Machine-readable passport

A machine-readable passport (MRP) is a machine-readable travel document (MRTD) with the data on the identity page encoded in optical character recognition format. Many countries began to issue machine-readable travel documents in the 1980s.

Most travel passports worldwide are MRPs. They are standardized by the ICAO Document 9303 (endorsed by the International Organization for Standardization and the International Electrotechnical Commission as ISO/IEC 7501-1) and have a special machine-readable zone (MRZ), which is usually at the bottom of the identity page at the beginning of a passport. The ICAO Document 9303 describes three types of documents. Usually passport booklets are issued in "Type 3" format, while identity cards and passport cards typically use the "Type 1" format. The machine-readable zone of a Type 3 travel document spans two lines, and each line is 44 characters long. The following information must be provided in the zone: name, passport number, nationality, date of birth, sex, and passport expiration date. There is room for optional, often country-dependent, supplementary information. The machine-readable zone of a Type 1 travel document spans three lines, and each line is 30 characters long.

Machine-readable passports enable faster processing of arriving passengers by immigration officials, and greater accuracy than manually read passports, as well as faster data entry and data matching against immigration databases and watchlists.


Passport booklets

Passport booklets have an identity page containing the identity data. This page is in the TD3 size of 125 × 88 mm (4.92 × 3.46 in).

The data of the machine-readable zone consists of two rows of 44 characters each. The only characters used are A–Z, 0–9 and the filler character <.

The format of the first row is:

11alphaP, indicating a passport
21alpha+<Type (for countries that distinguish between different types of passports)
3–53alpha+<Issuing country or organization (ISO 3166-1 alpha-3 code with modifications)
6–4439alpha+<Surname, followed by two filler characters, followed by given names. Given names are separated by single filler characters

In the name field, spaces, hyphens and other punctuation are represented by <, except apostrophes, which are skipped. If the names are too long, names are abbreviated to their most significant parts. In that case, the last position must contain an alphabetic character to indicate possible truncation, and if there is a given name, the two fillers and at least one character of it must be included.

The format of the second row is:

1–99alpha+num+<Passport number
101numericCheck digit over digits 1–9
11–133alpha+<Nationality (ISO 3166-1 alpha-3 code with modifications)
14–196numericDate of birth (YYMMDD)
201numericCheck digit over digits 14–19
211alpha+<Sex (M, F or < for male, female or unspecified)
22–276numericExpiration date of passport (YYMMDD)
281numericCheck digit over digits 22–27
29–4214alpha+num+<Personal number (may be used by the issuing country as it desires)
431numeric+<Check digit over digits 29–42 (may be < if all characters are <)
441numericCheck digit over digits 1–10, 14–20, and 22–43

The check digit calculation is as follows: each position is assigned a value; for the digits 0 to 9 this is the value of the digits, for the letters A to Z this is 10 to 35, for the filler < this is 0. The value of each position is then multiplied by its weight; the weight of the first position is 7, of the second it is 3, and of the third it is 1, and after that the weights repeat 7, 3, 1, and so on. All values are added together and the remainder of the final value divided by 10 is the check digit.

Some values that are different from ISO 3166-1 alpha-3 are used for the issuing country and nationality field:[1]

Other values, which do not have broad acceptance internationally, include:

Official travel documents

Smaller documents such as identity and passport cards are usually in the TD1 size, which is 85.6 × 54.0 mm (3.37 × 2.13 in), the same size as credit cards. The data of the machine-readable zone in a TD1 size card consists of three rows of 30 characters each. The only characters used are A–Z, 0–9 and the filler character <.

Some official travel documents are in the larger TD2 size, 105.0 × 74.0 (4.13 × 2.91 in). They have a layout of the MRZ with two rows of 36 characters each, similar to the TD3 format, but with 31 characters for the name, 7 for the personal number and one less check digit. Yet some official travel documents are in the booklet format with a TD3 identity page.

The format of the first row for TD1 (credit card size) documents is:

11alphaI, A or C
21alpha+<Type, This is at the discretion of the issuing state or authority, but 1–2 should be IP for passport cards, AC for Crew Member Certificates and V is not allowed as 2nd character. ID or I< are typically used for nationally issued ID cards
3–53alpha+<Issuing country or organization (ISO 3166-1 alpha-3 code with modifications)
6–149alpha+num+<Document number
151num+<Check digit over digits 6–14

In addition to ISO 3166-1 alpha-3 code with modifications used for issuing country in passports, also the following organization is accepted:

The format of the second row is:

1–66numDate of birth (YYMMDD)
71numCheck digit over digits 1–6
81alpha+<Sex (M, F or < for male, female or unspecified)
9-146numExpiration date of document (YYMMDD)
151numCheck digit over digits 9–14
301numCheck digit over digits 6–30 (upper line), 1–7, 9–15, 19–29 (middle line)[2]

1: United States Passport Cards, as of 2011, use this field for the application number that produced the card.

