Warsaw Pact travel during the Cold War 1975-89

Throughout its existence, the Warsaw Pact aimed to portray a unified and allied front against the West, even after the Hungarian and Czechoslovak uprisings of 1956 and 1968. Since these member states were allied nations, the passport holder of a member state should technically have had the freedom to travel freely from one country to another, much like travel in the EU today. But as will be analyzed in this article, this was not entirely the case. By observing the passports of the Warsaw Pact states, it becomes evident as to who could go where and when. Please note that this article will only examine the ‘ordinary’ tourist passports and not the more privileged ‘Service’ or ‘Diplomatic’ passports of the Warsaw Pact member states. Warsaw Pact travels visa.

The German Democratic Republic ( GDR or East Germany) had the most complex travel issuance policy, and so we’ll start with this Warsaw Pact member state. East Germany did not issue ordinary passports, which clearly stated in print the countries the passport holder could or could not visit. This information was annotated and specified through a complex series of exit stamps (or exit visas). By the late 1970s, East Germany issued the following exit stamps for travel abroad: Warsaw Pact travels visa.

AB-Dienstvisum: Service visa allowing travel to the USSR
AB-AUSTAUSCH Visum: Exit visa to meet with governmental or social organizations in the USSR
AC-KURZAUFENTHALT Visum: Exit visa for recreation or healing purposes in the USSR
AO-Visum: USSR citizens residing in East Germany
Nr. 3 Dienstvisum: Service exit visa for a single journey to a foreign country (usually non-Warsaw Pact)
Nr. 4 Dienstvisum: Service exit visa for multiple journeys to a foreign country (usually non-Warsaw Pact)
Nr. 5 Dienstvisum: Service exit visa for a single journey to the USSR, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, and Mongolia.
Nr. 6 Dienstvisum: Service exit visa for multiple journeys to the USSR, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, and Mongolia.
Nr. 6 Touristenvisum (Visum): Tourist exit visa to a foreign country
Nr. 6 Visum: Travel to West Germany & West Berlin, and also foreign countries Warsaw Pact travel visa
Nr. 7 Visum: Travel to West Germany
Nr. 7 Touristenvisum (Visum): Tourist exit visa to West Germany
Nr. 8 Visum: Travel to West Berlin
Nr. 9 Touristenvisum (Visum): Tourist exit visa to another Warsaw Pact member state (like Czechoslovakia, for example)
Nr. 11 Visum: Exit visa authorizing departure from East Germany.

Unlike East Germany, the Polish People’s Republic granted ordinary private citizens travel access to all the Warsaw Pact countries, including the USSR. Though this fact was not printed in the passport, it was clearly stamped in red, as seen in the picture below. By 1989, Poland allowed passport holders access to all countries of the world, stamped in red with the French words “Tous Les pays du monde.”

Unlike Poland, the People’s Republic of Bulgaria did not specify in print where the passport holder could travel to. Bulgaria, also unlike Poland, did not use an exit stamp collectively authorizing travel to other Warsaw Pact states, but instead directly typed on the passport the final destination and transit countries the passport holder was authorized to travel to. Warsaw Pact travel visa

For Romania, the passport was printed as saying that the passport holder could travel to all the countries of the world. This said an exit visa with an approved destination had to be authorized before departure. Exit visas could be issued by the Ministry of the Interior or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As shown in the picture below, this passport holder was given an exit visa by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and only allowed travel to East Germany and the USSR, but not to any other Warsaw Pact state.

Czechoslovakia represents a unique case as well. Though the passport is clearly printed as saying that the passport holder can travel to any country of the world, an exit visa was necessary. The passport holder received a ‘tourist’ exit visa, a red stamp that allowed the passport holder to travel to all the Warsaw Pact member states without restriction, including the USSR. These were marked as BLR (Bulgaria), MLR (Hungary), NDR (East Germany), PLR (Poland), RSR (Romania), and SSSR (USSR).

According to the input from our Czech fellow collector Z. Sustek, who has excellent knowledge on the topic from ca. 1970 a red-blue-white stamp was put on the inner cover page to validate the journey. From 1982 onward this procedure became obsolete.

The “red” Hungarian passport allowed citizens to travel freely into Warsaw Pact states, including Yugoslavia, not a Warsaw Pact member state. This list of countries is clearly printed on the passport. In his excellent article entitled “Passport and Visa Policy of the Kádár regime” (easily accessible online), Peter Bencsik writes that even though Hungary explicitly wrote in the passports that traveling to Yugoslavia and the USSR was permitted. In reality, these two destinations were always crossed out in the exit stamps delivered by the Hungarian authorities marked by a thick line. It was obvious that the passport holder could not freely travel to these two destinations. If a person were indeed given the (exceptional) authorization to travel to the USSR and/or Yugoslavia (which bordered Italy and Austria), this line would not be crossed out. By 1984, the red passports became blue and featured a permanent exit visa that authorized unlimited travel to Warsaw Pact states (excluding the USSR and Yugoslavia, which still needed special permission). It wasn’t until Edict No. 25 was signed in 1987 that nearly all Hungarians were allowed a World Passport for travel to all countries of the world. Warsaw Pact travels visa.

