No more queuing at the border: Finland tests digital passports in world first

Passengers could avoid queues at the airport with a digital passport.
Passengers could avoid queues at the airport with a digital passport. Copyright Finnish Border Guard
By Rosie Frost
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The Finnish Border Control says Digital Travel Credentials are “equally reliable” as a physical passport.

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Finnish people flying from Helsinki to the UK may now be able to show a digital ID on their phone rather than their physical passport.

Travellers on some flights with Finnair will be able to pass through border control using Digital Travel Credentials (DTC) rather than waiting in line for border control.

The Finnish Border Control says it is the first time a digital passport will be accepted “in a real border control environment, reportedly for the first time in the world”. They claim that it will make the experience “faster and smoother than usual”.

The country has launched the groundbreaking trial in partnership with Finnair, the Finnish police and airport operator Finavia but it could be a sign of things to come in the EU. 

How do digital passports work?

The DTC pilot project opened to Finnish passengers on Finnair flights to London, Edinburgh or Manchester on 28 August. It is only available to Finnish citizens.

Travellers interested in volunteering first need to download the FIN DTC Pilot digital travel document app on their smartphone from the Google Play Store or Apple App Store. To use it, you’ll need to have some form of phone screen locking method - PIN number, fingerprint or face ID - activated before installing the app.

Next, you’ll need to register with the police at Vantaa Main Police Station's license services. This requires you to book an appointment and take a valid physical passport with you in order to create the digital version. During registration, you’ll sign a consent form and a photo will be taken of your face to be used for facial recognition.

Alessandro RAMPAZZO / AFP
Travellers are pictured inside the Terminal 2 of the Helsinki airport.Alessandro RAMPAZZO / AFP

You only need to register with the police once and after this, you can use DTC at Helsinki Airport when travelling to the United Kingdom and returning to Helsinki Airport on direct Finnair flights until the end of February 2024 when the trial ends.

Each time you travel, you will need to send your data through the app to the Finnish Border Guard 36 to 4 hours before your flight.

How does a digital passport work at the airport?

The Finnish Border Guard claims that the DTC is “a digital version of a physical passport and is equally reliable” adding that it “allows smooth and fast border crossings without compromising security”.

But what exactly does that mean for travellers when they reach the airport?

When Finnish passengers leave for the UK from Helsinki Airport, there are currently special lines set up for volunteers testing the service.

A border guard will compare your photo with the DTC photo taken when you registered with the police. After you place your passport on a separate reader, you’ll have to look into a camera. Once cleared, you’ll be through border control.

The pilot scheme is only in Helsinki, however, and you’ll still need to follow the instructions of local authorities in the UK.

Could digital passports be introduced across the EU?

Finland’s digital passport trial is part of a wider EU pilot as the bloc looks to improve travel tech.

Last year, the European Commission reached out to see which countries would be willing to participate in testing the digital documents.

Croatia also volunteered and is hoping to run its own pilot project at Zagreb Airport later this year.

Once information is collected from these pilot schemes, the Commission will use the information gathered as part of a proposal to roll out digital passports in the rest of the EU at some point in the future.

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