What's a world passport?

Answers to your questions about the news.
March 24 2006 5:51 PM

What's a World Passport?

It works in Tanzania but not in America.

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On Thursday, a Bolivian judge charged an American-born man with planning a pair of deadly hotel bombings in La Paz earlier this week. Triston Jay Amero grew up in California but had tried to renounce his U.S. citizenship; he considers himself a "world citizen" and has traveled extensively in Latin America using a so-called "world passport." Can you really use a "world passport" for international travel?

Yes, but it depends on where you're going. According to the World Service Authority—the Washington-based organization that issues world passports—more than 150 countries have accepted the document at least once. Six more countries have provided the WSA with a formal letter of recognition of the world passport, most recently Tanzania in 1995. (The others to grant it official status are Burkina Faso, Ecuador, Mauritania, Togo, and Zambia. Two of those countries have since written to say they've changed their minds.)

Daniel Engber Daniel Engber

Daniel Engber is a columnist for Slate

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It's still a crapshoot when you travel with nothing but a world passport. Your chances of success will likely depend on the whim (or ignorance) of the schlub working customs at your destination. With this in mind, the WSA doesn't guarantee that any country will accept the document, and it even offers a specific warning about countries where the passport "almost never" works: Canada, France, Germany, Switzerland, Great Britain, and the United States. *

In general, the U.S. State Department will accept any passport from a nation that the U.S. officially recognizes, with exceptions made for other kinds of passports on a case-by-case basis. Regular diplomatic relations are not a prerequisite: You can get an American visa without special authorization on a passport from Bhutan, Cuba, Iran, the West Bank and Gaza, or Taiwan (but not North Korea). Passports from the WSA get a special mention in the State Department's Foreign Affairs Manual: "World Service Authority Passports are not acceptable as 'passports' for visa issuing purposes … the document is a 40-page, passport-size document with a bright blue cover with gold lettering."

The world passport does look a lot like a regular, national passport, except it's printed in seven languages (including Esperanto). Anyone who wants one can declare himself a citizen of the world and fill out an application form at the WSA Web site. While you don't have to renounce your national citizenship, you do have to sign a statement saying you understand the world passport's limitations. A three-year version costs $45; a five-year one costs $75.

A peace activist named Garry Davis created the WSA in 1953 and traveled around the world using the first world passport ever issued. (The organization says they've issued more than a half-million world passports since then.) Davis, a former World War II bomber pilot, had renounced his U.S. citizenship in 1948 and gained notoriety by picketing the fledgling United Nations in Paris. He argued that free travel was a fundamental human right and that world peace required a global government as opposed to a system of nation-states.

He took his first trip on the world passport in 1956, from New York to Bombay. Davis told a New York Times reporter that theIndian customs official seemed confused but stamped it just the same. He would later use the passport to enter Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Switzerland.

The passport didn't always work, and Davis found himself in jail dozens of times. He's also been convicted of fraud for selling the world passport, and some have accused the WSA of making money off of refugees or would-be emigrants.

Got a question about today's news? Ask the Explainer.

Explainer thanks David Gallup of the World Service Authority.

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