Legal Information – Obsolete Passports – Lawyers Comment

Over the years I could build up some solid statements from capable sources on this topic and I like to share this statement from a lawyer, diplomat and previous consul. I do have his full name but don’t publish all details here due to privacy reasons. However his statement is another interesting one and of interest for the passport collectors community.

I am a lawyer and a former diplomat and I wanted to send you my opinion on used passports, as your photos are very interesting. I was a Consul myself and issued many passports. Whether the passports say it or not, the passports are always the property of the issuing country. This is constructed so they can never be confiscated or taken away by a third country from the citizens of the issuing country and so the issuing country can take them back whenever it wants.

Expired passports are returned to the bearer so the bearer can prove trips, residence abroad, etc., but they remain all the time the property of the issuing entity. When you sell old used passports, you are technically just selling the right to possess them, but not the “full” property right, which you never had in the first place and which therefore you could never have sold.

But selling a limited right is not illegal. An example of a limited right (in real estate, which is different) is a lease, especially what is called an emphyteutic lease (see http://www.duhaime.org/LegalDictionary/E/Emphyteusis.aspx ) – the right to live on the property and to use it can be sold to other people while the property owner retains the ultimate property right.

Basically, owning something in general gives you the right to use the property, enjoy the fruits of the property, transfer the property and destroy the property. When you have a used, invalid passport in your hands and you sell it, you are always selling the first two rights (use and fruition) but not the other two rights (transfer and abuse) which remain with the issuing entity and which were never given to anyone.

I hope it’s all understandable 🙂 but basically it means that yes, you can buy, sell and collect invalid passports but the issuing entity can in theory take them back whenever they want (but I don’t think they might usually bother).

However, you need to consider the country specific laws and regulations as each country handles this matter differently. Above said is rather a general principle! If we are talking about truly historical passports (e.g. 100 years old) I do not believe that any country will interfere at all!