As I’am currently in Thailand I was investigating a bit more about the passport history here. I was trying to get access to the National Archive for some scans of old thai passports but they are demanding a lot of paperwork and their process time to get access for research is 60 days.
Below you can see the 6 different types which I found so far. In the gallery at the bottom you will see a rare 1961 Diplomatic passport and a very rare 1934 Siam passport. Both from the collection of G.T.
Evolution of the Thai Passport
A Passport is an important government-issued document granted to its citizens for the purpose of traveling outside the country. The Passport-issuing country requests other countries to permit its citizens to pass freely without delay or hindrance and to give those citizens all lawful aid and protection while remaining in their jurisdictions. The Passport must be stamped with a visa from an authorized visa-issuing agency belonging to the country of destination unless there is a visa-waiver agreement between the two countries.
In the past, traveling was more complicated and took up a lot of time; it was usually limited to travels between neighboring countries with shared borders. There were no set rules or regulations regarding immigration like today. Travelers were often government officials, merchants, or religious clerics; ordinary people did not travel as much. The voyage of the aforementioned groups to other states usually required a royal message or a sealed document from the king or state ruler to be presented to the king or ruler of another state. The royal message or the sealed document would state the purpose of the voyage and ask the receiving state to provide protection and assistance to the diplomatic corps from the sender state; this was seen throughout Thai history dating back to contacts during the Sukhothai period with neighboring countries and during the Ayutthaya period when King Narai sent a diplomatic corps carrying his royal message to establish diplomatic relations with France.
Passport formats in ancient times varied; they took the form of official seals or symbols which later developed into documents and then finally took the shape of a book. The Passport book was issued by the sending state to provide protection to its citizens traveling to foreign states. However, Passports were still not a required traveling document. When the world witnessed great developments in areas of transportation, communication, tourism, and as well, agreement and disagreement between countries, states set up rules and regulations to control immigration. Countries became stricter with international traveling. Passports therefore became property of the state and is now required for those wishing to travel to foreign countries. The use of Passports spread throughout the world during the post-World War I period.
With regards to Thai Passport, its shape and purpose changed according to social developments between Thailand and other countries. During the reign of King Rama V, Thai Passports began to take shape and developed for Thai citizens. Passports were issued as official hand-written letters (see picture) stamped with an official seal and were valid for 1 year. The Passports would detail the purpose of the visit and as well ask the District Superintendent, Provincial Governor, and City Administrator to provide assistance during the voyage. Official seals found during that period are Kochasrinoi (a small mythical creature with a mix of a lion body and an elephant head), Rajasrinoi (a small lion) or Sukreeb (the Ramayana monkey warrior born from the Sun).
Thai Passports, at the early stage, were issued by the Thai Government to its citizens who wish to travel between districts, cities, and provinces within the Kingdom; they were not yet used for traveling between countries. Consequently, the Siamese Government at the time started to issue Passports for Siamese to travel to foreign countries. It was then established that each Siamese wishing to travel outside the Kingdom must hold a letter or a Passport issued from the city administrator; therefore, it is believed that the current Thai Passport evolved from this ancient practice.
After a period of time, Thai Passports became two-paged documents printed in French; the first page of the Passport is similar to an official letter requesting the receiving country to provide assistance to the Passport bearer. The second Passport page details personal information which includes the bearer’s picture, height, hair color, eye color, facial features, beauty marks, and signature. This type of Passport was valid for 1 year .
Passports were not only issued to a person but as well to a family or a group of people wishing to travel abroad just like the current Group Passport. A standard was set for Passports usage in every province which detailed the list of people traveling together and as well their belongings (see picture). However, in setting the standards and rules for Passports during that period, the governing body had to request, in writing, a meeting to discuss the issues with the Minister of Foreign Affairs and as well to have an official request for royal permission from the king.
Thai Passports in that period were presented together with documents bearing the official traveling seal issued by the government to its citizens living in the Kingdom (see picture) to identify each citizen; the government also issued such seals, upon request by foreign embassies and consulate-generals in Thailand, to foreigners traveling to Thailand by imprinting it onto foreigners’ Passports so that they can use it to identify themselves while traveling outside the capital (see picture); this practice has evolved into the current visa system.
At this time, Passports were not solely issued by one authorized agency. Agencies and government officials at various levels, ranging from the Ministry of Interior to Provincial Governors as well as City Officials and even village chiefs had the authority to issue Passports if requested by the city ruler. Nevertheless, even though it was customary for Siamese wishing to travel outside the Kingdom to apply for a government-issued Passport, the general public still did not believe that Passports were a necessary document required for traveling abroad; this is because in the past, there were no strict immigration checkpoints, travelers were able to travel outside the Kingdom with ease without having a Passport. Such negligence in the immigration process later led to problems that arose from changing international situations. During World War I, governments started to lay down strict immigration laws which caused problems for Thai travelers who did not hold a visa from the receiving country; these travelers were not allowed to enter the country and even arrested, jailed and sent back to Thailand.
