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All the passports I've owned so far had a "signature" field in them. However in my 15+ years of traveling I've never once seen anyone compare the passport signature to my current signature. Is this field ever actually used for any purposes as of 2023 or is it just a relic of the 20th century that's hard to eliminate for some reason?

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    @Midavalo been traveling with a credit card for 15 years now, yet to witness this or even hear of anyone doing this.
    – JonathanReez
    Commented Dec 27, 2023 at 18:18
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    This could just be selection bias. Just because you don't experience it doesn't mean that other people also don't experience a comparison. However, a quick google shows many websites explaining why the signature field is there.
    – Peter M
    Commented Dec 27, 2023 at 18:52
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    @JonathanReez Where I live you must present ID when paying by credit card and signing (chip & PIN isn't a thing here yet). I can use my driver license as it has a signature and photo on it, but I can also use my passport as it has both as well. I've never NEEDED my signature on my driver license other than for signature ID purposes, why not for passport as well?
    – Midavalo
    Commented Dec 27, 2023 at 19:49
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    Signing the passport is/can be part of the application, unless signed it is not a legal application or transfer of the passport. Where I live you do not send in the paperwork but go to the town hall.
    – Willeke
    Commented Dec 27, 2023 at 20:00
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    I'd never bothered to sign my earlier US passports, but the agent interviewing me for Global Entry required me to sign my current passport. My kids were also being interviewed. One signed with just his first name in print and the agent didn't say anything.
    – mkennedy
    Commented Dec 28, 2023 at 4:13

4 Answers 4

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As a retired UK immigration official I can say that the signature can be useful. It’s quite common for persons trying to enter a country illegally to use someone else’s passport, where they can find one with a photo and other id similar to their own appearance. Hoping the authorities won’t spot that they are not the rightful holder of the document. Known as a “lookalike.”

As a starter in any consequential investigation, the passenger can be required to provide say half a dozen examples of their signature. Where the person is not the rightful holder of that document, their efforts rarely match the original in the passport. Not overwhelming proof, but usually a really helpful start to any further investigation. And some confess on the spot. So that speeds the investigation along nicely.

Most passengers travelling through immigration controls across the world are doing so lawfully and might see this type of information as unnecessary but it certainly does have its uses.

Plus as others have commented the passport is a highly valued identity document and the signature may help in other non travel situations.

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    This reminds me of when I was once in a bank (~30 years ago) and suddenly the bank wanted to check my signature on an account that was years old (without showing me the signature on the initial contract). I simply forgot how I signed but they were cooperative: they made me sign until I hit the right signature :)
    – WoJ
    Commented Dec 28, 2023 at 21:44
  • If someone asked me half a dozen examples of my signature when I was at home I think I could find them, but certainly not while I am travelling.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Dec 29, 2023 at 8:59
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    @SJuan76 Elwyn means provide them with a pen and paper. Sign their name half a dozen times Commented Dec 29, 2023 at 10:04
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This is hardly specific to passports.

Throughout your life you sign thousands of documents, yet how often have you ever seen someone try to verify your signature? In my experience, the only example has been my bank checking the signature when I get access to my safe deposit box, but I think they stopped doing this a few years ago. Maybe once upon a time, when check clearing was done by hand, a clerk at the bank would compare the signature on each check with a reference signature for the account, but these days checks are cleared electronically. You're supposed to sign the back of a credit card, but when have you ever seen someone compare this with the signature on the receipt (the signature field on the credit card is so hard to write on, mine never looks like my actual signature)?

In general, signatures are not usually checked immediately. Most recipients don't even have another copy of your signature to compare with. We sign things so that if there's a later dispute, we can present the document and compare it with other examples of the person's signature then. For instance, if you claim that you didn't write a particular check, you can ask for a copy of the check and point out that the signature doesn't look like yours.

The same thing goes with the signature on the passport. If there's some reason to suspect that the passport is fraudulent, the signature will be checked. But 99.9% of the time it's ignored.

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    I don't know about anywhere else but the signature on the card was regularly compared to the signature provided where I lived in the UK back when people still signed for stuff. Commented Dec 28, 2023 at 20:57
  • I think it was something store clerks were supposed to do, but rarely did in my experience (the US).
    – Barmar
    Commented Dec 28, 2023 at 21:05
  • The signature on checks is now checked using software. Commented Dec 28, 2023 at 21:12
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    @Barmar In the UK there used to be a scheme where staff got a small reward for catching fraudulent use which likely made a difference. Commented Dec 29, 2023 at 10:07
  • I used to write "photo ID required" in the signature field of my credit/debit cards. Never once did anyone ask for ID, not even the majority who would look at the back of the card without apparently paying attention. The purpose of it is verification, but the question was "is it ever used" and the answer might be "seldom."
    – WGroleau
    Commented Dec 30, 2023 at 7:35
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I went to register as a resident of a city in Germany and they compared my signature with the one on my ID. I also registered a family member using their passport and an authorization signed by them, and in that case the city employee even called another colleague to give his opinion on whether the signatures matched. Then I became a German citizen, applied for a German passport, and I had to change my signature because my old signature does not comply with the legal requirements for a signature in Germany. So the signature on ID cards/passports seems to still have some importance in Germany.

I expect the signature field to have less use in a traveling context, because there it is just about proving that you are a citizen of a country. But especially in the context of filing administrative requests/processes in the name of other people, I expect it to be used regularly.

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    I'm curious what these handwritten signature requirements are. Commented Dec 28, 2023 at 21:11
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    @AndrewLazarus the requirements are that the signature must contain at least your family name written in full.
    – wimi
    Commented Dec 29, 2023 at 8:30
  • @wimi that sucks. My family name has 19 characters. My signature would be veryyy long one.
    – vasin1987
    Commented Dec 30, 2023 at 16:41
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I also haven't run into this while travelling however living in the Netherlands I have had my signature verified a few times by government organizations or companies (mostly for contracts).

There is one common case I would like to highlight. Proxy voting in Dutch elections requires a signature from both the voter and their proxy which must be checked with an ID/driver's license/passport (or a copy/photo in the case of the absentee). Having volunteered in multiple elections I have had to disqualify a few voters because their signatures didn't match. Sometimes this could be rectified by the absentee sending a copy of an ID with a more recent signature or the proxy returning later with an updated written signature.

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