Tales of History #04: History of Passport- Your Best Friend on a Foreign Soil…!

by Travelature Team

What is the first thing you got to remind yourself to be around you while planning to visit a foreign land? 


Yes, it can be your better half. It can be your favourite teddy. It can also be your ‘passport’. 

A passport is your identity for the country you represent and an entry allowance for a country you are willing to visit. Under various circumstances, your passport can be detained if your country is not on friendly grounds with the visiting nation. In other scenarios, your passport can have additional weightage because of being preferred by the nation that you are planning to visit.

A passport might sound to be the harbingers of your freedom ‘to travel’ but are also the surveillance put on you by nations. During a conflict between two countries, these passports are used to classify those for restricted access between the two countries. It is although a security solution for the greater good but also a ‘restricted tag’ in the shorter period.

The oldest British passport is known to exist today, issued in 1636. Image via Bonhams

No wonder why the passport is such an important entity in 2021 when the world is not a stranger to its inhabitants!

Now Visa and Passports go hand in hand, although one is related to currency and the other is related to nationality. Let us know (by writing to us through our mail) if you want us to cover the importance and significance of ‘visa’ and ‘MasterCard’ while travelling.

Have you ever wondered how does this entire concept of having a passport came on the line?

1. Ancient age: Before Christ (BC)

Zhang Qian leaving emperor Han Wudi around 130 BCE, for his expedition to Central Asia. Image via Wiki Commons

The traces of primitive concepts of the passport can also be found in Chinese bureaucracy in the early years of Western Han (202 BCE-220 CE) and in Islamic cultures. King Henry V of England had christened this idea of passports as a form of identification for his subjects in foreign lands.

2. Ancient age: After Christ(AC)

Ancient Passport like letter in The Book of Nehemia, The Bible

You will be surprised to know that the concept of ‘passport’ lies in religious texts like in the Hebrew Bible, when King Artaxerxes I of Persia, asked for permission to travel to Judah. His leave was granted leave in the form of a letter “to the governours beyond the river” requesting safe passage (and permission) for him to travel through their lands.

3. Medieval age

Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

In the Arthashastra by Indian visionary, Chanakya, Chapter 34 (of the Second Book of ‘Arthashastra’), throws light on the duties of the Mudrādhyakṣa (lit. ‘Superintendent of Seals’) who were in charge of issuing sealed passes for a person to enter or leave the countryside.

The Islamic Caliphate in the medieval age would issue ‘bara’s’ for citizens paying taxes. This document was mandatory to visit various places and was frequently checked in various checkpoints. We need to understand that the modernised concept of a ‘passport’ was not one single idea. It is an end result of various predecessors existing before the concept was universalised.

4. Pre-modern era: Early 19s

A U.S. passport was issued in the summer of 1927. David Owen

Although, the world war was the catalyst for the commercialisation of ‘Passports’. After world war-I, European nations began to put the concepts of passports to control migrations of people. In 1920 the League of Nations held a conference on passports known as the Paris Conference on Passports & Customs Formalities and Through Tickets. It took almost 60 years for passports to get standardisation in 1980 under the auspices of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). ICAO standards include those for machine-readable passports.

This article is also dedicated to Raoul Wallenberg, a world war 2 Hero. A diplomat and businessman, Wallenberg was appointed legation secretary of the Swedish diplomatic mission in Budapest in June 1944. His job was to launch a rescue operation for Jews, and he became head of a special department. By issuing protective Swedish passports and renting buildings – ‘Swedish houses’ where Jews could seek shelter – he saved tens of thousands of lives.

The link is down below to read the entire blog on this Global hero.

Passport: A reflection of our personal identity

Passport is a collection of our identity which are essential while travelling to the other side of a national boundary. It contains the most important information which is our nationality hence Government of India is very specific when it comes to issuing passports.

We, at Travelature, always wish that our readers have the best ride to various lands on this earth hence do not forget the importance of your passports. It is not just a pass for travelling to a different nation, it is a proof of responsibility by your nation and government towards you.

Types of passports:

We do not mean to confuse you but passports can be of various types such as:

Diplomatic passport – Diplomatic passports in India are issued to people with diplomatic status or who are travelling abroad on official duty for the Government of India. 

Family passport – Issued to an entire family. There is one passport holder, who may travel alone or with other family members included in the passport. A family member who is not the passport holder cannot use the passport for travel without the passport holder.

Official passport – Official Passport (White cover) is issued to individuals representing the Indian government on official business.

Diplomatic Passport (Maroon cover), is an example of an official passport, is issued to Indian diplomats, Members of Parliament, members of the Union Council of Ministers, certain high-ranking government officials and diplomatic couriers.

Non-citizens passport – Non-citizen nationals are allowed to reside and work in the United States without restrictions.

Emergency passport – An Emergency Travel Document can be issued to an Indian on vacation, sightseeing or residing in a foreign country. The document is given in situations where a new passport cannot be issued without approval from India.

Documents other than passports

We believe that our readers are not just travellers but young hearts who love to get educated about various topics. So here is the list of some essential documents that are necessary besides carrying a passport:

  • Passport
  • Visa
  • Forex card/ Foreign currency
  • Travel Insurance
  • Air ticket
  • Proof of accommodation / Hotel Booking
  • National identity proof

By 2021, we will be seeing chip-enabled passports that contain demographic information of the passport holder including nation-credibility. The attempts to modernise passports are a direct blow against forgery and terrorist infiltration in other nations.

Although, the possibility of such a modern is yet to be finalised but the chip-enabled passports will be directly linked to a national database. It will be also useful for track and tracing citizens in terms of crises. Several advantages like mobile notifications and KIOSK enabled features will be made available. Let us know if you a detailed article on ‘chip-enabled passports’ to make it on our dashboard. Till then, travel safely, travel responsibly.

Cover Image Credit: @henryzw

Content Curator & Creative Writer

Juhi Chakravertty & Dr. Arindam Ballav

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