Why Queen Elizabeth II Doesn’t Need a Passport to Travel Abroad

Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh during a visit to Australia in 2011.
Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh during a visit to Australia in 2011. / Smith Ellen-Pool/Getty Images

Considering that Queen Elizabeth II has ruled England for nearly 70 years and visited more than 115 countries during her reign, it seems like it would be a little unnecessary for her to flash her passport every time she hops on a plane. In fact, she doesn’t have to—but it’s not just because she’s so obviously identifiable (especially with those brightly colored ensembles and matching hats she often wears).

The real reason, The Atlantic reports, is because the queen is sort of a walking passport herself. The first page of a British passport includes the royal coat of arms along with the following statement:

“Her Britannic Majesty's Secretary of State requests and requires in the name of Her Majesty all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary.”

To paraphrase, the passport basically functions as a written version of the queen saying something like “Please let my citizen enter your country.” When she’s the one doing the traveling, her physical presence is enough to convey the message. That said, she can only convey it for herself—every other member of the royal family must carry a passport, even if they’re traveling with her.

As The Atlantic’s Marina Koren shrewdly notes, it seems like the U.S. secretary of state would be able to travel without a passport, too, since American passports bear a similar message:

“The Secretary of State of the United States of America hereby requests all whom it may concern to permit the citizen/national of the United States named herein to pass without delay or hindrance and in case of need to give all lawful aid and protection.”

But the same logic doesn’t apply, since our secretary of state is really just a high-ranking federal employee, and our government doesn’t operate like a monarchy; even the U.S. president needs a passport.

Queen Elizabeth II doesn’t need a driver’s license either, for a similar reason—find out more here.

[h/t The Atlantic]