Europa: Document security

di | 1 Set 2015


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Passports, residence permits or visas are used for travel purposes or as a proof of identity. Therefore, the security of these documents is essential. To improve it, the EU has decided to equip them with advanced security features and biometrics (facial image and fingerprints). This set of measures helps to fight against the falsification and counterfeiting of travel documents, while biometric identifiers establish a reliable link between the document and its holder.


Passports issued by EU States to their citizens have the common "recommended" lay out. They are burgundy in colour and have the words “European Union” printed on the cover, accompanied by the name of the issuing EU State.

According to EU law, passports must incorporate a storage medium (a chip) that contains the holder’s facial image and fingerprints. This obligation does not apply to identity cards or to temporary passports and travel documents with a validity of one year or less. The United Kingdom and Ireland are not bound by these rules, whereas Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Lichtenstein are.

Residence permits

The EU has also established a uniform format for non-EU nationals’ residence permits , which is used by all EU States as well as by Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Lichtenstein. These residence permits are issued as stand-alone documents and include the same biometric features as the EU passports. A residence card of a family member of a Union citizen is issued to non-EU national family members of an EU citizen who is exercising his/her right to free movement.

A uniform format for visas

All EU States as well as Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Lichtenstein also use a uniform format for visas. However, the visa holder’s biometric identifiers will not be stored in the visa sticker itself, but in a database (Visa Information System).

Distinguishing false and authentic documents
A European Image Archiving System – FADO (False and Authentic Documents) has been set up to facilitate exchanges of information between EU States. It provides for the rapid validation, storage and exchange of information on genuine and false documents by computerised means. Distinguishing between false and authentic documents is also important for citizens, organisations and businesses. Therefore, the EU has made available a Public Register of Authentic Identity and Travel Documents Online (PRADO).