A Glimpse into the Future of Travel with Europe's Newest Digital Passport

man on a smartphone

Europe's move toward a single framework for digital identification is well underway, with the European Union (E.U.) launching a pilot program in Finland that allows travellers to use a digital passport on their smartphones instead of a physical passport. The E.U. aims for at least 80% of its citizens to be using a digital ID by 2030.

The pilot program, which began at the end of August, is currently only available to Finnish citizens and is being conducted at Helsinki Airport in collaboration with Finnair, airport operator Finavia, and the Finnish police. This initiative allows Finnair passengers travelling to and from three United Kingdom airports to pass through border control using the new voluntary “Digital Travel Credential” (DTC) until the end of February 2024.

According to Raja, the Finnish Border Guard, travellers using the new digital credentials can "pass through border control faster and smoother than usual without queuing." The European Union is co-funding the pilot project with €2.3 million (US $2.5 million) and is planning similar programs at Zagreb Franjo Tuđman Airport in Croatia and Schiphol Amsterdam Airport in the Netherlands.

The eIDAS Regulation passed in 2014, underpins Europe's push for a single framework for digital identification, aiming to make electronic interactions between businesses and individuals safer, faster, and more efficient across Europe. The terminology surrounding electronic credentials can be confusing, as the DTC differs from a biometric passport (e-passport) commonly issued by various countries.

It's important to note that the majority of countries now issue some form of e-passport, identifiable by the biometric camera symbol printed on the cover. These passports contain computer chips with biographical and biometric information of the holders, making them more secure and difficult to replicate or forge.

In the context of e-passports, the United States has been issuing biometric passports by default since 2007. In 2021, the Next Generation Passport replaced the original e-passport as the standard travel document in the U.S., featuring a polycarbonate data page for increased integrity and durability.

The European Union's initiative and the global trend toward digital passports underscore a significant shift in travel documentation. As technology continues to evolve, more countries will likely adopt similar digital identification systems to enhance security and streamline travel processes.

This transformative development in travel documentation reflects a concerted effort to leverage technology for improved efficiency and security in international travel. The transition toward digital passports not only aligns with global technological advancements but also underscores the growing importance of secure and streamlined travel processes in a rapidly changing world.