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I have occasionally read about old passports people collect as keepsakes of their travels. Now, I just came across a mention of “all old passports” in a list of things to bring to a US visa interview so it seems to be a perfectly common and official thing.

That's surprising for me because I always had to hand in my old passport to the consulate to get a new one. I never asked if it was a requirement but while researching this question, I found out that it actually was. Apparently, in France, if you want to renew your passport, you are only allowed to keep the old one if it contains a valid visa and that only for the duration of the visa in question (no idea how they enforce that last restriction, if they do it at all, but officially it seems to be the rule). I also came across many forum posts from people who basically lied about losing their passport to keep it (you have to sign a form to that effect so I wouldn't consider it entirely benign).

Is it common for other countries to let people keep old passports? Do you have to lie about losing the old one, simply ask to keep it or is it perhaps even standard procedure to punch/cut the passport and return it to its holder? Is there any other country where handing in an old passport is in principle required? Are there any international recommendations about that?

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I have three old passports with me, there is no limit in my country and I am sure the same applies to many countries. I think it depends on the country. –  MeNoTalk May 11 at 21:01
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See also the related question What should I do with my expired passport?. –  Greg Hewgill May 11 at 22:31
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One of the questions on the US visa form is to list the dates of all travel to other countries in the last 10 (I think) years. So they might want to see your passports to verify this (though as an European I can't think of when I last got my passport stamped other than into the states). I just put some random dates down as I couldn't remember the unstamped ones but I was pretty sure no one in France (or other EU state) had made a note of my visit there was no way for the US to check. –  iant May 12 at 14:45
    
There are also sometimes immigration reasons why you might want to keep old passports. Some visa or nationality laws require you to be present in a country a certain portion of the time to gain or retain permanent residency or citizenship. Having your old passports will help to prove your presence as required. In addition, the security clearance background check process for sensitive government positions requires disclosing your foreign travel history over a long period of time, and if you travel frequently, passports provide a good record to help you complete the forms. –  Zach Lipton May 12 at 18:09

7 Answers 7

Anecdotally, in my experience the "default" handling of old passports is for the issuing agency to destroy the old one. However, there may be a tick box on the passport renewal form (for example the Canadian passport renewal form) that asks:

Would you like the previous passport returned to you? If not, it will be securely destroyed by Passport Canada Program to protect your personal information.

Additionally, with regard to still-valid visas, there is a note:

Your previous passport will be cancelled at the time you submit your application and can no longer be used for travel. If you submit a passport for renewal that contains a valid visa, you must indicate on the application form that you want the passport returned to you and advise us that the visa needs to remain intact (inform the agent verbally if you apply in person, or include a letter with an application submitted by mail or at a receiving agent).

When they return an old passport, it is cancelled by clipping a corner or punching holes in it (not sure exactly what they do to preserve a valid visa, as I have not needed that).

I have retained all my previous passports, and I will continue to do so as much as possible. I know of people who have retired and needed to unequivocally prove the dates (decades ago) that they left a certain country or entered another one in order to be eligible for various kinds of retirement benefits. You never know when that information might become useful.

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+1. Usually only the cover has its corner clipped or a hole punched through, which preserves the rest of the passport (and its visas). –  jpatokal May 12 at 0:38
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I have all my old passports and I usually carry my current one and the one valid before it (since it has a valid visa which I use quite often). My father chooses to carry all of them as he has been questioned many times earlier with regard to his travels (he has traveled to Bangladesh, Pakistan, Kenya and Tanzania a lot of times, so immigration officials seem to get disturbed). In India, the old passport is almost always returned back to you. All they do is stamp a cancelled stamp in the front and back of the passport. –  Aditya Somani May 12 at 1:27
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Yeah I've never had my South African or New Zealand ones destroyed - they just clip the corners. –  Mark Mayo May 12 at 4:54
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Australian passports are the same. I've got at least one old passport floating around - they get returned with the corners clipped off. –  dlanod May 12 at 6:20
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I have an old Dutch passport with three mayor holes cut through the whole passport. I am not sure if it is standard procedure, but for me they asked whether I wanted it return. –  Bernhard May 12 at 7:21

In the UK it used to be the case that you could ask to have your old passport back when applying for a new one. This is now what happens by default (unless the old passport is severely damaged). Cancelled passports are returned with the top-right corner cut off.

I still have all the passports ever issued to me.

