Diplomatic passports and other travel documents that open doors

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(CNN) — Chances are you only have one passport — maybe two if you have dual citizenship.

But if you’re in a certain job — diplomatic, detective, or even presidential — and you might have to deal with documentation that’s completely inaccessible to the hi polloi.

Here are some of the non-standard passports and passes out there.

Diplomatic passport

What is it? Diplomatic passports are issued to government diplomats and consuls stationed abroad.

For example, the United States’ Chargé d’affaires in France, Brian Aggeler, will have a diplomatic passport, as will the French Ambassador to the United States, Philippe Étienne.

What are the advantages? The requirement for a visa is often waived to ensure smooth passage. For example, holders of British diplomatic passports get visa-free entry into China.
Diplomats also often enjoy diplomatic immunity (note: this does not give carte blanche to commit a crime abroad that you enjoy). Family members of diplomats can sometimes also obtain diplomatic passports.

What else? In the UK there is a very special kind of diplomatic passport, marked with the stamp of the Queen’s Messenger Service (QMS).

This is an elite group of couriers who have been delivering classified diplomatic material for some 800 years.
Meanwhile, there was controversy surrounding Canadian diplomatic passports in 2017 when it was revealed the country may have been handing out too many.

Presidential and Prime Minister’s Passports

Job Benefits: US President Joe Biden does not have to pay for his passport.

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

What is it? To possess the most lofty passport, you must work your way up to become president or prime minister. This is a unique variant of diplomatic passport; the US president has even embroidered his profession on it.

What are the advantages? Again, it’s hard to be precise.

When we asked the UK Home Office what the benefits of Boris Johnson’s passport might entail, they told us: “We do not comment on individual cases.”

However, the VIP wearer probably doesn’t need to have their passport with them; they don’t have to queue at customs either – other officials take care of that. Another added advantage: presidents and prime ministers do not pay for their own passport.
Something else? In 2015, an outright snafu saw an Australian immigration officer accidentally email the personal details — including passport numbers — of Obama, Merkel, Putin et al to the organizers of the Asian Cup football tournament.

At least the guilty party had protected its own identity; a press release from the Australian Immigration Service read: “[Redacted] could not verify that the autocomplete feature in Microsoft Outlook had entered the correct person’s information in the ‘To’ field of the email.” Oops.

Official/special passport

What is it? Official passports (as they are called in the US and UK) or special passports (as they are known in Canada) are issued to senators, legislators, military officials and various other government employees who are not strict diplomats, but must travel to a post abroad or on an official mission.

What are the advantages? On paper, these passports offer no special benefits. As the Government of Canada explains, “The official passport is not designed to give the bearer any advantage.”

But while the official offices we spoke to have kept quiet about benefits, it seems that certain official passports are giving you star treatment; for example, if you own a copy from the US, you are exempt from paying visa fees.
Something else? Just as they can be issued, official passports can be revoked. In August 2021, 14 official passports of Turkish Cypriot officials were reportedly snatched from them after an argument over the reopening of the former tourist hotspot, Varosha.

Interpol Travel Document

The Interpol passport was unveiled at the opening of the 79th session of the Interpol General Assembly in Doha on November 8, 2010.

The Interpol passport was unveiled at the opening of the 79th session of the Interpol General Assembly in Doha on November 8, 2010.

Karim Jafar/AFP/Getty Images

What is it? Issued exclusively to Interpol employees, Interpol travel documents come in two formats: an e-passport booklet and an e-ID card (e-identification card).

Both are equipped with high-tech integrated circuits containing personal information such as fingerprints and a photo identical to the one on the document itself.

What are the advantages? The travel documents came about after the 79th Interpol General Assembly in 2010. Chasing criminals around the world is not an easy task, and the Interpol travel document is designed to cut red tape by waiving various visa requirements and the accelerate the pursuer’s situation.

Something else? Although we know that Interpol has about 1,000 employees, it is not clear how many have an Interpol Travel Document on hand.

Articles of recent years have dispelled myths about Interpol agents roaming the world, smashing doors and arresting bad guys. Much of the work is administrative. As for that infamous Red Notice, it’s not really an arrest warrant.

United Nations pass (UNLP)

The UN is blue "'passage'" travel document.

The blue UN “Pass” travel document.

Ralf Hirschberger/Photo Alliance/Getty Images

What is it? Members of the United Nations (UN), the International Labor Organization, the World Health Organization and several other organizations can get their hands on this document, which was first launched in 1946 and went electronic in 2012.

There are two types of UNLP: the blue laissez-passer and the red (for higher-ranking members).

What are the advantages? The UN states that holders of the red UNLP may receive “diplomatic privileges and immunities and diplomatic facilities when traveling on United Nations business”.

In some countries, this includes a visa waiver. Unlike many of the other passports on this list, the UNLP does not officially replace a national passport, but complements it. Instructs the UN: “Both documents must always… be carried together on official journeys.”

Something else? The phrase “laissez-passer” translates along the lines of “pass late.” The term may have been in use shortly after the Safe Conducts Act 1414, in which Henry V made it high treason for an international counterpart to break a promise to allow someone to travel freely through their country.

Documents called laissez-passers were also used during World War I to ensure the safe passage of refugees from war-torn areas.

When you don’t need to have a passport with you at all

No passport required if you're Queen Elizabeth II, seen here on arrival in Fiji on her 1977 Silver Jubilee tour of the South Pacific.

No passport required if you’re Queen Elizabeth II, seen here on arrival in Fiji on her 1977 Silver Jubilee tour of the South Pacific.

Anwar Hussein/Getty Images

While most members of royal families still require a passport to travel, reigning monarchs may be exempt.

We are sure that Queen Elizabeth II does not have a passport because, as the official website of the British Royal Family states, “As a British passport is issued in Her Majesty’s name, there is no need for the Queen to possess one.” .”

What about the Pope?

As sovereign of Vatican City, the Pope holds a special passport for the Holy See.

But in 2014, shortly after his election, Pope Francis took the unusual step of renewing his identity card and passport, continuing to identify himself as an average Argentine, so as not to gain special privileges.

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