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What are biometric passports?

First issued in the UK in 2010, biometric passports add a number of new security features to the traditional passport, with an embedded microchip containing the holder’s personal information.

Holders of a biometric passport can also use the ePassport gates at border control for faster entry into the UK. Find out everything you need to know about ePassports with our quick and simple guide.

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland biometric passport on wooden surface

What is a biometric passport?

Also known as an ePassport, a biometric passport is a traditional paper passport with an embedded microchip that holds your personal information, as well as your photograph. They were introduced because of the increasing threat of identity theft and terrorism, encouraging many countries to improve the security of their borders.

What does a biometric passport look like?

The simplest way to tell if your passport is biometric is by looking at the cover. If there’s a small, gold camera logo at the bottom, then it’s biometric. Otherwise, the technology held within a biometric passport has become so advanced and the components so small that you can’t feel any lumps or ridges at all.

Two biometric passports on top of a map of Great Britain

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What are its advantages?

The main advantages of a biometric passport are greater security and faster entry into the UK through border control. The chip and the data held on it inside the passport is much more difficult to replicate than information on a printed page, making it tough for fraudsters and criminals to use your passport or identity.

In addition, having this type of passport means you can use the ePassport gate at border control in the UK. A machine at the gate will scan your passport and match the data on it with your face using facial recognition technology, making the process quick and easy.

What if my passport isn’t biometric?

The British Government have been issuing updated biometric passports to UK nationals since 2010, so if you have applied for a new passport since then, your current passport should be biometric. However, if it’s not, your current passport will remain valid until its expiry date and you don’t need to change it. Remember that applying for a new passport can take up to four weeks, especially in the busy summer months, so make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get a new passport before you travel.

Travelling to the US

Since April 2016, Britons travelling to the US using its ESTA visa waiver scheme have been required to hold a biometric passport to gain entry into the country or face being turned away at border control. There have been many cases of Britons with holidays booked in America being unaware of the new rules and being refused boarding at a UK airport.

What to do at the ePassport gate

As long as you are over 18, a UK or EU citizen, and have the biometric symbol on the cover of your passport, you can use the ePassport gate at border control.

When you reach border control, head to the ePassport gate and wait for an available space:

  • Remember to remove anything covering your face or head such as sunglasses, hats or scarves.
  • Take your biometric passport out of its cover (if it has one), open your passport to the photo page, and hold it down on the reader.
  • While you do this, look at the screen in front of you and want until it turns green.
  • Once the reader turns green, you can walk through the gate and into the UK.

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