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13 fascinating facts about passports

Passports are a hot topic at the moment politically, and they’ve got a fascinating history as explored in the recent Radio 4 documentary Passports Please. To some they are treasured and hard-won documents that open doors to travel and explore the world; to others they are a barrier to movement for citizens of the world, but who doesn't get a little bit excited when they get another stamp from some exotic destination? Here are some amazing facts about passports that will make you appreciate them in a whole new way.

1. The Queen does not have a passport

The Queen does not have to worry about taking a passport. As she is the one granting permission to the rest of us, she doesn’t actually need one herself. However, the Queen’s Messengers deliver secret documents around the world. These documents get a passport of their own and there are allegedly only 15 of these passports in existence.

2. Get a new passport before six months of expiry

Don't take a gamble on the expiry date of your passport before you make a trip. Some countries ask that your passport should be valid for 90 days AFTER entry, including most European countries, but to play it safe you should go for six months, the length of time required by China, Indonesia, Russia, Saudi Arabia and other countries. This is to avoid you being stuck in that country without means to get home.

3. You need a passport for Queensland

Queensland can only be entered by the residents of nine coastal villages in Papua New Guinea without passports, as part of a treaty when Papua New Guinea gained independence.

4. The Vatican has no immigration control

The Vatican doesn’t have any immigration controls but the Pope carries Vatican Passport No. 1.

5. Many Americans do not have a passport at all

According to the Department of State, there are around 121,512,341 passports for around 321,362,789 American citizens.

6. Lost weight? Get a new passport

In the US, you need to update your passport photo if you gain or lose a lot of weight, have facial surgery or trauma or if you have added or removed large facial tattoos or piercings.

7. Finnish and Slovenian passports act like flicker-books

If you flip a Finnish or Slovenian passport forwards, images along the bottom of the page create a moving picture.

8. Family passport photos were acceptable

In the early days of passport photographs, you could send in any photograph you liked and even family groups were accepted.

9. The Nicaraguan passport is the least forgeable

The Nicaraguan passport has 89 separate security features including holograms and watermarks and is reported to be the least forgeable document in the world.

10. Tonga sold passports

Tonga used to sell passports for $20k a throw.

11. The first passport was in the Bible

In the book of Nehemiah, King Artaxerxes I of Persia gave a letter to an official granting him safe passage on his travels through Judea.

12. Passports only needed photographs after the First World War

Photographs were only a requirement after the start of the First World War after a Germany spy en-tered Britain on a fake US passport.

13. The Northern Lights appear on Scandinavian passports

If you shine Scandinavian passports under UV light, the Northern Lights appear as irridescent trails on the paper.

There we are. Passports, the ultimate ticket to ride, ease our path around the world. Whatever colour they are, whatever stamps they have, they all tell a story.