United States passport

United States passport

United States passports are issued exclusively by the U.S. Department of State. [22 U.S.C. sec. 211a; [http://travel.state.gov/passport/passport_1738.html Passports] .] These passports, which are booklets, are valid for travel by Americans anywhere in the world. United States passports conform with recommended standards (i.e. size, composition, layout, technology) of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

The Department of State also issues passport cards, which are valid for travel by Americans via land and sea (not air) between the United States and Canada, between the United States and Mexico, between the United States and Bermuda, and between the United States and Caribbean destinations: [http://www.travel.state.gov/passport/ppt_card/ppt_card_3926.html.] Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Bahamas, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Jamaica (except for business travel), Montserrat, Netherlands Antilles, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Turks and Caicos. [http://travel.state.gov/travel/cbpmc/cbpmc_3256.html.] Passport cards are not passports, because passport cards do not meet ICAO recommended standards for passport booklets. [72 Fed. Reg. 74,169, 74,172 (2007) ("Global Interoperability of the Passport Card").]

Whichever the country of issuance, a passport proves the identity and nationality of the bearer. A passport is connected with the right of a national of the country which issued the passport to consular assistance from the issuing country while the national is abroad, and with the right of the national to enter the country of which is a national. However, the right to assistance does not arise from a passport, nor does the right to enter. Each of the rights arises from nationality.

It follows that a United States passport proves the United States nationality of the bearer, and, consequently, his right to assistance from United States consular officials overseas or his right to return to the United States, as the case may be. If a citizen does not have a passport (e.g., because it was stolen), and he can prove his United States nationality by another means (e.g., by providing information about himself), he will be entitled to consular assistance as a citizen or to enter the United States as a citizen, lack of a passport notwithstanding.


American consular officials issued passports to some citizens of some of the thirteen states during the War for Independence (1775-1783). Passports were sheets of paper printed on one side, included a description of the bearer, and were valid for three to six months. The minister to France, Benjamin Franklin, based the design of passports issued by his mission on that of the French passport. [Lloyd, Martin, The Passport: The History of Man's Most Travelled Document (Stroud, U.K.: Sutton Publishing, 1976) (ISBN 0750929642), pp. 71-72.]

The Department of Foreign Affairs of the war period also issued passports, and the department, carried over by the Articles of Confederation government (1783-1789), continued to issue passports. In July, 1789, the Department of Foreign Affairs was carried over by the government established under the Constitution. In September of that year, the name of the department was changed to Department of State. The department handled foreign relations and issued passports, and, until the mid-nineteenth century, had various domestic duties.

For decades thereafter, passports were issued not only by the Department of State but also by states and cities, and by notaries public. Passports issued by American authorities other than the Department of State breached propriety and caused confusion abroad. Some European countries refused to recognize passports not issued by the Department of State, unless United States consular officials endorsed them. The problems led the Congress in 1856 to give to the Department of State sole authority to issue passports. [Lloyd, pp. 80-81.]

From 1776 to 1783, no state government had a passport requirement. The Articles of Confederation government did not have a passport requirement. From 1789 through late 1941, the government established under the Constitution required passports of citizens only during the American Civil War (1861-1865) and during United States involvement in World War I and for some time thereafter (August 8, 1918-March 3, 1921). [Act of May 22, 1918, 40 Stat. 559; Proc. No. 1473 (Aug. 8, 1918), 40 Stat. 1829; Act of March 3, 1921, 41 Stat. 1359.] The contemporary period of required passports for Americans, under United States law, began on November 29, 1941.

In Europe, general peace between the end of the Napoleonic Wars (1815) and the beginning of World War I (1914), and development of railroads, gave rise to international travel by large numbers of people. Passports were not usually required; there were limited wars which caused some exceptions. Repressive countries such as Czarist Russia and the Ottoman Empire maintained passport requirements. During World War I (1914-1918), European countries had passport requirements. After that war, many European countries retained their passport requirements. Foreign passport requirements undercut the absence of a passport requirement for Americans, under United States law, between 1921 and 1941. World War II (1939-1945) led to worldwide passport requirements, which were not abolished when that war ended.

