Identity management: How to read travel documents

This section contains policy, procedures and guidance used by IRCC staff. It is posted on the department’s website as a courtesy to stakeholders.

This section provides direction on travel documents, including passports, and how to read the identity information contained on them, including the different zones.

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Zones on travel documents

Visual inspection zone (VIZ)

The visual inspection zone (VIZ) of a travel document contains the mandatory and optional data elements designed for visual inspection. The optional data elements, together with the mandatory data elements, accommodate the diverse requirements of issuing states and organizations while maintaining sufficient uniformity to ensure global interoperability for all travel documents.

If the document is compliant with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards, the VIZ will display the following mandatory data elements:

  • Names
  • Date of birth
  • Sex/gender
  • Nationality
  • Date of issue
  • Date of expiry
  • Issuing authority
  • Passport or document number
  • Facial photograph
  • Holder’s signature or usual mark

Additional optional data elements can be included on the VIZ, including but not limited to

  • place of birth
  • community names
  • aliases
  • personal identification numbers
  • fingerprints

Machine readable zone (MRZ)

Travel documents produced in accordance with ICAO standards incorporate a machine readable zone (MRZ) to facilitate inspection of travel documents and reduce the time taken up in the travel process by administrative procedures. The data in the MRZ are formatted in such a way as to be readable by machines worldwide with standard capability. The MRZ is a different representation of the data that is found in the VIZ and will always be in the Roman alphabet.

In addition, the MRZ provides verification of the information in the VIZ and may be used to provide search characters for a database inquiry. The MRZ provides a set of essential data elements in a format standardized for each type of travel document that can be used by all receiving states regardless of their national script or customs.

The MRZ is the main area that should be relied upon to establish the client’s primary name.

The format of the MRZ on a travel document for names is as follows:

  1. The family name is recorded first
  2. The double chevron character (<<) separates the family name(s) from the given name(s)
  3. The single chevron (<) separates multiple family names and multiple given names.


Image of a passport photo of Sarah Martin

Machine readable chip (MRC)

A machine readable chip (MRC) is an electronic feature that enhances a document’s security features. When a passport contains a MRC, there will be a small image of a camera displayed on its cover, as indicated in the example below:

Image of Canadian passport cover as described above

Name structures and how to record them

To understand the various name structures and how to record them in IRCC’s system of record, please see Identity management: Name structures and how to record them. This page provides guidance on various naming conventions that are found on foreign travel documents, including but not limited to

  • single name fields
  • transliterations
  • patronymics and matronymics
  • names with titles or prefixes
  • names where relationships are indicated
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