British passport

British passport

British passports may be issued to people holding any of the various forms of British nationality.

The British monarch does not have a passport as British passports are issued in the monarch's name [] .


In the United Kingdom, British passports (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) are issued by the Identity and Passport Service. In the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man, British passports are issued by the Lieutenant-Governor.

In British Overseas Territories, British passports are issued by the Governor. In Commonwealth or foreign countries, British passports are issued by the [ Passport Section] of a British Consulate, Embassy, or High Commission.

At present holders of the following forms of British nationality can apply for a British passport:

*British citizens (GBR)
*British Overseas Territories citizens (formerly British Dependent Territories citizens) (GBD)
*British Overseas citizens (GBO)
*British Subjects (GBS)
*British Protected Persons (GBP)
*British Nationals (Overseas) (GBN)

The three-character codes appearing after each type of nationality above are the ISO/IEC 7501-1 machine readable passport alpha-3 country codes of such British passports.

No British national has a legal right to be issued a British passport. All British passports are issued at the discretion of the government under the Royal Prerogative.

The right of abode, i.e., the right to enter and live in the UK freely, is held by all British citizens. It is also held by some British subjects and those other Commonwealth citizens who were patrials under the Immigration Act 1971.


Safe Conduct documents, usually notes signed by the monarch, were issued to foreigners as well as English subjects in medieval times. They were first mentioned in an Act of Parliament in 1414. Between 1540 and 1685, the Privy Council issued passports although they were still signed by the monarch until the reign of Charles II when the Secretary of State could sign them instead. The Secretary of State signed all passports in place of the monarch from 1794 onwards, at which time formal records started to be kept [] .

Passports were written in Latin or English until 1772 when French was used instead. From 1858, English was used, with some sections translated into French until 1921.

In 1858, passports became a standard document issued solely to British nationals. Until 1915, they were a simple single-sheet paper document and included a photograph of the holder.

The British Nationality and Status of Aliens Act 1914 was passed on the outbreak of the First World War. At this time a new format was introduced, a single sheet folded into eight and containing a cardboard cover. It included a description of the holder as well as a photograph, and had to be renewed after two years.

The old blue passport

A 32-page passport, known colloquially as the Old Blue, came into use in 1920 with the formation of the Passport Service following international agreement on a standard format for passports, and remained in use until replaced by the European Union style machine readable passports in late 1988. An interesting aspect of the old blue passport was that the data entered into the passport was handwritten rather than typed or printed.

Two versions were available: one for individuals (but which could also include the person's spouse), and another for families which included children as well.

Various changes to the design were made over the years [] :
*In 1927, the country name changed from "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland" to "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland" (alternatively the name of the colony appeared here)
*In 1954, the name of the Secretary of State was removed [] .
*In 1968, the validity was extended from two to ten years.
*At the end of 1972, several modifications were made. A special blue watermarked paper was introduced to make alteration and forgery harder. The number of pages was reduced from 32 to 30, and descriptions of the holder's eye colour and (for a married woman) maiden name were removed.
*In May 1973, an optional 94-page passport was made available which provided many more pages for immigration stamps and visas for frequent travellers.
*In 1975, lamination over the bearer's photograph was introduced to make alteration harder. Overprinting of the laminate was added in 1981 to make removal easier to spot.
*The holder's occupation and country of residence were removed in 1982.
*In July 1988, changes were made to ease the introduction of the machine readable passports later in the year. Joint and Family passports were no longer issued and the descriptions of distinguishing features and height were removed.

The British visitor's passport

A new type, the British Visitor's Passport, was introduced in 1961, and was a single page cardboard document valid for a year and obtainable from a Post Office. It was recognised by most West European countries, but was dropped in 1995 since it did not identify the holder's nationality nor did it meet new security standards.

The burgundy passport

On 15 August 1988, the Glasgow passport office became the first to issue burgundy-coloured machine-readable passports [] . They followed a common format agreed amongst member states of the European Community, and had the words 'European Community' on the cover. This was changed to 'European Union' in 1997. The passport is burgundy coloured, machine-readable, and has 32 or 48 pages. The machine-readable portion is two lines of printed text in a format agreed amongst members of the International Civil Aviation Organisation.

The current biometric version captures a digital image of the photograph, signature and reproduces these onto the personal details page of the passport. The whole page is protected from modification by a laminate, which incorporates a colour holographic image comprising of native British bird (a design feature found throughout the visa pages of the passport). The hologram is affixed directly over the holder's photograph (tilting the passport page in direct light reveals the image). An RFID chip and antenna are located on the obverse of the data page and hold the same visual information as is printed, including a digital copy of the photograph with biometric information for use with facial recognition systems. In addition, both the Welsh and Scottish Gaelic languages have been included in the British Passport for the first time. These now appear on the titles page and within the multilingual notes section, the latter also provides translations into the official EU languages as required. []

"Lookalike" passports

For the purposes of the European Communities treaties, the nationals of the United Kingdom comprise all British citizens, British Overseas Territories citizens by virtue of a connection with Gibraltar and British subjects with right of abode in the UK (mainly, but not exclusively, those connected with the Republic of Ireland before 1949). These UK nationals have the status of European citizen in common with nationals of other member states of the European Union.

