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) with the data on the identity page 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 (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 passport booklets are issued in "Type 3" format, while identity cards and passport cards typically use the "Type 1" format. 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 machine-readable zone of a Type 1 travel document spans three lines, and each line is 30 characters long.

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]

Passport booklets[edit]

Colombian sample of machine-readable passport

Passport booklets have an identity page containing the identity data. This page shall be in the TD3 size which means 125 * 88 mm (4.92 * 3.46 in).

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 Characters 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+< Surname, 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 Characters Meaning
1–9 9 alpha+num+< Passport number
10 1 numeric Check digit over digits 1–9
11–13 3 alpha+< Nationality (ISO 3166-1 alpha-3 code with modifications)
14–19 6 numeric 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 numeric Expiration date of passport (YYMMDD)
28 1 numeric 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 numeric Check digit over digits 29–42 (may be < if all characters are <)
44 1 numeric 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, and so on. 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]

Other values, which do not have broad acceptance internationally, include:

Official travel documents[edit]

Smaller documents such as identity and passport cards are usually in the TD1 size, which is 85.6 * 54.0 mm (3.37 * 2.13 in), the same size as credit cards. The data of the machine-readable zone in a TD1 size card consists of three rows of 30 characters each. The only characters used are A–Z, 0–9 and the filler character <.

Some official travel documents are in the larger TD2 size, 105.0 * 74.0 (4.13 * 2.91 in). They have a layout of the MRZ with two rows of 36 characters each, similar to the TD3 format, but with 31 characters for the name, 7 for the personal number and one less check digit. Yet some official travel documents are in the booklet format with a TD3 identity page.

The format of the first row for TD1 (credit card size) documents is:

Positions Length Chars Meaning
1 1 alpha I, A or C
2 1 alpha+< Type, This is at the discretion of the issuing state or authority, but 1–2 should be IP for passport cards, AC for Crew Member Certificates and V is not allowed as 2nd character. ID or I< are typically used for nationally issued ID cards
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 document (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+< Surname, followed by two filler characters, followed by given names

Machine-readable visas[edit]

The ICAO Document 9303 part 7 describes machine-readable visas. They come in two different formats:

  • MRV-A - 80 mm × 120 mm (3.15 in × 4.72 in)
  • MRV-B - 74 mm × 105 mm (2.91 in × 4.13 in)

The format of the first row of the machine-readable zone is:

Positions Length Chars Meaning
1 1 alpha "V"
2 1 alpha+< Type, this is at the discretion of the issuing state or authority
3–5 3 alpha+< Issuing country or organization (ISO 3166-1 alpha-3 code with modifications)
6–44 39 alpha+< Name in MRV-A
6–36 31 alpha+< Name in MRV-B

The format of the second row is:

Positions Length Chars Meaning
1-9 9 alpha+num+< Passport or Visa number
10 1 num Check digit
11–13 3 alpha+< Nationality
14–19 6 num Date of birth
20 1 num Check digit
21 1 alpha+< Sex
22-27 6 num Valid until
28 1 num Check digit
29–44 16 alpha+num+< Optional data in MRV-A
29–36 8 alpha+num+< Optional data in MRV-B

Specifications common to all formats[edit]

The ICAO document 9303 part 3 describes specifications common to all Machine Readable Travel Documents.

The dimensions of the effective reading zone (ERZ) is standardized to be 17.0mm (0.67 in) in height with a margin of 3mm at the document edges and 3.2mm at the edge against the visual readable part. This is in order to allow use of a single machine reader.

Only characters A to Z (upper case), 0–9, and < (angle bracket) are allowed.

Nationality codes and checksum calculation[edit]

The nationality codes shall contain the ISO 3166-1 alpha-3 code with modifications for all formats, as described in the Passport booklets chapter. The check digit calculation method is also the same for all formats.

Names[edit]

People's names can contain various characters, but must in this zone be restricted to A–Z and angle brackets.

Apostrophes and similar must be omitted, but hyphens and spaces should be replaced by an angle bracket. Diacritical marks are not permitted in the Machine Readable Zone (MRZ). Even though they may be useful to distinguish names, the use of diacritical marks in the MRZ could confuse machine-reading equipment.

Section 6 of the 9303 part 3 document specifies transliteration of letters outside the A–Z range. It recommends that diacritical marks on Latin letters A-Z are simply omitted, but it allows the transliterations Å→AA, Ä→AE, Ñ→NXX, Ö→OE, Ø→OE, Ü→UE or UXX. Other transliterations are Þ→TH, Æ→AE, Œ→OE and ß→SS.

There are also tables for the transliteration of names written using Cyrillic and Arabic scripts.

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 mapped according to the standards of ICAO in the machine-readable zone.

In e.g. Germany, Austria and Scandinavia it is standard to use the Å→AA, Ä or Æ→AE, Ö or Ø→OE, Ü→UE, and ß→SS mappings, so Müller becomes MUELLER, Gößmann becomes GOESSMANN, and Hämäläinen becomes HAEMAELAEINEN.

Names originally written in a non-Latin writing systems may pose another problem if there are various internationally recognized transcription standards. For example, the Russian surname Горбачёв is transcribed "Gorbachev" in English and according to the ICAO 9303 rules, "Gorbatschow" in German,"Gorbatchov" in French, "Gorbachov" in Spanish, "Gorbaczow" in Polish, and so on.

Sometimes, as with US visas, simple letters stripped of their proper diacriticals are used (ag: MULLER, GOSSMANN, HAMALAINEN). German credit cards use either the correct or the mapped spelling in their non-machine-readable zone.

People having such names sometimes get trouble from officials unfamiliar to this, for example that the document is thought to be a forgery or that airline tickets do not have the same spelling as the passport.

It might be recommended, especially if traveling to countries which are English-speaking or use a non-European language, such as the United States, to use the exact spelling used in the machine-readable zone for the airline ticket or ESTA, and refer to this zone if being asked questions.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]