Even when passports were not usually required, U.S. passports were requested by Americans. Records of the Department of State show that 130,360 passports were issued between 1810 and 1873, and that 369,844 passports were issued between 1877 and 1909. Some of those passports were family passports or group passports. A passport application could cover, variously, a wife, a child or children, one or more servants, or a female traveling under the protection of a man. The passport would be issued to the man. Similarly, a passport application could cover a child traveling with its mother. The passport would be issued to the mother. The number of Americans who traveled without passports is unknown. [ [http://www.archives.gov/genealogy/passport/. Passport Applications ] ]

The League of Nations held a conference in 1920 concerning passports and through-train travel, and conferences in 1926 and 1927 concerning passports. The 1920 conference put forward guidelines on the layout and features of passports, which the 1926 and 1927 conferences followed up. Those guidelines were steps in the shaping of contemporary passports. One of the guidelines was about 32-page passport booklets, such as the U.S. type III mentioned in this section, below. Another guideline was about languages in passports. See Languages, below.

A conference on travel and tourism held by the United Nations in 1963 did not result in standardised passports. Passport standardization was accomplished in 1980 under the auspices of the International Civil Aviation Organization.

The design and contents of U.S. passports changed over the years. [United States Department of State, Passport Office, The United States Passport: Past, Present, Future (Washington, D.C.: United States Department of State, Passport Office, 1976), passim.] For example, in 1926, the Department of State introduced the type III passport. This had a stiff red cover, with a window cutout through which the passport number was visible. That style of passport contained 32 pages. [Lloyd, p. 130.] Illustration: cover -- above right.

Passports had green covers from 1941 until 1976, when the cover was changed to blue, as part of the U.S. bicentennial celebration. Illustration: cover -- above right. Green covers 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 country to introduce machine-readable passports. [Lloyd, p. 155.] In 2001, the Department of State started to issue passports with digital photos.

In fiscal year 2007, the Department of State issued 18,382,798 passports. [cite web|title=Passport Statistics|publisher=U.S. Department of State|accessdate=2008-01-14|url=http://travel.state.gov/passport/services/stats/stats_890.html]

In 2006, the Department of State began to issue biometric passports to diplomats and other officials. [cite press release|title=Department of State Begins Issuance of an Electronic Passport|publisher=U.S. Department of State|date=2006-02-17|accessdate=2008-01-14|url=http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2006/61538.htm] Later in 2006, biometric passports were issued to the public. [cite press release|title=Department of State Begins Issuing Electronic Passports to the Public|publisher=U.S. Department of State|date=2006-08-14|accessdate=2008-01-14|url=http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2006/70433.htm] Illustration: cover -- above right. Since August 2007, the department has issued only biometric passports. An issued non-biometric will remain valid until its stated date of expiration.cite web|title=The U.S. Electronic Passport|publisher=U.S. Department of State|accessdate=2008-01-14|url=http://travel.state.gov/passport/eppt/eppt_2498.html]


Within the Department of State, responsibility for passport issuance lies with Passport Services, a unit of the Bureau of Consular Affairs.

Passport Services has thirteen regional passport agencies and one Gateway City Agency in the United States, at which passport applications may be filed by citizens who intend to travel within two weeks of the application date, or who need to obtain visas before travelling. There are about 9,000 passport acceptance facilities in the United States, designated by Passport Services, at which routine passport applications may be filed. These facilities include United States courts, state courts, post offices, public libraries, county offices, and city offices. [cite web|title=Passports|publisher=U.S. Department of State|accessdate=2008-01-14|url=http://travel.state.gov/passport/passport_1738.html]

An application for a United States passport made abroad is forwarded by a U.S. embassy or consulate to Passport Services for processing in the United States. The resulting passport is sent to the embassy or consulate for issuance to the applicant. An emergency passport is issuable by the embassy or consulate.

Citizens and non-citizen nationals

United States passports are issuable only to citizens and non-citizen nationals of the United States. [22 U.S.C. sec. 212.]

"All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States . . .." [U.S. Const. amend. XIV, sec. 1.] Under this provision, "United States" means the 50 states and the District of Columbia, and, so, excludes a U.S. territory or possession. [Valmonte v. Immigration and Naturalization Service, 136 F.3d 914, 918 (2nd Cir. 1998).]

By acts of Congress, persons born in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands are United States citizens by birth. [8 U.S.C. secs. 1402 (Puerto Rico), 1406 (Virgin Islands), and 1407 (Guam); 48 U.S.C. sec. 1801, US-NMI Covenant sec. 303 (Northern Mariana Islands).] Other acts of Congress provide for acquisition of citizenship by persons born abroad. [cite web|title=Citizenship and Nationality|publisher=U.S. Department Of State|url=http://travel.state.gov/law/citizenship/citizenship_782.html|accessdate=2008-01-14]

Every citizen is a national of the United States. Not every national is a citizen. There is a small class of American Samoans, born in American Samoa, including Swains Island, who are nationals but not citizens of the United States. [8 U.S.C. sec. 1408.] See Passport message, below.