Thus, to solve the problems faced by Thai nationals traveling abroad, the Thai Government under the reign of King Rama VI issued, for the first time, a law governing the practice of Passport issuance on September 17, 1917. The Government issued “a royal decree requiring Thai nationals who wish to travel outside the Kingdom to obtain a Passport” which was printed in the Royal Gazette on September 23, 1917; this makes it a requirement for all Thai nationals wishing to travel abroad to obtain a Passport from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. For Thai nationals wishing to travel to neighboring countries with shared borders, they must obtain a Passport from their Provincial Governor or District Superintendent.
Due to changes in the international world order and to the result of the League of Nations’ Conference in Paris which addressed the problems of Passports and customs formalities for international travelers in 1920, a standard was set for all Passports. Thailand adopted the international standard since its representatives at the Conference approved the meeting’s resolution. Accordingly, Thailand issued its first Immigration Act on July 1, 1927. Thai Passports later evolved into a book-format by the end of King Rama VI’s reign or after 1917.
The old book-format found today are Siamese Passports issued around 1939 which has a hard cover and is larger in size than the current Passports. Inside the old book-format contains information in Thai and French and has a picture and signature of the bearer. The old version of the Thai Passport had 32 pages, the same as the current version, and is issued by the Passport Division at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Passport Division, however, cannot issue a Passport or extend the validity of Passports to Thai nationals who do not reside in the Kingdom.
Passports issued during that period were valid for 2 years unless stated otherwise in the Passport. Once the Passport expired, its validity can be extended for up to 2 years. However, altogether, a Passport’s validity must not exceed 4 years. There is a 6 Baht fee to extend a Passport’s validity. The old Passports could only be used for travels to countries that are specifically stated in the Passport; it is possible to add more countries to the list of countries in which the bearer could travel but there is a 12 Baht fee to do so. The old Passport continued to be used for a while but some of its characteristics have changed such as its color, the Garuda symbol on the cover, and the way in which the information is organized in the Passport book. Around the year 1977, the languages used in Thai Passports were changed from Thai and French to Thai and English.
Thai Passports continued to evolve with the world’s technological advances especially in the areas of Passport Production which has adapted to the current social developments. The Passport Division continually tries to develop its Passport Production process to facilitate the service process and as well to develop new characteristics that will reduce Passports falsification.
In 1993, the Passport Division introduced a new Passport system called the Digital Passport System (DPS) which uses the digital system to record applicants’ pictures onto their Passports. It was no longer necessary to append an applicant’s photo to the Passport as before. The new Passports are Machine Readable Passports. From 1995 onwards, the Passport production process evolved so that all the information can be recorded in one single page to comply with the standards of ICAO.
In 2000, the Passport Division further improved Thai Passports by introducing a new technology to capture the applicant’s picture, personal information, and as well print the information directly onto the Passports. The new technology allows an informational link between the Passport Division and the Ministry of Interior’s Residential Registration System. Thus to verify the applicant’s information, the authorized issuing officials now only require an applicant’s Personal Number; this new development speeds up the application process dramatically and reduces the Passport production period down to 3 working days.
The Passport Division finds that developing the physical characteristics of Thai Passports is as important as improving the Passport services. Appearance and improved standards will reflect the ability to protect Thai Passports from falsification and increase the Passports’ credibility. Therefore, appearance, modernity, price, and security features must be taken into consideration while improving the Passport production system.
In 2002, the Passport Division changed the appearance of Thai Passports which now contain more security features and utilize the same high-level technology as that used with bank notes; this helps improve the standards of Thai Passport and as well to compete with the high standards set by leading countries in the world. Some security features cannot be seen with bare eyes and therefore specific tools are needed for the verification process. Some features are so well-hidden that makes it highly difficult to forge. Some features are developed from methods utilizing chemicals that cannot be easily found; this makes Thai Passports safe and difficult to falsify.
Thai Passports will continue to develop and improve to keep consistent with the developing world and technological advances so that it can effectively respond to the needs of Thai nationals and maintain state security. The Passport Division also continually improves its Passport Information System; so that it can be linked with information systems of other agencies such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Immigration Bureau, Customs Department, Ministry of Interior, and Thai embassies and consulate-generals abroad. Having a linked information system will mutually benefits partnering agencies due to the expedient verification process and thus a shorter wait period for Thai citizens. All Thai citizens, no matter where they are located, can now conveniently enjoy the expedited process when contacting government agencies.
Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kingdom of Thailand