Have you ever noticed your passport has a string of numbers with OCR (optical character recognition) fonts? Or other identity cards? Called the machine readable zone (MRZ), it is basically a document holder’s personal information in an encoded format to maintain confidentiality. The usage of machine readable zones in documents is increasing by the day as it facilitates automatic reading for document verification purposes. 

Since, the encoded text like the MRZ code in a passport can only be read by a machine, it gets the name machine readable zone. The advancement in document recognition technologies has made even smartphones and other devices capable of deciphering the machine readable zone line encoded data. The MRZ data is scanned and saved electronically by machine. The main aim of MRZ is to protect the ID card holder from forgery and fraud. 


The history of machine readable zones can be traced back to the 1960s. After the United Nations (UN) started to work on the OCR to build machine readable travel documents, it was viewed as an acceptable document for worldwide travel. In the 1980s, it picked up steam when many countries began to issue the MRZ code in passports. The adoption meant basic information like—the name of the holder with MRZ number in the passport,  date of birth, expiration date, citizenship, and gender, among others included in the machine readable zone line in the passport. 

Though, with technological advancement and wider use of MRZ, new innovations and improvements like biometric chips have been added. 


In the age of digitally connected devices, it has become easier for miscreants to get hold of online documents and tamper with ID cards. To counter such malpractices and document forgery, authorities across the world are turning to MRZ code. 

Roughly three years back, MRZ number in Indian passports with improved security features along with reverse stitching and non- tearable papers was announced by the authorities to combat forgery and fake passports. The issuance of machine-readable passports in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) guidelines is helping the agencies in the detection of forgery in passports. Today, MRZ use has become commonplace with both the private and public sectors viewing it as an integral tool to fortify their security. 

  1. Using MRZ, the personal details of the identity card can be presented in a standardized format for quick scan by the machine. 
  2. Following the ICAO guidelines in MRZ code helps to decode and verify the personal details of travelers by agencies in multiple countries. 
  3. With checksums and syntactic rules, MRZ provides an additional layer of security for documents. 
  4. The MRZ scanning also helps in RFID chip access for biometric documents.
  5. The data accessed from the document scanner can be easily exported to another device in case of further verification.  


The different types of MRZ are stipulated as per the ICAO standards. The international body publishes Doc 9303. Machine Readable Travel Documents outline for everyone to comply with. 

The three most popular types of machine readable zone used especially in identity cards and documents are: 

  1. Type 1 MRZ — used commonly in ID cards
  2. Type 2 MRZ – not commonly used 
  3. Type 3 MRZ– used commonly in passports

The Type 1 MRZ has three lines with 30 characters each, while the Type 2 MRZ contains 36 characters in each of the two lines. The most used, Type 3 MRZ has two lines and can accommodate 44 characters in each line. 


Passports are one of the important and widely used documents for cross border travel and identity verification. Due to this reason, a passport needs to have a standard structure and content to be recognized at multiple airports around the world. 

The passport comprises two parts for verification. The first one is the Visual Inspection Zone (VIZ) and the second Machine Readable Zone. Personal details of the passport holder like name, photo and details of the passport form part of the VIZ, which means readable by humans for visual verification. 

Machine Readable Visa with optional linear or two-dimensional bar code

The passport MRZ means the MRZ zone located at the bottom, which can only be deciphered by a machine. As stated above the Type 3 MRZ, used in passports consists of two and has the following information:

  1. Full name
  2. Document code
  3. Code of issuing government agency or state
  4. Citizenship
  5. Date of birth
  6. Gender
  7. Expiration date of passport
  8. Any other data listed by issuing authority

Role of MRZ in identity verification

MRZ has become the most sought after document verification approach due to its ease of use and standardization. The machine readable zones can conceal crucial information protecting the ID card holder, and at the same time make it easier for agencies and corporate users to carry out identity verification without hassle. Today, airlines, government agencies, research centers, and the telecommunication industry, see MRZ used commonly. 

MRZ forms an integral part of securing ID cards and documents nowadays, with layers of security features like biometric RFID verification added to it for preventing forgery and identity theft. We can say that MRZ helps in identity verification due to: 

  1. Quick verification
  2. Standardization
  3. User-friendly
  4. Concealment of crucial information
  5. Protection of ID document holder


MRZ has become the quintessential tool for identity verification. At airports, controlled capturing conditions prevail also known as MRZ position for the image captured. These scanners work only on documents like passports. 

For environments where multiple settings may exist, advanced MRZ devices are used. Basically, there are three stages in the MRZ code reading:   

  1. Information scan

The identity document image is captured and scanned for the data. 

  1. Data extraction

After scanning, the encoded text is parsed to extract the data. Thereafter, the text is deciphered through the OCR system which provides the checksum calculation.

  1. Matching checksums 

The calculation is then checked against the original checksums to verify the information. The comparison can also be made with the VIZ to check the veracity. 


With rampant forgery and fraud, preventing identity theft has become critical. Passports account for one of the most targeted documents by fraudsters for forgery. MRZ offers not only ease but can be layered with additional security features to fortify the documents.  


Where is the MRZ code?

The MRZ code is on the bottom of the page containing digits, and letters.

How can you know if your passport is machine readable?

A passport with an MRZ code line can be recognized with the two typeface lines that are present at the bottom of the page and can be read by the machine upon scanning.

How can you know if your passport has an integrated chip?

It is mostly by checking your passport cover carefully. The small gold-colored camera logo at the bottom shows it is biometric.