According to Z. Sustek, with the red Hungarian passports, it was most easy to travel to socialist countries. Passports then had five stamps (permissions) to travel. If they were used up, someone had to apply for another travel. CSSR passports, in contrast, were unlimited valid for travel to socialist countries.

Unlike the countries mentioned above, the USSR offered the least information regarding travel to other Warsaw Pact countries. The USSR did not list the countries the passport holder could or could not visit. Instead, the USSR’s external passports (not to be confused with internal passports, which served as Identification papers) only stated: “se rend à l’étranger” (traveling abroad). The exit visa declared the foreign country the passport holder was authorized to travel to. On 28 August 1974, all Soviet citizens at least 16 years old were allowed to have internal passports, which facilitated travel within the USSR, but these could not be used for travel outside the USSR. Warsaw Pact travels visa.

A contribution from fellow collector Matt. L., who is passionate about cold war times. Many thanks for bringing this data together in one article. I learned from you!

FAQ Passport History
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1. What are the earliest known examples of passports, and how have they evolved?

The word "passport" came up only in the mid 15th Century. Before that, such documents were safe conducts, recommendations or protection letters. On a practical aspect, the earliest passport I have seen was from the mid 16th Century. Read more...

2. Are there any notable historical figures or personalities whose passports are highly sought after by collectors?

Every collector is doing well to define his collection focus, and yes, there are collectors looking for Celebrity passports and travel documents of historical figures like Winston Churchill, Brothers Grimm, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Read more...

3. How did passport designs and security features change throughout different periods in history, and what impact did these changes have on forgery prevention?

"Passports" before the 18th Century had a pure functional character. Security features were, in the best case, a watermark and a wax seal. Forgery, back then, was not an issue like it is nowadays. Only from the 1980s on, security features became a thing. A state-of-the-art passport nowadays has dozens of security features - visible and invisible. Some are known only by the security document printer itself. Read more...

4. What are some of the rarest and most valuable historical passports that have ever been sold or auctioned?

Lou Gehrig, Victor Tsoi, Marilyn Monroe, James Joyce, and Albert Einstein when it comes to the most expensive ones. Read more...

5. How do diplomatic passports differ from regular passports, and what makes them significant to collectors?

Such documents were often held by officials in high ranks, like ambassadors, consuls or special envoys. Furthermore, these travel documents are often frequently traveled. Hence, they hold a tapestry of stamps or visas. Partly from unusual places.

6. Can you provide insights into the stories behind specific historical passports that offer unique insights into past travel and migration trends?

A passport tells the story of its bearer and these stories can be everything - surprising, sad, vivid. Isabella Bird and her travels (1831-1904) or Mary Kingsley, a fearless Lady explorer.

7. What role did passports play during significant historical events, such as wartime travel restrictions or international treaties?

During war, a passport could have been a matter of life or death. Especially, when we are looking into WWII and the Holocaust. And yes, during that time, passports and similar documents were often forged to escape and save lives. Example...

8. How has the emergence of digital passports and biometric identification impacted the world of passport collecting?

Current modern passports having now often a sparkling, flashy design. This has mainly two reasons. 1. Improved security and 2. Displaying a countries' heritage, icons, and important figures or achievements. I can fully understand that those modern documents are wanted, especially by younger collectors.

9. Are there any specialized collections of passports, such as those from a specific country, era, or distinguished individuals?

Yes, the University of Western Sidney Library has e.g. a passport collection of the former prime minister Hon Edward Gough Whitlam and his wife Margaret. They are all diplomatic passports and I had the pleasure to apprise them. I hold e.g. a collection of almost all types of the German Empire passports (only 2 types are still missing). Also, my East German passport collection is quite extensive with pretty rare passport types.

10. Where can passport collectors find reliable resources and reputable sellers to expand their collection and learn more about passport history?

A good start is eBay, Delcampe, flea markets, garage or estate sales. The more significant travel documents you probably find at the classic auction houses. Sometimes I also offer documents from my archive/collection. See offers... As you are already here, you surely found a great source on the topic 😉

Other great sources are: Scottish Passports, The Nansen passport, The secret lives of diplomatic couriers

11. Is vintage passport collecting legal? What are the regulations and considerations collectors should know when acquiring historical passports?

First, it's important to stress that each country has its own laws when it comes to passports. Collecting old vintage passports for historical or educational reasons is safe and legal, or at least tolerated. More details on the legal aspects are here...

Does this article spark your curiosity about passport collecting and the history of passports? With this valuable information, you have a good basis to start your own passport collection.

Question? Contact me...