United States law permits dual nationality. [Perkins v. Elg, 307 U.S. 325 (1939).] Consequently, having and using a foreign passport are permissible. When, however, a U.S. citizen uses a passport to leave or enter the United States, he is required to use a U.S. passport. [8 U.S.C. sec. 1185(b).] This requirement extends to a U.S. citizen who is a dual national. [http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1753.html.]

Types of passports

;Regular (blue cover): Issuable to all citizens and non-citizen nationals. Periods of validity: for those age 16 or over, generally ten years from the date of issue; for those 15 and younger, generally five years from the date of issue. [22 C.F.R. secs. 51.3(a), 51.4(b)(1), 51.4(b)(2), 51.4(e).] Illustration: cover -- above right. A sub-type of regular passports is no-fee passports, issuable to citizens in specified categories for specified purposes. Examples: A U.S. government employee, for travel on official business; an American seaman, for travel connected with his duties aboard a U.S.-flag vessel. Period of validity: generally 5 years from the date of issue. [22 C.F.R. secs. 51.4(b)(3), 51.52, 51.4(e).] A no-fee passport has an endorsement which prohibits its use for a purpose other than the specified purpose. ;Official (maroon cover): Issuable to citizen-employees of the United States assigned overseas, either permanently or temporarily, and their eligible dependants, and to members of Congress who travel abroad on official business. Period of validity: generally five years from the date of issue. [22 C.F.R. secs. 51.3(b), 51.4(c), 51.4(e).] Illustration: cover -- right.;Diplomatic (black cover): Issuable to American diplomats accredited overseas and their eligible dependants, and to citizens who reside in the United States and travel abroad for diplomatic work. Period of validity: generally five years from the date of issue. [22 C.F.R. secs. 51.3(c), 51.4(d), 51.4(e).] ;Emergency: Issuable to citizens overseas, in urgent circumstances. Period of validity: generally one year from the date of issue. [7 FAM sec. 1311(i); 22 C.F.R. sec. 51.4(e).] An emergency passport may be exchanged for a full-term passport. [http://singapore.usembassy.gov/replace_an_emergency_passport.html.]

Passport in lieu of certificate of non-citizenship nationality

The Department of State does not get many requests for certificates of non-citizenship nationality, which are issuable by the department. Production of a limited number of certificates would be costly, and, if produced, certificates would have to meet security standards. Accordingly, the Department of State chose not to issue certificates of non-citizen nationality. Instead, the department issues passports to non-citizen nationals. An issued passport certifies the status of a non-citizen national. [cite web|title=CERTIFICATES OF NON-CITIZEN NATIONALITY|publisher=U.S. Department Of State|url=http://travel.state.gov/law/citizenship/citizenship_781.html|accessdate=2008-01-14] The certification is in the form of an endorsement in the passport: "The bearer of this passport is a United States national and not a United States citizen."

econd passport

More than one valid United States passport of the same type may not be held, except if authorized by the Department of State. [22 C.F.R. sec. 51.2(b).]

It is routine for the Department of State to authorize a holder of a regular passport to hold, in addition, a diplomatic passport or an official passport or a no-fee passport.

One circumstance which may call for issuance of a second passport of a particular type is a prolonged visa-processing delay. Another is safety or security, such as travel between Israel and a country which refuses to grant entry to a person with a passport which indicates travel to Israel. The period of validity of a second passport issued under either circumstance is generally two years from the date of issue. [http://bern.usembassy.gov/second_passport.html; 22 C.F.R. sec. 51.4(e).]


On the front cover, a representation of the Great Seal of the United States is at the center. "PASSPORT" (in all capital letters) appears above the representation of the Great Seal, and "United States of America" (in script) appears below.

An official passport has "OFFICIAL" (in all capital letters) above "PASSPORT". The capital letters of "OFFICIAL" are somewhat smaller than the capital letters of "PASSPORT".

A diplomatic passport has "DIPLOMATIC" (in all capital letters) above "PASSPORT". The capital letters of "DIPLOMATIC" are somewhat smaller than the capital letters of "PASSPORT".

A biometric passport has the e-passport symbol at the bottom.

Illustrations: covers -- above right and top of page right; cover and selected pages -- [cite web|title=Design of the New U.S. e-Passport|publisher=U.S. Department of State|accessdate=2008-01-14|url=http://travel.state.gov/passport/eppt/epptnew_2807.html] .