British nationals who are not European citizens are issued what is known as "lookalike passports". These are similar to normal British passports, except that they do not have the words "European Union" on the cover, and do not contain any EU-specific information inside, e.g., the words "Passport - United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland" and the information on the photograph page are given only in English and French, rather than all the official languages of the European Union. However, the contents of new biometric passport are given in other official languages of the European Union rather than English and French only.

Physical appearance

British passports are burgundy, with the coat of arms of the United Kingdom emblazoned in the centre of the front cover. The word PASSPORT is inscribed below the coat of arms, with EUROPEAN UNION (EU passports only) and UNITED KINGDOM OF GREAT BRITAIN AND NORTHERN IRELAND (or BRITISH ISLANDS — BAILIWICK OF JERSEY or BAILIWICK OF GUERNSEY or ISLE OF MAN or GIBRALTAR as appropriate) above. As with other countries, the biometric symbol appears at the bottom of the front cover under the word "passport".

Identity information page

The British Passport includes the following data:

* Photo of passport Holder
* Type (P)
* Code of Issuing State (GBR)
* Passport No.
* Surname (1)
* Given Names (2)
* Nationality (3)
* Date of birth (4)
* Sex (5)
* Place of birth (6)
* Date of issue (7)
* Authority (8)
* Date of expiry (9)
* Holder's Signature (10)

The information page ends with the Machine Readable Zone.

Passport note

Each British passport contains on its inside cover the words in the English language only:

::"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 older passports, more specific reference was made to "Her Britannic Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs," originally including the name of the incumbent.

Passports issued in overseas territories are issued in the name of the Governor, rather than the Secretary of State, in the name of Her Majesty.


Certain British passports are issued with printed endorsements in the Official Observations page. These form part of the passport when it is issued, and should be distinguished from immigration stamps subsequently entered in the visa pages:

*"Holder is not entitled to benefit from European Community provisions relating to employment or establishment"

:British citizens from the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man without a qualifying connection to the United Kingdom by descent or residency have this endorsement in their passports, as the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are only part of the European Community for the purposes of the free movement of goods.

*"Holder of this passport has Hong Kong Permanent Identity Card No: A123456(7) which states that holder has right of abode in Hong Kong *"

:British National (Overseas) passports usually have this endorsement in their passport, as a valid Hong Kong Permanent Identity Card or Hong Kong Identity card (which guarantees right of abode/right to land in Hong Kong) is normally required to possess a BN(O) passport.

*"Holder is entitled to right of abode in the United Kingdom"

:British subjects with the right of abode (usually from the Republic of Ireland) will have this endorsement in their passports. (Commonwealth citizens who have the right of abode and who do not hold a United Kingdom passport are eligible to have a certificate of entitlement to the right of abode placed in the visa pages of whichever country's passport they do hold, upon request.)

*"Holder is entitled to readmission in the United Kingdom"

:British Overseas citizens, British subjects and British protected persons without the right of abode who have been granted indefinite leave to enter or remain retain this entitlement for life, and their passports are accordingly issued with this endorsement.

*"Holder is subject to control under the Immigration Act 1971"

:British nationals without the right of abode will have this endorsements in their passports unless they have been granted indefinite leave to enter or remain. However, even though a British National (Overseas) passport does not entitle the holder the right of abode in the UK, this endorsement is not found in BN(O) passports.

*"In accordance with UK immigration rules the holder of this passport does not require an entry certificate or visa to visit the UK"

:This endorsement is found in British National (Overseas) passports, and accordingly holders of the BN(O) passport have six-month visa free access to the UK as a visitor.

*"The holder is" or "Holder is also known as ..."

:This endorsement is found in passports where the holder uses or retains another professional name or has an academic, feudal or legal title. The styling 'Dr ...', 'Professor ...' or similar is recorded here, or the alternative professional name.

*"The holder's name in Chinese Commercial Code: XXXX XXXX XXXX":This endorsement was found in British passports held by people with Chinese names issued by the Hong Kong Immigration Department before the handover of Hong Kong. After the handover, British passport can only be issued at the British Consulate-General in Hong Kong, and this endorsement is no longer in use. (See also: Chinese commercial code)

National identity registration

Under the Identity Cards Act 2006, probably from 2008, anyone applying for a passport will be required to have their details entered into a centralised computer database, the National Identity Register. Once registered, they will be obliged to update any change to their address and other personal details.

It is expected that the cost of a passport and ID card package will rise to at least £93 to help fund the new scheme.

