Traveling to Canada with a Biometric Passport

US biometric passport

Citizens of 60 eligible countries can enter Canada visa-free providing they apply for the Canadian Electronic Travel Authorisation (eTA) before departure.

To obtain the eTA, foreigners from visa waiver countries should have a biometric passport to which the approved authorization can be linked electronically. With no need to print and carry around a physical permit, the Canada eTA is convenient and reduces time spent at the border.

Biometric passports have been developed over recent decades to substitute the machine-readable passport. Since its introduction, the e-passport has been adopted by the majority of countries across the world.

Digital passports are more secure than traditional, machine-readable documents, the reasons for which are explained below.

What is the Difference Between a Normal Passport and a Biometric Passport?

The difference between normal (machine-readable) and biometric passports is that the electronic version has a microprocessor chip embedded within it.

This chip contains certain biometric information that can be used to identify the holder.

Security features of e-passports are standardized by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the European Union.

What Information is stored in a biometric passport

Both ordinary and biometric passports have a data page on which essential traveler details are printed. The following information is recorded on this page:

  • Full name
  • Date of birth
  • Other biographical information such as the town of birth
  • Photograph

In both normal passports and biometric passports, this information is printed in machine-readable lines, biometric passports also have an electronic chip containing the holder’s details.

How can I tell whether my passport is biometric or not?

Biometric passports can be identified by a small camera logo printed on the cover.

As the technology has become more advanced, the biometric chip has gotten finer and it’s therefore not usually possible to notice the ridge or a bump in the page.

What are the biometric passport countries?

Different countries adopted the biometric passport at different times, for example in the UK all passports issued from 2010 are electronic.

By 2017, as many as 120 countries had decided to move to digital documents. In the future, ePassports are likely to be distributed by even more nations.

How Do Electronic Passports Work?

Biometric are measurements of an individual’s unique physical characteristics. The distance between different points on the face such as the space between the eyes and the nostrils is recorded.

As no 2 people are exactly the same, this information can be stored on the passport chip and used to identify travelers.

At airport ePassport gates people are asked to scan their document and look into a screen that cross-checks the facial measurements against those stored on the chip. Removing the human-error element makes this a much more accurate way to confirm identity.

What are the photo requirements for a biometric passport?

When applying for or renewing a biometric passport, a photograph must be supplied which meets a set of requirements.

In most cases, a printed photograph can be submitted or a digital photograph taken at home. Some of the guidelines for a suitable biometric passport photo are as follows:

  • Neutral expression with mouth closed
  • Glasses and headwear removed
  • Size 45mm x 35 mm

It is important to check the exact specifications of the issuing country before making a passport application.

What Are the Advantages of an ePassport?

As the newest and most modern type of passport, biometric travel documents have a number of benefits over its machine-readable predecessor.

The main advantage of the digital passport is that it is more secure than the traditional document. The use of Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) to authenticate data stored on the chip means that it is very complicated and expensive to forge.

Passport holders are therefore protected from fraudsters who may attempt to use their identity to create a fake document.

In addition to being more secure, the electronic passport is also the most efficient. ePassport gates at Canadian airport customs allow travelers to scan their own documents and move through passport control quickly.

What mechanisms are used to keep biometric information secure?

The following systems are involved in protecting the personal data of individuals, preventing attacks:

  • Active Authentication (AA): prevents the cloning of passport chips
  • Basic Access Control (BAC): safeguard the communication channel between the chip and the reader
  • Extended Access Control (EAC): used mainly to protect fingerprints and iris scans
  • Passive Authentication (PA): used to identify the modification of the biometric chip
  • Supplemental Access Control (SAC): will eventually replace BAC, stronger control

Biometric Passports for Traveling to Canada with eTA

One of the key advantages of the electronic visa waiver for Canada is that the entire eTA application process is online, with no need to submit paperwork in person at an embassy or consulate or join long queues at the airport.

The eTA is also issued digitally, it is linked to the travel document electronically so it isn’t necessary to print the permit. When the passport is scanned at the border the authorities can confirm whether a person is in possession of a valid eTA.

The Electronic Travel Authorisation for Canada remains valid and linked to the passport for 5 years. Should the passport expire within this time it is necessary to reapply for the eTA, it is not possible to transfer the permit.

Parents and guardians should be aware that children need an eTA to enter Canada. Minors with their own biometric passport require an individual authorization linked to their identification.