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What Country of Issuance Means on a Passport – Aha!

Official documents, bureaucrats, and bureaucracy can give even the most courageous folks what the British charmingly call “the willies” (i.e., severe anxiety).

A large part of this dread comes from the complex language officials seemingly adore. Everyday words turn on their heads when used in unusual and easy-to-misunderstand groups.

Instead of “Exit”, we get “Exit Point Only – Not For Departures”, a meaningless mumbo-jumbo of words that causes everyone to pause and wonder, “What the heck does that mean?

A passport is perhaps second in importance only to a Birth Certificate, and bureaucrats have also filled passports with official gobbledygook. Chief among these is ‘Country of Issuance’.

What the heck does that mean? Does it mean the same as ‘Place of Issuance’? How about ‘Issuing Authority’?

Well, you’ll be pleased to know that I’m about to lay it all out for you in black and white and make everything crystal clear.

By the end of this article, you’ll know your ‘Issuance’ from your ‘Issue’, your ‘Country’ from your ‘Nation’, and your ‘Place’ in this world.

Country of Issuance meaning

‘Country of Issuance’ is the ‘owning’ country of the passport. Think of it as the only country which can legally create, print, and distribute the passport. Only the Federal Government of the United States of America can legally print and distribute American passports. Therefore, the ‘Country of Issuance’ in every US passport is the United States of America, regardless of where the individual eventually lays his hands on the document.


Passport issues

Born in the wrong place

Some people have the ill-luck of living in countries not recognized by many other countries (think Northern Cyprus or Palestine, for example).

How would these people get around the world? Who issues their passports?

Well, for the folks living in Northern Cyprus, Turkey is the Country of Issuance. For the Palestinians, it could be Turkey or Jordan.

Oddly enough, for Syrians living in the Golan, Israel is the Country of Issuance. Of course, not all these countries accept their hapless passport holders as citizens.

No way, for instance, does Israel think of Syrian Arabs in the Golan as Israeli citizens, so Syrian Arabs with Israeli passports have ‘Undefined’ under ‘Nationality’.


Bad politics

With all the usual jockeying for wealth, influence, and limited natural resources going on among the world’s nations, it comes as no surprise that occasionally countries fall out with one another, sometimes quite fiercely.

When this happens, it is often the case that embassies get shut down, and diplomatic staff get thrown out.

This results in a diplomatic Armageddon and ends with neither having a diplomatic representation with the other.

An example of this is good old Uncle Sam, which has no diplomatic relationship with:

  • Cuba
  • Iran
  • Bhutan
  • North Korea
  • Taiwan (actually, there’s some hanky-panky going on here–the US and Taiwan are tight, but they’ve got to put up appearances to keep the People’s Republic of China happy)

Taking the case of North Korea as an example, Sweden offers a limited set of consular services in the DPRK (Democratic Republic of North Korea) for US citizens.

Conceivably, under improbable and unusual circumstances, it may become necessary for the Swedish embassy to issue a document to an American citizen who had unwisely lost his passport.

The Country of Issuance would be the United States, the Place of Issuance would be Pyongyang (the capital of North Korea), and the Issuing Authority would be the Swedish Embassy.


No country for unfortunate folks

Remember Tom Hanks in the film ‘The Terminal’? He suffered a horrible turn of evil eyes when he landed in the US as a stateless person.

While the film’s premise was a bit far-fetched, countless millions of people worldwide are unlucky enough to be neither nationals nor citizens of any country.

For certain historical reasons I won’t go into here, Uruguay is one country that will issue travel documents to stateless people to help them get from point A to point B. (The United Nations is an organization that also helps stateless people and has the authority to issue certain types of travel documents.)

When Uruguay issues travel documents to stateless people, the document has an ‘Issuing Country’ section.

When the United Nations issues similar documents, theirs has an ‘Issuing Organization’. No matter the heading, they all mean the same thing as ‘Country of Issuance’.


Mind-bending with synonyms

A country is a place, but ‘Place of Issuance’ is not the same as ‘Country of Issuance’, by convention (see below).

Issue and issuance are proper synonyms, and you can use them interchangeably.

Country and nation are synonyms, but beware! Citizens and nationals of a given country have separate rights and privileges.

Citizens are legal natives of the country, whereas nationals are only legally associated with that country (see below).


Frequently Asked Questions About Country of Issuance on a Passport


What is the difference between “Country of Issuance” and “Issuing Authority?”

Nowadays, none whatsoever. Historically, the British passport’s ‘Issuing Authority’ was the entity handing over the passport on behalf of the monarch and their government. For example, the Post Office or the Home Office (the equivalent of their State Department). However, eventually, the bureaucrats realized that this made little sense since it implied that these “authorities” were somehow coequal to–gasp–the monarch themself, and they stopped the practice after that.


What is the difference between a citizen and a national?

Nationals are entitled to live and work in a country and have many–but not all–of the rights of citizens. For example, a person can obtain a US passport as an American Samoan. Still, he is not automatically a citizen of the US (at least one parent must be a citizen for him to be automatically a US citizen too). He can work in the US as a national, but he cannot vote in local, state, or federal elections, and other restrictions apply.


‘Country of Issuance’ indicates the country or organization (see above) which legally issued the passport or travel document.

Providing a document issued by a legally entitled entity that is recognised as legitimate by the inspecting officer is a fundamental requirement of any passport or travel document.