Most people consider a valid passport the route to freedom. It opens the door to a world of possibilities, allowing you to travel the world. But, did you know that passports have a much longer, and stranger, history than you may imagine? Here’s a list of 11 fun and unusual passport facts you may not have known.
1. Passports have been used for over a thousand years.
One of the earliest references can be found in the Bible, where, in 450BC King Artaxerxes I of Persia issues a letter of safe passage for one of his officials through Judea.
2. England had some of the first passports
The use of a passport as a form of identification is said to have been introduced by King Henry V of England in the 15th century. It was used by his subjects to prove who they were in foreign lands.
3. Passports didn’t always need photographs
Photographs on passports only became mandatory in the 1900s. Even then any photo showing the face was accepted, including family portraits. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1915 passport infamously had a snap of himself, as well as his wife and sons sitting in a dog cart.
4. Smiles were banned in 2004
Along with long fringes and head coverings, smiles were banned on passport photos in 2004. This was done to help the new facial recognition technology better differentiate between faces.
5. The color of your passport has significance
Passports are usually one of four colors – red, green, blue, and black. Passports issued for countries in the EU tend to be red (as with countries who want to join the EU, such as Turkey), while those of Islamic countries like Morocco, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabis, are often green.
6. The Norwegian passport displays the Northern Lights
If you shine a UV-A light under the Norwegian passport, it will immediately light up with the Aurora Borealis that the country is famous for.
7. Canada and Finland also have quirky passports
Norway isn’t the only one with a cool passport. Under UV-A light, the Canadian passport displays the country’s major landmarks, while the bottom right-hand corner of the Finnish passport has a drawing of a moose that becomes animated when you flip through the pages.
8. You can get your passport stamped at unusual locations
Both Machu Picchu and Easter Island offer special commemorative passport stamps featuring the iconic lost city of the Incas and the famous moai statues.
9. Some presidents get a passport for life
Presidents and their immediate families are among the officials issued with diplomatic passports which allow visa-free entry into many countries. In some countries, such as the US, this is taken one step further, and the President is given their diplomatic passport for life. It remains valid even once they’ve left office.
10. The Queen of England doesn’t have a passport
Queen Elizabeth II does not require a passport. Since all British passports are issued in her name, she just has to say that she is the queen. However, the rest of the royal family still need a passport to travel abroad.
11. But Pharaoh Ramses II does have one
When the mummy of Ramses II, one of the greatest pharaohs of Ancient Egypt, was flown to France for repairs in 1974, he was issued a legal Egyptian passport. It listed his occupation as “King (deceased)”
Did you know any of these unusual passport facts before? If you know any more interesting facts about passports share them in the comments below.