A passport by definition is a travel / identity / nationality identifying document issued by a national government, but when it originated, this document wasn’t just about travel.

The first mention of a passport appears in the Hebrew Bible, around 450 BC, during the Persian Empire. An official serving a King of Persia wanting to travel to Judea so he asked the king who granted his travel request documented it with a letter requesting safe passage as he traveled through their lands “to the governors beyond the river”.

There was a different form of passport in the medieval Islamic Caliphate. With the Caliphate form of governance, the passport was referred to as a bara’a, a receipt of taxes paid. Those who had paid their taxes were allowed to travel to the different regions, making this receipt basically a ‘travelers basic passport’. It is believed the origin of the name ‘passport’ didn’t refer to sea ports, but rather from a medieval document to grant access to wall gates, or ‘portes’ meaning ‘doors’.

King Henry V and His Link to the Passport

King Henry the V of England is credited for creating what’s considered the true passport, not withstanding the other historical references. It was thanks to the rapid expansion of rail travel in Europe that in the mid 19th century that a new kind of passport was required. The numbers of travelers and the speed in which they were able to cross borders made it impossible to enforce. These passports also included a description of the person. Instead, they relaxed the requirement in Europe until World War I where border passport requirements were introduced for security reasons and presumably to keep out spies.

This system was kept in place after the war, and carried on until the 1920’s where there was a conference by the League of Nations that lead to passport guidelines. Further changes to the passport occurred after travel conference in the 1960’s took place when the United Nations where they met to discuss standardization. This standardization didn’t take place until 1980 under the auspices of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a division of the United Nations devoted to international air transport.


There are several types of passports. While there is a rough standardization globally, but varied by country are the types and number of pages. Some typical full passports are:

Ordinary or tourist passport:
Issued to citizens and is generally the most-used passport. Sometimes a passport will cover many members of a family that can render this a family passport.

Official passport:
This service passport is issued to government employees to facilitate work-related travel and covers their accompanying dependents.

Diplomatic passport:
Diplomats carry this passport for work-related travel and accompanying dependents

Emergency passport:
For those that have a lost or stolen passport who didn’t have time to obtain replacement passport.

Collective passport:
Defined groups who travel together to a destination like groups of school children to a specified country.

Traveling without a passport these days is impossible and changed for North Americans after the tragic events on 9/11 requiring passports to travel in and out of the United States. Do you have a passport? Prior to that time, it was thought that fewer than 20% of Americans owned a passport.

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