During World War I, European governments introduced border passport requirements for security reasons, and to control the emigration of people with useful skills. These controls remained in place after the war, becoming a standard, though controversial, procedure. British tourists of the 1920s complained, especially about attached photographs and physical descriptions, which they considered led to a "nasty dehumanisation".[14] The British Nationality and Status of Aliens Act was passed in 1914, clearly defining the notions of citizenship and creating a booklet form of the passport.

Source: Wikipedia

Prior to 1914, could anyone just travel freely around without having to show any kind of passport or papers or anything?

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    I’m voting to close this question because it belongs on history.stackexchange.com Apr 7, 2021 at 1:15
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    I'm upvoting this question because it is on topic and interesting. Welcome, @ShamonteF.
    – bdb484
    Apr 7, 2021 at 2:41
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    This is clearly a question about the law. Can we please stop trying to migrate away any question that is also on-topic elsewhere?
    – Ryan M
    Apr 7, 2021 at 3:44
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    This question is on topic here, and i have upvoted it. The history of law, and the state of law in past times is fully on topic. This question should not be closed, and if it is closed I will vote to reopen it. Apr 7, 2021 at 12:21
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    I have opened a discussion about this on Law.meta.se, and we can discuss if this is on-topic there. Apr 7, 2021 at 12:38

2 Answers 2


Passports were required in ancient, medieval, and early modern ages, either for immigration or for emigration or both. However, what was called passport back then might be better characterized as entry and exit visa. As time went on and travel became more common, those mutated into multi-use identity documents.

There was a brief period before 1914 when passport requirements lapsed. Immigration control was done by other means, some emigration controls weakened.

Read up to the history of Ellis Island for a well-documented example what immigration controls looked like.

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    From Henry V: "Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host that he which hath no stomach to this fight, let him depart; his passports shall be made and crowns for convoy put into his purse."
    – Tiger Guy
    Apr 7, 2021 at 6:30

Did they not require any kind of passport or identity when traveling between countries before the year 1914?

YES Well maybe not require but passports helped with proving one's nationality for at least 500 years before the quoted British Nationality and Status of Aliens Act 1914.

According to this Wikipedia article:

King Henry V of England [who reigned from 21 March 1413 to 31 August 1422]  is credited with having invented what some consider the first passport in the modern sense, as a means of helping his subjects prove who they were in foreign lands. The earliest reference to these documents is found in the Safe Conducts Act 1414 (caution: one of the options within this link is to the Act's original text which includes a pdf that is over 50mb with 855 pages which I have yet to read).

In 1540, granting travel documents in England became a role of the Privy Council of England, and it was around this time that the term "passport" was introduced.

In Scotland, passports were issued by the Scottish Crown and could also issued on the Crown's behalf by burghs, senior churchmen and noblemen.

Passports were still signed by the monarch until 1685, when the Secretary of State could sign them instead. The Secretary of State signed all passports in place of the monarch from 1794 onwards, at which time formal records started to be kept; all of these records still exist.

Passports were written in Latin or English until 1772, then in French until 1858. Since that time, they have been written in English, with some sections translated into French.

In 1855, passports became a standardised document issued solely to British nationals. They were a simple single-sheet hand-drafted paper document.

The Wikipedia article also includes images of British passports from 1857 and 1862, but having a photograph of the holder wasn't introduced until 1914/15.

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