International passports are identification documents that are issued by a government or governing authority. The purpose of an international passport is to certify the identity and citizenship of an individual, and to facilitate the movement of people between different countries. Most countries require an official passport before a traveler may cross a foreign border.
In the past, a passport was simply a letter given to an important traveler. The letter usually requested foreign countries to extend protection and courtesy to the holder of the document. One of the earliest examples of an international passport is a paper issued in the year 1414 by King Henry V of England. Since that time, passports have changed from simple letters to more advanced identification documents.
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Modern passports are usually in the form of a small booklet, with the name and seal of the issuing country printed on the cover. The International Civil Aviation Organization has attempted to standardize the format of world passports, and most countries around the globe use the same document design. The inside pages of an international passport typically contain a photograph of the holder, in addition to a name and birth date.
The International Civil Aviation Organization has recommended the use of radio frequency identification (RFID) since 2010. Several countries, including the United States, use this technology on newly-issued passports. A small RFID chip is embedded in the international passport booklet. Chips can be scanned at border locations, and a digital version of the holder's identification details can be accessed. This is used to help prevent passport fraud and increase the simplicity of identity verification.
Passports can also be used to display visa stamps and other details. Most passport documents contain several blank pages, which can be easily marked by foreign government officials. Visa stamps are commonly used to indicate that a traveler is authorized by the government to stay in the country for a pre-determined length of time. For frequent international travelers, additional blank visa pages can be added if a passport becomes full.
Each country has a different international passport application process. In the United States, people who wish to obtain a passport must submit evidence of American citizenship. Original birth certificates or naturalization certificates are accepted for this purpose. Government issued identification documents, such as drivers licenses or military identification, are also required. United States passports are typically valid for a period of ten years, and can renewed an unlimited number of times.