What Is a Machine Readable Passport?

Benjamin Arie

A machine readable passport (MRP) is a type of government document that is used for international travel. Like traditional passports, MRPs contain information regarding the nationality and identification of an individual. Machine readable passports are able to be accessed or "read" by a computer, and are generally considered to be more secure than older passport types.

The United States issues machine readable passports, which are designed to be accessed by a computer.
The United States issues machine readable passports, which are designed to be accessed by a computer.

The first machine readable passport documents were produced during the 1980s. In the mid 2000s, the United States government began requiring MRPs for foreign visitors entering the country through the Visa Waiver Program. Most modern passports now use machine readable features. The United Nations has endorsed the standardized format "ICAO Document 9303" for passports used by all member nations.

Most current-day passports use machine readable technology that can speed up processing time.
Most current-day passports use machine readable technology that can speed up processing time.

All of the key information of a machine readable passport is typically located at the bottom of the document, and consists of two lines of text. A total of 88 characters are used. MRP details such as the name, passport number, and nationality of the individual are printed using standardized fonts. This information can be interpreted by a computer using optical character recognition, which scans and recognizes each letter.

One of the main advantages of a machine readable passport is the reduction of errors. With a traditional passport, individual information must be entered into a processing system manually. This manual entry is prone to errors, especially for travelers with foreign or complex names. Machine readable passports eliminate these errors and allow a computer to directly access the identification details.

A machine readable passport also allows for faster processing times than older types of documents. The ability to simply scan a passport and instantly access the information decreases the wait time for travelers. MRP data also helps reduce the instances of passport forgery. Customs officials can quickly verify that the machine readable information matches the printed details in other areas of a passport. MRP documents do not completely eliminate the chances of forgery, but make illegal passport alterations more difficult.

Machine readable passports are not without disadvantages. The primary disadvantage of a MRP is cost. When a country transitions from a traditional passport and requires all citizens to upgrade, millions of new passports may need to be printed. The cost of printing the new document format is often passed on to travelers in the form of increased passport fees. Despite the increased cost, machine readable passport documents have been adopted by most UN member countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, Japan, and many others.

The United Nations has endorsed the standardized format "ICAO Document 9303" for passports used by all member nations.
The United Nations has endorsed the standardized format "ICAO Document 9303" for passports used by all member nations.

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Discussion Comments


@lonelygod – Most passports are machine readable these days, but if you are not sure about obtaining a passport through your secondary home country I would just get the American passport. All new American passports are machine readable and it has been the standard for awhile now.

All you need to do to get the newest version of the passport is to fill in a passport application and follow the how to get a passport instructions provided. If you find yourself having any difficulties with the form I would suggest using one of the passport services available that help you fill out all of the paperwork involved.


Can anyone tell me how to get a passport that is machine readable?

I have citizenship in two countries and would like to apply for a passport and if not sure my country has the latest technology, so perhaps it might be better to get a US passport. I think that all the American passports are machine readable, as my friend showed me their passport and pointed out some of its features.

I want to do some traveling and I don't want to have to have customs officers wasting time on typing everything about me manually every time I pass through immigration. It is just far too time consuming.


@jcraig - I am sorry but I have to disagree with you as far as the additional checks goes. The point of instituting an automated system is to have both a system that is more accurate than humans as far as security goes as well as makes the entire process much more efficient as well as quicker and less stressful for the people traveling.

I have traveled through customs and it is a major pain. The people checking the passports checked each and every one and it was so slow and tedious. With the current technological advances they have instituted I would not be surprised that they went with this type of system in most countries in the next few years. It is much more efficient and more accurate than human checks and can make the process so much easier as well as more accurate.


@stl156 - Usually as far as using technology goes I am all for changing the current system in place for replacing it with a technological advancement. However, in this case I cannot support such a change.

Anymore international travel is a major hassle, but in many cases it is necessary as there are dangerous types of people that should not be traveling over seas and there are many people like this that could figure out a way to beat the newly automated system.

That is why they still need to have human checks to go along with these automated checks in order to make sure that the computers did not make a mistake with the people that were let into the country.

By adding a human check into the equation, they would be able to further limit mistakes, as well as, be able to look at the automated system they put into place and see how accurate it really is and if it is really better than having human security checks.


@titans62 - I absolutely agree with you. My whole opinion on the matter, as far as security checks goes, is that there is always the possibility for human error with the security checks and by automating these checks they are able to eliminate this part of the equation.

Computers do make mistakes, but it is very rare and by instituting an automated system in order to look and review people's passports it only becomes more efficient and also lowers the risk of a person who may be a problem coming into the country due to human error or an oversight.

This system may be new and probably has a few kinks to be worked out, but I guarantee that in today's world of international travel, which is dominated by security checks, that this type of passport identification system will take over to make the process more efficient as well as more corrected that with the standard system in place today.


I would think that machine readable passports are a good idea and make getting through customs a lot more efficient than in the past

In the old days it was a complete hassle in order to get through customs in a reasonable amount of time and nowadays it is even worse due to the security measures taken in international travel in recent years.

Automating the reading of passports makes the whole process a lot more efficient and organized and allows for the line to move at a reasonable pace as well as be able to provide proper security checks.


We were talking about machine readable passports in class this week and my teacher showed us a map of countries that have or plan to have machine readable passports in the near future.

A big part of the world has machine readable passports which is great. I know it's important for security for everyone to switch over to MRPs. But a large part of Africa and Latin America still doesn't have them and don't seem to have plans of switching over anytime soon.

I think that all of our efforts for passport renewal doesn't mean much if the rest of the world doesn't follow. Because the citizens of these countries can enter the US with the passports they have which is hard for us to validate if it's not machine readable.


Are machine readable passports and e-passports the same thing?

I'm a little confused about this. I know that US passports are e-passports. They are machine readable and they also have a chip that contains that individual's information.

I think that all e-passports have to be machine readable because the only way a computer can confirm passport validity is by reading the passport. The computer validates the data on the passport with the data in the chip to make sure it's real.

So I suppose we could say that e-passports and machine readable passports are the same because we couldn't have one without the other.

Is that right?


Airline employees love machine readable passports!

I have two passports from different countries, one is machine readable and the other is not. When I'm at the airport to a destination, I give the passport of that country to the airline employee. But when he or she sees my other passport in my hand which is machine readable, they immediately ask for that instead.

They told me that it's much easier for them to use that because they just have to slide the passport through their machine which automatically enters all of the information for them. With my other passport, the employee has to manually enter everything, which apparently takes a really long time.

It doesn't matter for me so I let them enter my machine readable passport to make their job easier. I'm renewing my other passport soon, I hope they replace it with a machine readable one.

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