What Is a Passport Book?

Gregory Hanson

A passport book is, most commonly, a legal document that is used to allow a citizen of one country to travel to and from another country. The passport book provides identification and citizenship information about the passport holder. These documents can also hold visas and other related materials that are required for legal travel between and residence in certain nations. In certain circumstances, citizens may wish to obtain a passport card rather than a passport book, for reasons of cost and convenience.

US passports.
US passports.

Passport books are relatively small documents, generally 5 inches tall by 3.5 inches wide. Most nations issue this type of passport with a durable outer cover that protects a number of interior paper pages. The inside of a book contains a picture of the passport holder and a variety of personal information. This usually includes height, weight, and other biometric information as well as some administrative information, such as the name of the office or embassy that issued the passport.

A passport photo.
A passport photo.

These documents generally use a magnetic barcode that allows workers in airports or border checkpoints to easily access user information from a database. This facilitates cross-checking and cuts down on passport and travel fraud. Some newer passports also include a small radio transmitter that allows passport information to be read by a customs agent at a short distance.

The interior pages of a passport book are designed to hold certain types of travel information. Some of the interior pages are designed to be stamped by customs officials whenever the holder of that passport enters or leaves a country. Other pages are designed to hold visas, which are required for travel and residence in some countries. The procedures for mounting and displaying these documents vary from nation to nation.

Exit and entry stamps allow customs agents to monitor the travel of a passport holder. Some nations use these stamps to monitor or prohibit travel to nations that are viewed as hostile, and other nations may take steps to avoid leaving a permanent trace in a passport book. Cuba, for instance, which has had troubled relations with a number of other nations but desires tourist dollars, has had a policy of stamping only a secondary document and leaving no permanent record, in order to avoid causing difficulties for would-be tourists.

The United States and some other nations have begun a policy of issuing passport cards as well as passport books. Passport books are generally designed for serious international travelers, who will travel by air and may need to hold supporting documents. Card-style passports, on the other hand, are easy to use and offer all the same privileges as traditional passports but are only valid for land and sea travel to a few neighboring nations.

Customs officials stamp the inside pages of a passport when someone enters or exits the country.
Customs officials stamp the inside pages of a passport when someone enters or exits the country.

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Discussion Comments


One thing to keep in mind when considering a trip out of the country is the wait time for passport books. The application process is not especially difficult, but there can be a significant backlog of applications at the official passport office. Sometimes a passport application can be expedited, but that still only brings the potential wait time to weeks instead of months.

There are still some countries that will allow tourists to enter with documents other than a passport, but most major destinations will require the presentation of a valid passport. It's one thing to plan a trip to Europe at the end of the year, because the passport application will most likely be processed by that time. Some people may win a trip in a contest or be invited to an overseas wedding, however, and have far less time to wait on a valid passport.

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