Machine-readable passport

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Page of a passport with Machine Readable Zone in the red oval

A machine-readable passport (MRP) is a machine-readable travel document (MRTD) where the data on the identity page is encoded in optical character recognition format. Many countries began to issue machine-readable travel documents in the 1980s.

Most travel passports worldwide are MRPs. They are standardized by the ICAO Document 9303 (endorsed by the International Organization for Standardization and the International Electrotechnical Commission as ISO/IEC 7501-1) and have a special machine-readable zone or MRZ, which is usually at the bottom of the identity page at the beginning of a passport. The ICAO Document 9303 describes three types of documents. Usually the passport is a Type 3 travel document. The machine-readable zone of a Type 3 travel document spans two lines, and each line is 44 characters long. The following information has to be provided in the zone: name, passport number, nationality, date of birth, sex, passport expiration date and personal identity number. There is room for optional, often country dependent, supplementary information.

The advantages of machine-readable passports include:

  • Faster processing of arriving passengers by immigration officials
  • More reliable than a human read, compared to the manually read passports that preceded them.

Format[edit]

Passports[edit]

Colombian sample of Machine Readable Passport

The data of the machine-readable zone consists of two rows of 44 characters each. The only characters used are A-Z, 0-9 and the filler character <.

The format of the first row is:

Positions Length Chars Meaning
1 1 alpha P, indicating a passport
2 1 alpha Type (for countries that distinguish between different types of passports)
3–5 3 alpha Issuing country or organization (ISO 3166-1 alpha-3 code with modifications)
6–44 39 alpha Last name, followed by two filler characters, followed by given names. Given names are separated by single filler characters

In the name field, spaces, hyphens and other punctuation are represented by <, except apostrophes, which are skipped. If the names are too long, names are abbreviated to their most significant parts. In that case, the last position must contain an alphabetic character to indicate possible truncation, and if there is a given name, the two fillers and at least one character of it must be included.

The format of the second row is:

Positions Length Chars Meaning
1–9 9 alpha+num Passport number
10 1 num Check digit over digits 1–9
11–13 3 alpha Nationality (ISO 3166-1 alpha-3 code with modifications)
14–19 6 num Date of birth (YYMMDD)
20 1 num Check digit over digits 14–19
21 1 alpha Sex (M, F or < for male, female or unspecified)
22–27 6 num Expiration date of passport (YYMMDD)
28 1 num Check digit over digits 22–27
29–42 14 alpha+num Personal number (may be used by the issuing country as it desires)
43 1 num Check digit over digits 29–42 (may be < if all characters are <)
44 1 num Check digit over digits 1–10, 14–20, and 22–43

The check digit calculation is as follows: each position is assigned a value; for the digits 0 to 9 this is the value of the digits, for the letters A to Z this is 10 to 35, for the filler < this is 0. The value of each position is then multiplied by its weight; the weight of the first position is 7, of the second it is 3, and of the third it is 1, and after that the weights repeat 7, 3, 1, etcetera. All values are added together and the remainder of the final value divided by 10 is the check digit.

Some values that are different from ISO 3166-1 alpha-3 are used for the issuing country and nationality field:[1]

Official travel documents (e.g. identity cards)[edit]

The data of the machine-readable zone consists of three rows of 30 characters each. The only characters used are A-Z, 0-9 and the filler character <.

The format of the first row is:

Positions Length Chars Meaning
1 1 alpha I, A or C
2 1 alpha Type, at discretion of states, but 1-2 should be IP for passport card, AC for crew member and IV is not allowed
3–5 3 alpha Issuing country or organization (ISO 3166-1 alpha-3 code with modifications)
6–14 9 alpha+num Document number
15 1 num Check digit over digits 6–14
16–30 15 alpha+num Optional

In addition to ISO 3166-1 alpha-3 code with modifications used for issuing country in passports, also the following organization is accepted:

The format of the second row is:

Positions Length Chars Meaning
1–6 6 num Date of birth (YYMMDD)
7 1 num Check digit over digits 1–6
8 1 alpha Sex (M, F or < for male, female or unspecified)
9-14 6 num Expiration date of passport (YYMMDD)
15 1 num Check digit over digits 9–14
16–18 3 alpha Nationality
19–29 11 alpha+num Optional1
30 1 num Check digit over digits 6–30 (upper line), 1–7, 9–15, 19–29 (middle line)[2]

1: United States passport cards, as of 2011, use this field for the application number that produced the card.

The format of the third row is:

Positions Length Chars Meaning
1–30 30 alpha Last name, followed by two filler characters, followed by given names

Different spellings of the same name within the same document[edit]

Names containing non-English letters are usually spelled in the correct way in the non-machine-readable zone of the passport, but are transcribed according to the standards of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in the machine-readable zone, e.g. the German umlauts (ä, ö, ü) and the letter ß are transcribed as AE / OE / UE and SS, so Müller becomes MUELLER, Groß becomes GROSS, and Gößmann becomes GOESSMANN.

The ICAO transcription is mostly used for computer-generated and internationally used documents such as airplane tickets, but sometimes (like in US visas) also simple letters are used (MULLER, GOSSMANN). German credit cards use in the non-machine-readable zone either the correct or the transcribed spelling.

Some German names are always spelled with "transcription" such as the poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe or the Third-Reich politician Paul Joseph Goebbels; however, in the name of the German football player Ulrich Hoeneß, the umlaut is transcribed, but the letter ß is not (the spelling in the machine-readable passport zone is HOENESS, the ß being transcribed here).

The three possible spelling variants of the same name (e.g. Müller / Mueller / Muller) in different documents sometimes lead to confusion, and the use of two different spellings within the same document (like in the passports of German-speaking countries) may give people who are unfamiliar with the foreign orthography the impression that the document is a forgery.

The Austrian passport can (but does not always) contain a note in German, English, and French that AE / OE/ UE / SS are the common transcriptions of Ä / Ö / Ü / ß.

Names originally written in a non-Latin writing system may pose another problem if there are no internationally recognized transcription standards. For example, the Russian surname Горбачёв is transcribed "Gorbachev" in English, "Gorbatschow" in German,"Gorbatchov" in French, "Gorbachov" in Spanish, and so on.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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