The Passport History Of Siam and Thailand

The evolution of the Thai passport Passport History Siam Thailand

A Passport is a critical government-issued document granted to its citizens to travel outside the country.  The Passport-issuing country requests other countries to permit its citizens to pass freely without delay or hindrance and give them 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 destination country 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 groups mentioned above to other states usually required a royal message or a sealed document from the king or country ruler to be presented to the king or ruler of another country.  The royal letter of the sealed document would state the purpose of the voyage and ask the receiving country 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 protect its citizens traveling to foreign lands.  However, Passports were still not a required traveling document.  When the world witnessed significant 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 the property of the state and are 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.

Regarding the Thai Passport, its shape and purpose changed according to social developments between Thailand and other countries.  During King Rama V’s reign, 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 one year.  The Passports would detail the purpose of the visit and ask the District Superintendent, Provincial Governor, and City Administrator to assist in 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 little lion), or Sukreeb (the Ramayana monkey warrior born from the Sun).

At the early stage, Thai Passports 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 visiting between countries.  Consequently, the Siamese Government started to issue Passports for Siamese to travel to foreign countries.  It was then established that each Siamese wishing to go 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 some 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 assist the Passport bearer. The second Passport page details personal information, including the bearer’s picture, height, hair color, eye color, facial features, beauty marks, and signature.  This type of Passport was valid for one year.

Passports were issued to a person and a family or a group of people wishing to travel abroad, just like the current Group Passport.  A standard was set for Passport usage in every province, which detailed the list of people going together and their belongings. 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 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. Passport History Siam Thailand

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 and City Officials and even village chiefs, had the authority to issue Passports if requested by the city ruler. Nevertheless, also 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 go 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 difficulties 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 citizens 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 1917.

The old book-format found today are Siamese Passports issued around 1937, which has a hardcover and is larger 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.  However, the Passport Division cannot issue a Passport or extend the validity of Passports to Thai nationals who do not reside in the Kingdom.

Passport History Siam Thailand
A rare SIAM passport from 1937, issued to a student
Passport History Siam Thailand
The passport shows a visa for the Philippines, which was back then US territory; hence the visa is issued by the US Consulate in Bangkok. Further, you see a British visa for Hong Kong. Such early SIAM passports are rare!

Passports issued during that period were valid for two 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 four years. There is a 6 Baht fee to extend a Passport’s validity. The old Passports could only be used for travels to countries stated explicitly 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 how the information is organized in the Passport book.  In 1977, the languages used in Thai Passports were changed from Thai and French to Thai and English. Passport History Siam Thailand

Thai passport 1971
Thai SERVICE passport from 1971 with the French version THAILANDE

Thai Passports continued to evolve with the world’s technological advances, especially in 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 create 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 ICAO standards.

Thai passport 1990

In 2000, the Passport Division further improved Thai Passports by introducing new technology to capture the applicant’s picture, personal information and 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 Number; this new development speeds up the application process dramatically and reduces the Passport production period down to 3 working days. Passport History Siam Thailand

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 considered while improving the Passport production system.

In 2002, the Passport Division changed the appearance of Thai Passports which now contain more security features and utilized the same high-level technology as that used with banknotes; this helps improve the standards of Thai Passport and 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 it makes it highly challenging to forge.  Some features are developed from methods utilizing chemicals that cannot be easily found; this makes Thai Passports safe and difficult to falsify. Passport History Siam Thailand

Thai Passports will continue to develop and improve to keep consistent with the developing world and technological advances to effectively respond to the needs of Thai nationals and maintain state security.  The Passport Division also continually improves its Passport Information System. 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.  A linked information system will mutually benefit partnering agencies due to the fitting verification process and, thus, a shorter wait period for Thai citizens.  No matter where they are located, all Thai citizens can now conveniently enjoy the expedited process when contacting government agencies.

The latest version of the Thai passport is from 2017, a biometric type with a non-paper biodata page.

Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kingdom of Thailand

Passport History Siam Thailand


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