09 Jul 2024in Forensics & authentication

Passport Facelift: Why Countries Issue ID Updates (+ Remarkable Examples)

Olga Kokoulina

Content Marketing Manager, Regula

A standard international practice for countries is to renew their passports every five to ten years. In reality, countries update their travel documents at their own pace. 

Some do so rarely but notably, like Iceland, which set a new trend with its portrait-oriented identity card, the first change since 1967. Others prefer a “fast fashion” approach, frequently adding small details to their current passports. For instance, Germany did it three times in recent years: in 2017, 2021, and 2024. 

Let’s explore what motivates countries to make these changes to their ID “outfits,” while examining recent examples of stunning passport designs.

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The reasons behind passport updates

As primary travel identity documents, all passports worldwide must comply with the ICAO’s requirements outlined in Doc 9303. The standard—in its 8th edition now—is regularly updated to meet new challenges and address new threats. For instance, the concept of electronic passports containing RFID chips was first introduced in 2006. Additionally, in November 2015, the ICAO banned the use of non-machine-readable passports for air travel. All of this nudges countries to adhere to the current recommendations for passport issuance.

However, Doc 9303 allows countries to determine their documents' appearance on their own. By selecting from a variety of passport security features and designing distinctive front cover artworks, countries can create identity documents that embody national ideas, values, and rich historic heritage. 

Despite the high cost associated with renewing identity documents, especially for countries with large populations, countries continually strive to update their passports. 

There are typically three main motivations for these updates:

  • Biometric upgrade: Electronic passports with RFID chips, digitally sealed with protective mechanisms, represent the most secure versions of identity documents currently available. When transitioning to e-passports, countries often undertake complete document renewal, including redesign.  

  • Security enhancement: Counterfeit techniques are becoming more affordable year by year. Along with the growth in illegal migration, they create more challenges for countries. Innovations in security printing regularly introduce sophisticated features that make passports more resistant to tampering. 

  • Regional agreements: Various unions between countries sometimes involve issuing passports with a common design among member countries. For example, the navy blue Central-America-4 passports issued under the Central America-4 Border Control Agreement (El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua) and the bordeaux-color Andean passports issued by Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru as members of the Andean Community of Nations (ACN) feature similar cover colors and union-related inscriptions.
Peruvian passports from 2010 and 2016
Bolivian passports from 2018 and 2019

Peru and Bolivia issue passports with the legend “COMUNIDAD ANDINA” in gold on a bordeaux cover. Both countries have retained these regional characteristics in newer biometric passport versions introduced in 2016 and 2019.

Recently updated passports across the globe

Now let’s see how it works in practice by reviewing passport updates that have occurred within the last five years.

Andorran passport (2022 series)

This tiny landlocked European country updated its travel document following the latest ICAO requirements on biometrics stored in RFID chips and high-quality facial photographs.

Andorran passports from 2017 to 2022

Sometimes, updated passports have minor changes, such as using normal text instead of bold on the front cover. Nevertheless, these slight details refreshed the design of Andorran documents.

The newer version includes a polycarbonate personal data page with a color photo of the passport holder printed using laser engraving instead of the LASINK™ technique.

The Andorran passport from 2017 and 2022

Both versions of the Andorran biometric passport are now in circulation.

The document's appearance under ultraviolet (UV) light was also changed. A passport from 2022 has a brighter UV feature—a multi-colored overprint with the Principality of Andorra’s coat of arms.

An Andorran passport under ultraviolet

The new Andorran passport looks stunning under UV light with an updated UV feature that is now more colorful compared to the previous one, which was blue-green.

Australian passport (2022 series)

According to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the rollout of the new R Series passport was intended to ensure the safety of Australians' identities to the highest standards. 

While there are no major changes to the passport’s appearance at first glance, the Australian passport did receive numerous innovative updates to security features. In particular, Australia was among the pioneers to introduce a half window at the top of the data page, which is now made of polycarbonate. There is also а beautiful hologram partially covering the holder’s photo and a transparent window on the right of the page.

The Australian passport from 2014 and 2022

When updating its passport for the first time since 2014, Australia invested in enhancing the security of the document. Interestingly, you can now see the antenna of the RFID chip embedded on the right side.

Brazilian passport (2023 series)

Awarded as the 2023 Best New ePassport during the High Security Printing Latin America forum, the new Brazilian travel document is definitely worth attention.

The Brazilian passport from 2015 and 2023

The inscription “Mercosul” in Portuguese indicates the country’s membership in MERCOSUR, an intergovernmental organization and custom union. This symbol can also be found on passports of Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay.

To the layman, the data page of the passport may seem unchanged. However, an expert always sees more: for example, the updated background pattern and the ghost portrait on the right.

A personal data page of a Brazilian passport from 2015 and 2023

Unlike experts, a regular viewer can hardly discern the changes on the data page of the updated Brazilian passport.

