The biometric passport: how does it work?

The biometric passport, also called electronic passport or ePassport or digital passport, is an identity document that includes a polycarbonate sheet with an electronic microprocessor chip embedded inside the cover of a passport that allows a mechanical reading to confirm the identity of its holder. It looks like a traditional passport but has the international biometric symbol at the bottom of the front cover that is barely noticeable. Biometric passports have intricately designed pages, complex watermarks and a data chip. 

Biometric passports were introduced in 1998 by governments as a response to the increased threat of terrorism, the universal problem of identity theft and sophisticated fraud that were threatening their national security. One hundred twenty countries have already adopted this particular identification document for increased security and convenience. It is a modern security document with many security features that have been standardized by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the European Union (EU).

What is a biometric passport?

Biometrics are the unique and measurable physical characteristics of an individual that include face recognition, fingerprints and iris scans. The RFID (radio-frequency identification) microchip can store a lot of data and it basically stores all your biometric data such as a digital map of your face, fingerprints or an iris scan, personal information such as your date of birth, identification number, and digital signature.  An ePassport will also have a plastic that carries all your personal information and a photo printed on the card. This photo is produced via laser engraving which is irremovable.

Biometrics are considered more personal and reliable than a passport photo as it analyzes physical characteristics that are unique to each individual that include facial and retinal scans and fingerprints. The chip in your ePassport holds the information about your face such as the distance between your eyes, nose, mouth and ears, taken from a digital photo you supply when you apply for your passport.

Advantages of the biometric passport or ePASSPORT


No one can steal your identity chip. Although the card can be detected a few meters away the data cannot be obtained without the actual passport.

All ePassports that have been issued by countries that are part of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) and the USA have security features that prevent unauthorized reading of any data stored on the microprocessor chip.

Difficult and expensive to forge or replicate biometric data as it uses a Public-Key Infrastructure (PKI) which is a set of roles, procedures and policies that are needed to create, manage and distribute digital certificates and manage public-key encryption. 

This basically means that it allows the secure electronic transfer of your personal information using the microprocessor chip on your biometric passport.  It is also easier to identify people using the detailed data stored through biometrics.  This encryption key will not be issued to fake data and will be caught immediately at border checkpoints.


With the biometric passport or ePassport, the holder can go through automated ePassport gates expeditiously, avoiding the long lines at the traditional border control gates.  The ePassport is simply scanned and the holder can immediately pass through the airport gates.

Countries that use the biometric passport

Only about one hundred twenty countries are presently using the biometric passport. Below is the list of countries using the biometric passport.

European Union

All member countries of the European Union should technically be already using the biometric passport.  Technical specifications have already been established by the European Commission. EU member countries are Austria, Belguim, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, and Sweden.

European Free Trade Association

Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland

Other European Countries

United Kingdom, Russia, Ukraine, Serbia, North Macdonia, Montenegro, Moldova, Malta, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Albania

North America

Canada, Panama, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and the United States of America

South America

Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela


Australia, Fiji, and New Zealand


Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Georgia, Hongkong, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Laos, Lebanon, Macau, Malaysia, Maldives, Mongolia, Oman, Philippines, Qatar, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Thailand, Turkey, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan,and Vietnam


Algeria, Botswana, Cape Verde, Egypt, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mauritania, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Zimbabwe

Opposition to the biometric passport or ePASSPORT

The main opposition to the biometric passport is the significant civil liberties, like freedom of movement, and privacy concerns that may have been overlooked. Biometrics technology, as many security experts claim, is still an imperfect technology that continues to be developed. Identification schemes can be dangerous when used with unreliable biometric technology that can misidentify individuals. Several instances of this have already happened in airports and border areas around the world.