Everyone applying for a passport from 2010/11 will have to submit to a digital fingerprint scan, with the prints to be stored on a database. [cite web
title=ID card fingerprint errors fear
author=BBC News

In May 2006 a "Renew for Freedom" campaign [] was launched by the NO2ID opposition group, urging passport holders to renew their passports in the summer of 2006 in order to delay being entered on the National Identity Register. This followed the comment made by Charles Clarke in the House of Commons that "anyone who feels strongly enough about the linkage [between passports and the ID scheme] not to want to be issued with an ID card in the initial phase will be free to surrender their existing passport and apply for a new passport before the designation order takes effect" [] .

In response, the Home Office said that it was "hard to see what would be achieved, other than incurring unnecessary expense" by renewing passports early [] .


The cost of obtaining a standard passport over the years has been as follows. It is expected that fees will rise to at least £93 to help fund the National Identity Register and ID cards, as discussed above.

*£72 - 4 October 2007 - due to an increase in the consular premium added by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office []
*£66 - 5 October 2006 - for the introduction of the latest generation passport, anti-fraud measures and interviews for first-time applicants []
*£51 - 1 December 2005 - to reflect the cost of implementing key anti-fraud measures []
*£42 - 2 October 2003 - to pay for new anti-fraud measures []
*£33 - 21 November 2002 []
*£30 - 14 January 2002 []
*£28 - 16 December 1999 - to fund a major overhaul of the Passport Agency following the summer crisis []
*£21 - 26 March 1998 []
*£18 - November 1992

The above fees apply for passports issued in the United Kingdom by the Identity and Passport Service. Passports issued outside the UK by the Passport Section of a British Consulate, Embassy, or High Commission cost £119 (as of April 2007) [] .

Extra pages

Unlike US Passports, pages cannot be added into British passports. If a passport is full, the bearer must apply for a new passport to use it.

However, unlike expired passports, passports without blank pages that have not been cancelled are still valid ID, and therefore can be used as such in the UK and for travel in the EU.


According to The Guardian, the information contained on a biometric passport can be viewed using readily available hardware and software. Information is stored in encrypted form on an RFID tag, with the password as a combination of information written on the passport, so that anyone with access to the passport will be able to read the chip. The passport is also vulnerable to brute-force attacks. And because it is possible to read the RFID tags remotely at a distance of several centimetres, it is not necessary to be in possession of the passport to extract the data. [cite web
title=Cracked it!
author=The Guardian

As a result, the cloning of the passport is a possibility. Because the biometric passport is supposedly highly secure and therefore trusted, it is thought that the holder of a cloned passport might be more likely to escape detection than the holder of a traditional passport.

Visa-free entry

According to a study done by Henley & Partners, the UK has a Henley Visa Restrictions Index of 128, which means that British citizens enjoy visa-free access to 128 countries and territories for short-term tourism visits. The UK is ranked joint 6th with France, in the study in terms of international travel freedom. However this survey did not address British National (Overseas) and other British passports. []

It is estimated that 189 countries and territories granted visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to British Citizen passport holders while 171 to BN(O)s. 154 countries and territories granted visa free access to British Citizen passport holders and 137 to BN(O)s.(visa on arrival for free counted) [] Visa issued prior to arrival or pre-arrangement required for countries or territories not mentioned below. However, from the links below, immigration authorities of many countries do not explicitly state whether BN(O)s passport holders enjoy visa-free access as British citizens do.

Where visa-free access is permitted, such access is not necessarily a right, and admission may technically be at the discretion of border enforcement officers. Visitors engaging in activities other than tourism, including unpaid work, may require a visa or work permit.




Visa policy of the United States for UK passport holders

The United States confers the following reciprocity arrangement for British passport holders in issuance of US visas [] :
* British Citizen: UK reciprocity and Visa Waiver Program (VWP)
* Other British nationals who have indefinite leave to remain or right of abode in the UK: UK reciprocity but not VWP
* Other British nationals who do not have indefinite leave to remain or right of abode in the UK: reciprocity schedule of country of birth
* British National (Overseas): Hong Kong reciprocity

ee also

* Identity document
* European passport
* Gibraltar passport

External links

* [ Official site] (UK Passport Service)

News stories

* 4 April 2006, "The Register", [ Passport rule change anticipates ID refusenik sabotage efforts]
* 24 May 2006, "BBC", [ Lib Dems back the "Renew for Freedom" campaign]
* 8 February 2006 UKPA [ Welsh and Scots Gaelic to be included on UK passports for the first time]


* [ Early history of passports] , UK Passport Agency
* [ History of passports (1915 and 1920)] , UK Passport Agency
* [ History of Burgundy machine-readable passports] , UK Passport Agency
* [ Visa Free Access for BN(O) Passport Holders] , British Consulate General Hong Kong
* [ IATA Visa Information from Continential Airlines]
* [ Visa on Demand, Hong Kong Trade Development Council]
* [ A visa-free access survey by Henley & Partners]
* [ Reciprocity Schedule (United Kingdom), United States]
* [ Reciprocity Schedule (Hong Kong), United States]

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