There are 32 pages in a biometric passport. Forty-eight-page passports for frequent travellers (e.g., businessmen) are no longer issued. However, extra visa pages may be added to a passport. [cite web|title=How to Add Extra Pages to Your U.S. Passport|publisher=U.S. Department of State|accessdate=2008-01-14|url=http://travel.state.gov/passport/fri/add/add_850.html]

Data page and signature page

Each passport has a data page and a signature page. Illustration: data page and signature page -- right.

A data page has a visual zone and a machine-readable zone. The visual zone has a digitized photograph of the passport holder, data about the passport, and data about the passport holder:

* Photograph
* Type [of document, which is "P" for "passport"]
* Code [of the issuing country, which is "USA" for "United States of America"]
* Passport No.
* Surname
* Given Name(s)
* Nationality [which is "United States of America"]
* Date of Birth
* Place of Birth
* Sex
* Date of Issue
* Date of Expiration
* Authority
* Endorsements

At the bottom of a data page is the machine-readable zone, which can be read both visually and by an optical scanner. The machine-readable zone consists of two lines. There are no blank spaces in either line. A space which does not contain a letter or a number is filled with "<".

The first line of a machine-readable zone of a passport contains a letter to denote the type of travel document ("P" for passport), the code for the citizenship of the passport holder (e.g., "USA" for "United States of America"), and the name (surname first, then given name or names) of the passport holder.

The second line of a machine-readable zone of a passport contains the passport number, supplemented by a check digit; the code of the issuing country (e.g., "USA" for "United States of America"); the date of birth of the passport holder, supplemented by a check digit; a notation of the sex of the passport holder ("M" or "F"); the date of expiration of the passport, supplemented by a check digit; and, at the end of the line, two overall check digits.

A signature page has a line for the signature of a passport holder. A passport is not valid until it is signed by the passport holder. If a holder is unable to sign his passport, it is to be signed by a person who has legal authority to sign on the holder's behalf. [22 C.F.R. sec. 51.4(a).]

Place of birth

The standards for the names of places of birth that appear in passports are listed in volume 7 of the Foreign Affairs Manual, published by the Department of State. [http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/94675.pdf 7 FAM 1300 Appendix D] as of April 29, 2008, including 7 FAM 1310 Appendix D through 7 FAM 1390 Appendix D.] [http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/86780.pdf 7 FAM 1380] as of October 15, 1987, including 7 FAM 1381 through 7 FAM 1383.] Place of birth was first added to U.S. passports in 1917. A request to list no place of birth in a passport is never accepted. [7 FAM 1310 Appendix D as of 2008.] A citizen born outside the United States may be able to have his city or town of birth entered in his passport, if he or she objects to the standard country name. However, if a foreign country denies a visa or entry due to the place-of-birth designation, the Department of State will issue a replacement passport at normal fees, and will not facilitate entry into the foreign country. [7 FAM 1380 Appendix D as of 2008 and 7 FAM 1383.6 as of 1987.]

Passport photographs

Standards for passport photographs are listed among the FAQs of the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs website. [http://travel.state.gov/visa/guide/guide_3888.html] as of September 18, 2008.] The standards are:
* 2" x 2"
* Front view, full face, open eyes, closed mouth, and natural expression
* Full head from top of hair to shoulders
* Plain white or off-white background
* No shadows on face or in background
* No sunglasses; no hat
* Normal contrast and lighting

Passport message

Passports of many countries contain a message, nominally from the official who is in charge of passport issuance (e.g., secretary of state, minister of foreign affairs), addressed to authorities of other countries. The message identifies the bearer as a citizen of the issuing country, requests that he or she be allowed to enter and pass through the other country, and requests further that, when necessary, he or she be given help consistent with international norms. In United States passports, the message is in English, French and Spanish. The message is:

In English:::"The Secretary of State of the United States of America hereby requests all whom it may concern to permit the citizen/national of the United States named herein to pass without delay or hindrance and in case of need to give all lawful aid and protection."

in French:::"Le Secrétaire d'Etat des Etats-Unis d'Amérique prie par les présentes toutes autorités compétentes de laisser passer le citoyen ou ressortissant des Etats-Unis titulaire du présent passeport, sans délai ni difficulté et, en cas de besoin, de lui accorder toute aide et protection légitimes."

and in Spanish:::"El Secretario de Estado de los Estados Unidos de América por el presente solicita a las autoridades competentes permitir el paso del ciudadano o nacional de los Estados Unidos aquí nombrados, sin demora ni dificultades, y en caso de necesidad, prestarle toda la ayuda y protección lícitas."