This is arguably useful if you have visas for some countries that have not yet been transferred to your new passport. I once flew to the US with a US visa in my old passport.

It is useful in some cases when applying for a visa for travel to certain countries after a name change (e.g. due to marriage) as it can be used as supporting evidence to tie together several documents under different names.

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I don't think you even have to ask now; I think they just post the old passport back to you as a matter of course. –  Nigel Harper May 12 at 14:49
    
@Nigel: thanks, answer updated accordingly. –  RedGrittyBrick May 12 at 15:01

In the US, your old passport is returned (separately from the new one) when renewing, and the official advice is to keep your old passport, as it is legal proof of citizenship (and perhaps has other uses) even though it's not valid for travel. However, as others have noted, this seems to vary highly from country to country.

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In Poland it's customary of clerks to ask whether you want to take it as a keepsake, they only cut a corner off it so that it's clear it's invalidated. It's worth nothing in legal sense and you can safely throw it to the bin once you get your hands on a new one, although if you couldn't show your old passport before obtaining a new one, I think you'd have to formally report having lost it before you could apply for a new one.

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While this may be true, saying to just throw it out to the bin is a major attraction for all types of identity theft, as they would have LOTS of your personal information at that time. –  Canadian Luke May 13 at 17:15

In some countries there's no expectation that you would hand in your old passport when getting a new one. In addition, old passports can be crucial documents for proving citizenship. Australians born after 20 August 1986 must provide evidence that at least one of their parents was an Australia citizen or permanent resident at the time of their birth, both of which can be easily proved if the parent still has their old passport.

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Interesting, but not quite what I asked about. Does that mean that in Australia the old passport is systematically returned to the holder? Incidentally, in France, a passport is not accepted as a proof of citizenship. Applications are also archived, I think. –  Relaxed May 12 at 6:25
    
The only time you'd hand your passport over would be to get a visa sticker put in and of course they'd return it then. AFAIK you wouldn't hand it in to get a new one. Maybe if you changed your name you would? I'm not sure. –  curiousdannii May 12 at 7:02
    
Thanks for the precision! You could add that (that you don't need to hand in anything to get a new Australian passport and simply keep it as a matter of course) to your answer, it would more directly address my question. –  Relaxed May 12 at 7:34
    
I'm still on my first passport, but I should check with my parents if theirs has been clipped/hole punched etc. My faint memory is that theirs aren't. –  curiousdannii May 12 at 7:42
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I'm on, I think, my fifth Australian passport. At least some of the old ones had a strip cut off the cover before being returned to me. And now it's time to apply for my next one ... –  hippietrail May 12 at 8:26

It all depends on the country you're a citizen of. Here in the Netherlands, by default your old passport is taken back when you pick up the new one and destroyed (shredded that is, the resulting trash being burnt in an incinerator).
You can ask to get the old one back, in which case it's clearly marked as invalid, big holes being punched through it (4-5 half inch holes in my experience).
Other countries as mentioned have slightly different but similar practices.

The idea to supplying old passports may be to be able to show a paper trail of past travel in case of trouble with your visa application (maybe one of them shows a prior US visa, making things easier, for example). For me, I'd not be able to show more than one old passport, kept that one because it contains a rather rare visa (country gets only a few hundred visitors a year from here, and most of them on a group visa so they have no visa stamped inside their passports).
Similarly my father kept a few old passports containing US visa to expedite applications for replacements (he had an unlimited, non-expiring, business visa, had to send an old one with the application as proof).
For most people, they'll have no old passports at all.

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+1 Thanks for your answer. –  Relaxed May 12 at 7:33

It's very common to keep your old passport.

I have all my old ones, both South African and New Zealand. They've clipped the corners and made it clear that they've expired, but I still have them.

The most valuable reason I can see for this was my UK visa. It was in one of my passports and valid until this current year. However, I got a new passport in 2010. At that point you have two options - either pay money to get the visa transferred, or keep and travel with both.

I opted for the latter, and from them on when entering the UK, I'd present my current one (to show I had a current NZ passport) and the old one to show I had the visa. The border staff had no problem with this - it was a common occurrence among expats that I knew.

If your country does destroy/take your passport from you, I would imagine in the scenario above you'd then have to go for the first option - pay more to get it transferred to the second.

I also have friends who have lost their passports. Therefore there's no way for them to present all their old passports, and if requested to do so on a form, would have to write that they were stolen/lost. It happens.

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