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Traveling to Europe with a Biometric Passport

Biometric US Passport

U.S. citizens will soon need to register with ETIAS, the European visa waiver, before going to any of the 26 Schengen Area nations.

Currently, Americans can visit Europe using just a valid passport. However, with the launch of ETIAS scheduled for 2022, that is about to change. ETIAS is not a visa but it will become a mandatory entry requirement.

To apply for ETIAS, citizens of the U.S. need a biometric passport. This is because ETIAS is fully digital: rather than having to print out the permit and carry around a physical document, the visa waiver is linked to the passport electronically. A much more convenient solution for travelers.

But what exactly is a biometric passport and how does it differ from the traditional version? Answers to these questions can be found below in addition to advice for obtaining an ETIAS visa waiver online.

Differences Between Biometric and Normal Passports

Normal passports, or machine-readable passports, have been gradually replaced by biometric versions in recent years and adopted by countries across the world.

The main difference between the 2 types of travel documents is that the ePassport contains a microprocessor chip which is embedded inside it.

This chip contains biometric information that can be used to identify the holder accurately. As traditional passports do not contain the chip they are therefore less secure.

What information does a biometric chip in a passport contain?

Both machine-readable and biometric travel documents hold the following information which is essential for identifying travelers:

  • Full name
  • Date of birth
  • Photograph
  • Additional biographical information such as birthplace

In both documents, the data is found within machine-readable lines whilst biometric lines also have an electronic chip that stores these details.

As well as the details listed above, ePassports also store certain biometrics, measurements of a person’s unique physical features.

It is the ability to store this information that makes the biometric passport far more secure than its predecessor.

Are all United States passports biometric?

All passports issued in the United States of America since 2007 have been ePassports.

Given that U.S. passports are valid for 10 years, all valid American passports should now be biometric passports.

How to tell whether a passport is biometric or not

Only individuals with a biometric passport can apply for ETIAS. Electronic passports can be identified by the small camera symbol which is printed on the cover.

This is the international sign for the ePassport and is displayed at electronic gates at airports.

Thanks to advances in technology, the chip is now so fine it is almost impossible to feel it embedded in the page.

How Do Biometric Passports Work?

Everyone has unique biometrics. By measuring the space between specific points on the face it is possible to identify an individual and, therefore, ensure that the passport was issued to the person attempting to use it.

Airports now have ePassport gates where people are asked to scan their documents whilst looking into a screen. At this point, the facial measurements are cross-checked against those contained on the chip.

Used in place of manual inspection, electronic passport gates remove the human-error element and also reduce waiting times at the border.

Advantages of the Biometric Passport

Biometric passports are newer and more modern than machine-readable documents and, therefore, much more secure.

The use of Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) to authenticate the information stored on the chip makes it incredibly difficult and expensive to forge.

Biometric passport holders are, in this way, protected from fraudsters who may have previously attempted to create a fake document using the information printed on the passport’s biographical page.

How is biometric passport information kept secure?

Biometric passports use several mechanisms to ensure that the data stored on the electronic chip is kept safe.

The following systems are all used to prevent attacks and the theft of information:

  • Basic Access Control (BAC) protects the communication channel between the electronic chip and the reader
  • Active Authentication (AA) stops biometric passport chips from being cloned
  • Passive Authentication (PA) is used to detect any modification of the chip
  • Extended Access Control (EAC) safeguards iris and fingerprint scans

Traditional passports were unable to offer such high levels of protection, making them more vulnerable to cloning, theft, and fraud.

Applying for ETIAS with a Biometric U.S. Passport

One of the greatest advantages of a biometric American passport is that it makes it possible to visit Top European destinations without a visa.

To enjoy visa-free access, American citizens traveling to Europe must register with ETIAS. This is done online by completing the short ETIAS form with a few basic personal details and passport data.

The data provided is automatically cross-checked against several security databases, allowing for quick identification of individuals who may pose a risk to Europe.

Provided nothing is flagged up, the ETIAS request is approved and the permit is linked to the holder’s passport chip electronically.

It is not possible to transfer an ETIAS visa waiver from one passport to another

Due to this electronic link, an ETIAS visa waiver is only valid in conjunction with the associated passport.

To apply for ETIAS with dual citizenship, it’s important to ensure the details of the passport that will be used to enter the Schengen Area are provided.

For the same reason, should the passport expire before the visa waiver, it is necessary to make a new ETIAS request using the renewed travel document.

As long as the passport does not expire, the authorization remains valid for 3 years and can be used for multiple stays of up to 90 days in a 180-day period.

ETIAS holders can travel throughout the Schengen Area, the permit is valid for all 26 countries with no need to obtain a separate authorization for each nation.