Passports have numerical or alphanumerical designators (“serial number“) assigned by the issuing authority.
The standard format includes, on a passport cover, the name of the issuing country, a national symbol, a description of the document (passport, official passport, diplomatic passport), and, if the passport is biometric, the biometric-passport symbol. Inside, there is a title page, also naming the country. This is followed by a data page, on which there is information about the bearer and the issuing authority, although passports of some European Union member states provide that information on the inside back cover. There are blank pages available for foreign countries to affix visas, and to stamp for entries and exit.
To conform with ICAO standards, a biometric passport has an embedded radio-frequency identification (RFID) chip, which contains data about the passport holder, a photograph in digital format, and data about the passport itself. Many countries now issue biometric passports. The objectives for the biometric passports are to speed up clearance through immigration and the prevention of identity fraud. These reasons are disputed by privacy advocates. Governments are reluctant to acknowledge privacy concerns.
Although many countries issue biometric passports, few introduced the equipment needed to read them at ports of entry. In the absence of an international standard, it is not possible for one country to read the biometric information in passports issued by another country.
A passport contains a message from the nominal issuing officer, such as the secretary of state or the minister of external affairs. The passport message, usually near the front of a passport, requests that the bearer of the passport be allowed to pass freely, and further requests that, in the event of need, the bearer be granted assistance.
An international conference on passports and through tickets, held by the League of Nations in 1920, recommended that passports be issued in French, historically the language of diplomacy, and one other language. Nowadays, the ICAO recommends that passports be issued in English and French, or in the national language of the issuing country and in either English or French.