Do I need a passport?

April 20th, 2015 by Martin Vernon

Most of us like to travel but few enjoy travelling; the process of getting to our destination is seen as “short term pain for long term gain”. It’s like overcoming a lengthy obstacle course: complying with the growing list of rules and regulations, paying increasing surcharges, passing through ever-more demanding security, waiting for unpredictable times, sitting in cramped planes. Then on arrival there are uncertainties – did our baggage travel with us, did the rental car arrangement process properly, how do we negotiate our way to the blissful place where we can collapse on a bed (such as one of our bed and breakfasts)?

Those rules and regulations include the necessary documentation we need to carry. One of our mental questions in this world of free trade zones is still “Do I need a passport?”. Do I need a passport?The answer is likely to be found for you in one of these Government websites:
Government of Canada – visiting Canada
U.S. Department of State

Passports have an interesting story, going back to the days when travel was much more arduous than today, yes really. We have it easy.

The means of transport for travellers 100 or more years ago were slow, inconvenient and uncomfortable beyond our comprehension with additional bureaucratic issues we do not face. For example, before 1852 a British passport was merely a sheet of paper bearing the royal coat of arms and a signature of the Foreign Secretary, not inconvenient if you knew him or someone he trusted but what if you did not? It was expensive too. At the same time other European countries required descriptions of height, eye colour, eyebrows, nose, mouth and complexion, more like a criminal record check.

On arrival, even for just an overnight stop, until recently, passports were taken away by police for examination. Even some nationals had passports restricting their movements within their own countries. Then to leave the country to go elsewhere one’s passport had to be signed by the foreign ministry so visiting embassies was a frustrating necessity. At this time Germany and Italy were a mass of small states, all with their own regulations; imagine that mess. Occasional terrorist outrages tightened rules all the more (familiar?). The Times wrote “Never was a more senseless custom instituted than that of passports”. Ah the bureacracy! I’m intrigued to see that our own Canadian federal bureaucrats have written an interesting History of Passports in a “Games” section of the Government website. It isn’t always a game.

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