The term "citizen/national" and its equivalent terms ("citoyen ou ressortissant"; "ciudadano o nacional") are in the message, because some people born in American Samoa, including Swains Island, are nationals but not citizens of the United States.


At a League of Nations conference in 1920 about passports and through-train travel, a recommendation was that passports be written in French (historically, the language of diplomacy) and one other language.

English, the de-facto national language of the United States, has always been used in U.S. passports. At some point subsequent to 1920, English and French were used in passports. Spanish was added during the second Clinton administration, in recognition of Spanish-speaking Puerto Rico. The addition indirectly recognizes Spanish-speaking U.S. citizens whose origins are Spanish-speaking countries.Fact|date=May 2008

The field names on the data page, the passport message, the warning on the second page that the bearer is responsible for obtaining visas, and the designations of the amendments-and-endorsements pages, are printed in English, French and Spanish.

Biometric passport

Biometric passports contain RFID (radio-frequency identification) chips. The purpose of chips is storage of biometric and other data, which are retrievable. (Biometric passports are sometimes referred to as electronic passports, because chips are electronic.)

The legal driving force of biometric passports is the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002, which states that smart-card IDs may be used in lieu of visas. That law also provides that foreigners who travel to the U.S., and want to enter the U.S. visa-free under the Visa Waiver Program, must bear machine-readable passports which comply with international standards. If a foreign passport was issued on or after October 26, 2006, that passport must be a biometric passport.

The chip of a U.S. passport stores an image of the photograph of the passport holder, passport data, and personal data of the passport holder; and has capacity to store additional data. The capacity of an RFID chip is 64 kilobytes, which is large enough to store, in addition to an image of a photograph, passport data and personal data, biometric identifiers such as fingerprints and retina scans.

Data in a passport chip are scannable by readers, a capability which is intended to speed up immigration processing. A passport does not have to be plugged into a reader in order for data therein to be read. Like toll-road chips, data in passport chips can be read when passport chips are proximate to readers. The passport cover contains a radio-frequency shield, so the cover must be opened for the data to be read.

According to the Department of State, the Basic Access Control (BAC) security protocol prevents access to those data unless the printed information within the passport is also known or can be guessed. [cite web|title=The U.S. Electronic Passport Frequently Asked Questions|publisher=U.S. Department of State|accessdate=2008-01-15|url=http://travel.state.gov/passport/eppt/eppt_2788.html]

According to privacy advocates, the BAC and the shielded cover are ineffective when a passport is open, and that a passport may have to be opened for inspection in a public place such as a hotel, a bank, or an Internet cafe. An open passport is subject to illicit reading of chip data, such as by a government agent who is tracking a passport holder's movements or by a criminal who is intending identity theft. [http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2006/09/renew_your_pass.html.]

Visa-free entry or visa on arrival

According to the list below, 187 countries and territories allow visa-free entries by or issue visas on arrival to holders of regular U.S. passports.

If neither visa-free entry nor a visa on arrival is permitted, a visa prior to travel is required. [cite web|title=Passport, Visa & Health Requirements|publisher=Northwest Airlines|url=http://www.nwa.com/services/timatic.html|accessdate=2008-01-15]

For travel on a diplomatic passport or on an official passport issued by a foreign country, a visa prior to travel will likely be required by a destination country, even if the destination country allows visa-free entries by or issues visas on arrival to holders of regular passports issued by the same foreign country.




ee also

* Government Printing Office
* Nansen passport
* Passport



* [http://travel.state.gov/passport/guide/guide_2081.html "Guidelines for Producing High Quality Photographs for U.S. Travel Documents"] U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs.
*International Civil Aviation Organization, Machine Readable Travel Documents. http://mrtd.icao.int.
*Krueger, Stephen, Krueger on United States Passport Law (Hong Kong: Crossbow Corporation, 1999 and supplements) (2nd ed.).
*United States Department of State, Passport Office, The United States Passport: Past, Present, Future (Washington, D.C.: United States Department of State, Passport Office, 1976).
* [http://travel.state.gov/passport/passport_1738.html United States passport information (U.S. Department of State)] .
*United States Department of State, Foreign Affairs Manual, [http://www.state.gov/m/a/dir/regs/fam/c22164.htm 7 FAM 1300 Passport Services] .
*22 C.F.R. Part 51.
*8 U.S.C. secs. 1185, 1504.
*18 U.S.C. secs. 1541-1547.
*22 U.S.C. secs. 211a-218, 2705, 2721.
*U.S. Sentencing Guidelines secs. 2L2.1, 2L2.2.

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