With the approaching Christmas school holiday period, many of us will be thinking about travel, and for some of us that will involve travel overseas.  Our Passport is the important legal document that allows us to travel overseas and enter foreign countries.

It is the internationally recognised form of identification.  In the current security-conscious landscape, the Passport has become the document that is crucial to permitting people to move from one country to the next.

Did you know that there is currently a trial of a system allowing Australians to have Passport-less travel when flying to New Zealand?  A new cloud Passport system is currently under discussion between our Australian government and the New Zealand government.

The proposed system would work by saving your information in a cloud, which means your identity and biometric information would be stored online replacing the need to carry a physical Passport.  Naturally, security concerns are an important part of the discussion, since biometric data would include fingerprints, digital photograph and date of birth.  Preventing hackers and the black market getting hold of your private details is a huge focus.

Australia permits only New Zealand citizens into the country without a visa, but allows Passport holders from countries in the European Union to enter without charge if they hold an eVisitor authority.   Other nationalities are required to apply for a tourist visa at a cost of between $135 and $345.

When visiting Australia from most foreign countries, a paper visa is not required.  This is part of the Visa Waiver Program which was started by the United States in 1986.  The program allows countries which are part of it to travel to other countries without needing a visa for short term visits (usually 90 days or less).  A form of electronic registration (and payment of fee) is required prior to visiting Australia from overseas.

When applying for an Australian passport, a photograph is an essential ingredient.  Did you know that bad photos are the most common reason for rejecting passport applications?  Approximately 90% of the photographs presented are unacceptable.

There are specific requirements in relation to the dimensions of the photo and the head size, with plain, light-coloured background and high resolution.  There is also requirement for neutral expression with both eyes open and mouth closed.  The requirements are for the purpose of border control and reducing potential for identity fraud.  As part of the guidelines, there is a direction that your facial expression in the photograph be not smiling or laughing or frowning because using a neutral expression in the photograph is an easier way for border systems to match you to your image.

This is then a type of ban on smiles in passport photographs which has been the subject of much discussion and is currently the subject of a Court case in France.  A jovial French civil servant is so determined to see his “depressed” compatriots grin that he has gone to Court with the unlikely mission of overturning the ban on smiling in passport photos.

The official began his quest to change the rules 2 years ago, after his passport photograph was rejected for violating Interior Ministry rules that stipulated that the person’s expression in the photograph must be “neutral with mouth closed”.

As part of his legal argument he says that despite their professed joie de vivre and enviable quality of life, the French in recent years have become pessimistic, including being shaken by the recent spate of terrorist attacks.

The official argues that it is not responsible for the authorities to reproach French people for smiling because it is further weighing down the country’s moral.

And, beyond the imperative to improve the national mood, the official argues that relaxing the smiling prohibition would buttress France’s image in the world.  The official even pointed to the Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smile as an illustration that a person could convey happiness while retaining a neutral expression, and keeping lips together.

Against such arguments, security experts say facial-recognition scanners at airports can be confused by open mouths or unusual expressions.

The Aussie Passport is the 8th most powerful, because an Australian Passport holder can travel to 169 countries without a visa.  New Zealand is in front of us, because the holder of a New Zealand Passport is provided hassle-free entry to 171 countries – the same as Greece, Canada, Luxembourg, Norway, Portugal, Switzerland and Ireland all ranked ahead of Australia.

And, the least powerful Passport in the world is held by Afghani people that can travel in just 25 countries without any particular visa requirement.  Afghanistan is followed by Iraq with 31 countries and Somalia and Pakistan with 32.

The UK Passport is the most powerful, allowing access to 173 countries without a visa.

Fun fact: The Queen does not hold a Passport.  As the British Passport is issued in the name of Her Majesty, it is unnecessary for the Queen to have her own.

This Article was prepared by MBA Partner, Mitchell Clark who recently put his own Passport to good use on business trip to Japan.