Also, there are a suite of new passport security features integrated into the 2023 series. Some are visible only under UV light, such as bicolor UV-fluorescent security fibers and UV-fluorescent security thread embedded into chemically sensitive paper.

The Brazilian passport from 2015 and 2023 under UV light

When observed under UV light, the Brazilian passport from 2023 reveals more hidden secrets. In addition to security fibers, a complex green UV overprint and security thread have been added, replacing the previous pink design.

Danish passport (2021 series)

Back to Europe now, where the Kingdom of Denmark issued an updated passport after nearly a decade since the last renewal.

The Danish passport from 2012 and 2021

In contrast to Andorra, Denmark transitioned from a thinner to a bolder font on the front cover in the newer series passport.

The 2021 series offers more sophisticated passport security features, such as Multiple Laser Image (MLI). The document now includes four photos of the holder: a standard portrait, a photo in a semi-transparent window, a photo applied using Optically Variable Identification Element FUSE-ID, visible at a right angle under front illumination, and a color photo on the first page of the document.

The Danish passport from 2012 and 2021

The Danish passport received a substantial security upgrade, incorporating many modern passport security features integrated into the data page. For instance, there are three photographs of the holder.

The passport also appears differently under UV light. Its design incorporates motifs and runic characters from the Jelling Stones, massive carved runestones from the 10th century, located in the town of Jelling, Denmark.

The Danish passport from 2012 and 2021 under ultraviolet light

The newer version of the data page glows under UV light, depicting the lights of cities on the Danish islands as they would appear if you were flying over them at night.

Greek passport (2023 series)

The personal data page is the most significant upgrade in the new generation of the Greek travel document. 

First, it’s now made of polycarbonate with elements and text in the same blue color as the Greek flag.

Second, it includes additional security features, such as tactile relief on the right, a diffractive optically variable image device (DOVID) overlaying the holder’s portrait, applied and secured with LASINK™ and Optically Variable Ink (OVI), which changes color from gold to green above the photo.

The Greek passport from 2014 and 2023

The updated version of the Greek passport contains more sophisticated security features, such as a LASINK™ holder’s portrait and a ghost photo applied as an MLI.

Paraguayan passport (2023 series)

The country updated both the national identity card and passport, featured by High Security Printing Latin America in the category Best New ID or Travel Document. Let’s take a look at their first generation of a biometric passport here. 

The document has a polycarbonate data page, intricate patterns, and embossing effects on the inner cover and visa pages, two-color rainbow printing with UV features, microtext, and intaglio printing

The Paraguayan passport from 2015 and 2023

Paraguay switched to biometric passports with an awarded update.

Saudi passport (2020 series)

You might have noticed that switching to a biometric version of travel documents typically involves more visible changes in their front cover design and inner page layout. A Saudi passport is another example of such an update. Interestingly, the last redesign of the document was back in 2000.

The front cover of the Saudi passport from 2000, 2014, and 2020

With a fresh-looking passport design, Saudi citizens also got a more secure travel document.

With an RFID chip embedded in the document, the large barcode on the data page has been replaced with a modern layout and passport security features. The polycarbonate page includes three portraits of the document’s holder applied using different technologies. 

The renewed passport also contains many artistic elements representing famous Saudi landmarks.

The personal data page of the Saudi passport from 2014 and 2020

Information that was previously encoded in the barcode is now securely stored in an encrypted RFID chip.

Seychelles passport (2022 series)

The revamped passport of this island nation completes the list. When developing their first biometric passport, the Seychelles issuing authorities focused on the visual component of this change.

Like many other recently updated passports, the document incorporates a polycarbonate data page. Combined with advanced security features, such as a transparent window, MLI, and a DID™ Shape holographic device easily identifiable with the naked eye, the Seychelles’ travel document is one of the most advanced on the African continent.

The Seychelles passport from 2005 and 2022

Being an example of a recognized modern design, a Seychellois passport has come a long way from 2005.

In conclusion

By analyzing each new detail, we can identify trendy passport security features. Examples include a polycarbonate data page, MLI, transparent windows, and the holder’s portrait printed using LASINK™. This signifies that travel documents are becoming more secure, providing effective protection against counterfeiting. In particular, dynamic security features such as OVI or holograms can be successfully checked during online identity verification through document liveness detection.

With this knowledge, we can expect more updates in the near future, especially considering that 37 countries have not yet introduced biometric passports to the world. One of the countries poised to do so is Sri Lanka, with their electronic passport project nearing completion.  

Whenever a new passport joins the ranks of legitimate travel documents, its specifications will inevitably be added to Regula’s identity document template database. The collection, which includes over 14,000 templates, is regularly updated. Don't hesitate to get in touch with us if you have any questions or concerns related to working with passports and other identity documents globally.

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