The format of the third row is:

1–3030alpha+<Surname, followed by two filler characters, followed by given names

Machine-readable visas

The ICAO Document 9303 part 7 describes machine-readable visas. They come in two different formats:

  • MRV-A - 80 mm × 120 mm (3.15 in × 4.72 in)
  • MRV-B - 74 mm × 105 mm (2.91 in × 4.13 in)

The format of the first row of the machine-readable zone is:

21alpha+<Type, this is at the discretion of the issuing state or authority
3–53alpha+<Issuing country or organization (ISO 3166-1 alpha-3 code with modifications)
6–4439alpha+<Name in MRV-A
6–3631alpha+<Name in MRV-B

The format of the second row is:

1-99alpha+num+<Passport or Visa number
101numCheck digit
14–196numDate of birth (YYMMDD)
201numCheck digit
22-276numValid until (YYMMDD)
281numCheck digit
29–4416alpha+num+<Optional data in MRV-A
29–368alpha+num+<Optional data in MRV-B

Specifications common to all formats

The ICAO document 9303 part 3 describes specifications common to all Machine Readable Travel Documents.

The dimensions of the effective reading zone (ERZ) is standardized at 17.0 mm (0.67 in) in height with a margin of 3 mm at the document edges and 3.2 mm at the edge against the visual readable part. This is in order to allow use of a single machine reader.

Only characters A to Z (upper case), 0–9, and < (angle bracket) are allowed.

Nationality codes and checksum calculation

The nationality codes shall contain the ISO 3166-1 alpha-3 code with modifications for all formats, as described in the passport booklets chapter. The check digit calculation method is also the same for all formats.


Due to technical limits, characters inside the Machine Readable Zone (MRZ) need to be restricted to the 10 Arabic numerals, the 26 capital Latin letters A through Z, and the filler character <.

Apostrophes and similar punctuation marks have to be omitted, but hyphens and spaces should be replaced by an opening angle bracket. Diacritical marks are not permitted in the MRZ. Even though they may be useful to distinguish names, the use of diacritical marks in the MRZ could confuse machine-reading equipment.

Section 6 of the 9303 part 3 document specifies transliteration of letters outside the A–Z range. It recommends that diacritical marks on Latin letters A-Z are simply omitted (ç → C, ð → D, ê → E, ñ → N etc.), but it allows the following transliterations:
å → AA
ä → AE
ð → DH
ij (Dutch letter; capital form: IJ, the J as part of the ligature being capitalized, too)→ IJ
ö → OE
ü → UE (German) or UXX (Spanish)
ñ → NXX
The following transliterations are mandatory:
æ → AE
ø, œ → OE
ß → SS
þ → TH

In Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Hungary and Scandinavia it is standard to use the Å→AA, Ä or Æ→AE, Ö or Ø→OE, Ü→UE, and ß→SS mappings, so Müller becomes MUELLER, Gößmann becomes GOESSMANN, and Hämäläinen becomes HAEMAELAEINEN. ð, ñ and ü occur in Iceland and Spain, but they write them as D, N and U.

Austrian passports may (but do not always) contain a trilingual (in German, English, and French) explanation of the German umlauts and ß, e.g. 'ß' entspricht / is equal to / correspond à 'SS'.

There are also tables for the transliteration of names written using Cyrillic and Arabic scripts, mainly based on transliteration rules into English. For example, the Russian surname Горбачёв ("Gorbatschow" in German,"Gorbatchov" in French, "Gorbachov" in Spanish, "Gorbaczow" in Polish) is transcribed "Gorbachev" in both English and according to the ICAO 9303 rules.

People having names using the listed letters sometimes have trouble with ignorant officials; for example, the document is thought to be a forgery or with airline tickets not having the same spelling as the passport. Consequently, it is often best to use the exact spelling used in the machine-readable zone for the airline ticket or ESTA, and refer to this zone if being asked questions, even if troubles have happened also with this approach, and also when just stripping diacritical marks (a spelling preferred by the US, but not used in many passports).

Russian visas (and Russian internal passports since 2011) have a different transliteration into the machine-readable zone. As an example, the letter "ч" is usually transcribed as "ch" in Russian travel documents, however, Russian visas and internal passports use "3" in the machine-readable zone instead. Another example is "Alexei" (travel passport) => "Алексей" (Cyrillic version) => "ALEKSEQ" (machine readable version in an internal document). This makes it easier to transliterate the name back to Cyrillic.

First and given names

For airline tickets, visas and more, the advice is to only use the first name written in the passport. This is a problem for people who use their second name (as defined by the order in the passport) as their main name in daily speech. It is common, for example in Scandinavia, that the second or even third name is the one defined for daily usage. For example the actor Hugh Laurie, whose full name is James Hugh Calum Laurie. Swedish travel agents usually book people using the first and daily name if the first one is not their main name, despite advice to use only the first name. If this is too long, the spelling in the MRZ could be used.

For people using a variant of their first name in daily speech, for example the former US president Bill Clinton whose full name is William Jefferson Clinton, the advice is to spell their name as in the passport.

Chinese, Japanese and Korean names might pose a challenge too, since the family name is normally written first.

See also


  1. Doc9303 Machine Readable Travel Documents Part3 Seventh Edition, 2015
  2. "Microsoft Word - Doc.9303.Part.03.7th.Edition.alltext.en.docx - 9303_p3_cons_en.pdf" (PDF). Doc 9303: Machine Readable Travel Documents, Part 3: Specifications Common to all MRTDs (Seventh ed.). International Civil Aviation Organization. 2015. ISBN 978-92-9249-792-7. Retrieved 2016-03-03.
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