This year, international travelers will see some new passport-related technology if they pass through certain airports. Here’s the scoop on the new tech you might encounter, where you can expect to find it and what it means to you.

Biometric Face Scanners

Travelers returning through John F. Kennedy Airport in New York may have their faces scanned with a biometric face scanner as they go through Customs. The scanner matches your face with the passport photo that’s stored on the RFID chip in your passport.

The technology was originally tested at Dulles airport in Washington, DC last year. It is being used for foreign visitors coming from countries that participate in the visa waiver program and for random checks on returning US citizens, according to CBS News. 

Why is Customs and Border Control scanning faces? It’s an extra security measure, designed to prevent people from using another person’s passport to enter the country.

CBP Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske told CBS:

“In the past we’re holding up a very small passport picture which can be up to 10 years old,” Kerlikowske said.

So, what happens if you get flagged? If the machine doesn’t think your face matches your passport data, you can expect to be taken aside briefly so a Customs agent can verify your identity.

When Do You Need a New Passport Photo?

What if your appearance has changed? Will you need a new passport photo to get through Customs?

Probably not. The rules for when you need a new passport photo have not changed. Biometric facial recognition looks at features that tend to stay constant over time, like the shape of your cheekbones and the distance between your eyes. And a human CBP agent will make the final call, anyway.

That said, you may need a new passport photo if you’ve had major trauma or surgery, gained or lost a lot of weight, are transitioning to a different gender or have gotten a lot of new facial piercings or tattoos.

For more on how to determine if you need a passport photo, see Do You Need a New Passport Photo?

New Passport Control App- Check In With A Selfie

Going through customs on your way back from an international trip? There’s an app for that!

The Mobile Passport Control app allows you to submit your passport information and customs forms using a smartphone or tablet. The app, which was released last year by CBP, is available for Android and Apple.

To use it, simply download the app, create a profile with your passport information, fill out the customs forms and take a selfie. The app gives you a scannable QR code which the CBP officer uses to pull up your information. It doesn’t replace going through customs, but it does streamline the process and some airports even have dedicated security lanes for travelers using the app.

Currently, the Mobile Passport Control app is available for travelers entering the country through the following airports:

  • Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport
  • Miami International Airport
  • Chicago O’Hare International Airport
  • San Francisco International Airport
  • Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

It is expected to be available in the top 20 international airports in the US by the end of the year.

Clearly, passport control has entered the digital age.  What do you think of these new technologies? Let us know in the comments!

Need a new passport in a hurry? We make it simple to expedite your application, with no need to visit a passport agency.  Click here to start our easy order process!