chivalric order (the picture above shows members meeting the Pope).

Just three of its members are entitled to one of its passports at any one time: The Grand Master (currently vacant), The Grand Commander (currently Ludwig Hoffmann von Rumerstein, an Austrian), and The Grand Chancellor (currently Freiherr Albrecht von Boeselager, a German).

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