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My biometric passport inadvertently spent some time under the rain. It's not badly damaged but some sheets are a bit deformed and there are tiny brown spots on the side. I am wondering if there is an easy way for me to determine if the chip is still working. If it does not, can I still use the passport? Which countries require a biometric passport or actually use the data?

Also, how much of a problem can a lightly damaged/worn out passport be? Is it more likely to be an issue in some countries than others?

PS: Right now, I am preparing for a possible trip to the US and since there is still time, I will most likely ask for a (costly, turned out requesting a new one was free, for some reason) new passport just in case but I would be curious to know if that's really necessary or about potential issues in other countries as well. The passport in question is still valid for more than three years, still has many free pages and was issued by a EU country participating in the visa waiver program.

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First, you might be refused if your passports looks damaged! second, I wouldn't take a chance and travel all the way to be refused. Just renew the passport. –  MeNoTalk Oct 8 '13 at 14:44
    
Well, that much I figured out myself (see my PS), I am more interested in authoritative information or actual experience with this, how likely it is to have a problem if I was in a situation where renewing isn't an option (say leaving tomorrow), etc. Obviously, the risk I want to avoid is being refused but I guess frequent travelers frequently (!) have passports that look worse than mine, so how strict are border polices with that? And apart from the appearance of the passport, does the chip matter? –  Relaxed Oct 8 '13 at 14:47
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Annoyed, take a trip to the immigration office, let them tell you the decisive answer. Regarding passports, since my job requires me to fly a lot, it is an ugly passport with messed up pages and still working, it just never touched water. –  MeNoTalk Oct 8 '13 at 14:58
    
@HaLaBi OK, thanks for your feedback. Still would be interested to know whether anyone cares about the chip and how to find out if it's been damaged. –  Relaxed Oct 8 '13 at 17:57
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A related question travel.stackexchange.com/q/1901/703 –  sharptooth Oct 9 '13 at 9:28

3 Answers 3

up vote 12 down vote accepted

ePassports use a "Near Field Communication" (NFC) chip to carry the biometric information.

Many modern smartphones include a NFC reader, which allows them to read the data from the e-Passport - if you can read that data, then your ePassport is working. If you can't, then it's likely broken.

There are a number of apps that can read the data from the passport using NFC, such as NFC TagInfo for Android. The information on the NFC chip is protected using a password composed of your passport number, data of birth, and passport expiry date so you will need to manually enter these before it is able to display the data from the NFC.

No countries are currently enforcing the use of ePassports for entry, so you will not have any issues getting through immigration with a "failed" e-passport.

In some countries, such as Australia (SmartGate) and the US (Global Entry), an ePassport is required to use the automated expedited entry lanes. Without a working ePassport you will not be able to use these lanes, however at least in Australia you will be able to jump to the front of the normal lines if/when using the SmartGate fails.

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Same for the automated entry lanes in France: you'll need a working ePassport or a passport (even non-biometric) previously registered at a PARAFE booth (you'll find them in big airports e.g. CDG and ORY). –  tricasse Nov 20 '13 at 8:44
    
In Luton, UK you can also jump to the front of the normal line if your ePassport reading fails. –  SztupY Feb 7 at 9:51

No, it does not matter, at least in the US. travel.state.gov:

What will happen if my Electronic Passport fails at a port-of-entry?

The chip in the passport is just one of the many security features of the new passport. If the chip fails, the passport remains a valid travel document until its expiration date. You will continue to be processed by the port-of-entry officer as if you had a passport without a chip.

(Which does make you wonder why they insist on them in the first place then, but that's another story.)

As for what sorts of passport damage are acceptable and what are not, contrary to common belief immigration officers do usually use common sense. If your photo page or your relevant visas look tampered in any way, expect a lot more scrutiny, possibly even denial of entry if your passport in such bad shape that they can't be sure it's genuine. But the damage is limited to a couple of empty pages in the back, or your Elbonian visa from 1998 is a bit smudged, they won't care.


Related anecdote: a few years back, my country's passports had a rather notorious defect where the photo ID page would snap clean off after heavy use, and as luck would have it, this happened to a friend of mine at exit immigration as he was leaving on his way to Japan. On arrival, he tucked the page back in carefully, then presented the passport (closed) to the immigration officer in Japan, who cracked it open... and the photo page came flying out.

Friend: "Oh my god! You... you broke my passport! What am I going to do!?"

Officer, shocked: "Sorry! Sorry!" Stamp, stamp, handed back passport with a bow and an apology.

And on the way back, he taped the ID page carefully back in, made it home, and then got a new passport. Don't try this at home, kids ;)

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If the chip fails, you won't be able to use the automated gates that various countries are deploying, so you'll miss out on the (often) shorter queues that those offer (where available and eligible) –  Gagravarr Oct 8 '13 at 23:37
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actually had that happen with an old (first generation with those plastic sheets) passport myself. It half tore off one day when someone at an airport was pulling it through one of those machines. Apologies, some transparent plastic tape. Next border officer saw it, scolded me for traveling with a damaged document but let me through with a warning to get it replaced ASAP after I got home. Same on arrival. Trip back the exit check was perfunctory, never even opened the thing, arrivals check at home they didn't even look past the cover. –  jwenting Oct 9 '13 at 5:56
    
+1 I was unsure which answer to accept, yours was very helpful as well. –  Relaxed Oct 9 '13 at 11:46
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@jpatokal: That's not a smudge. The spot of Elbonian mud is a security feature. –  Jonas Nov 19 '13 at 15:03

Each country around the world implements different passport security and authenticity checks, so there is no simple answer to your question.

However, most modern passport readers are capable of identifying an ePassport and verifying that the chip is operating as it should. Over time, more countries are turning that security check on so it's likely that if you travel regularly you will run into problems (delays and inconvenience while the passport authenticity is confirmed).

The only real way to confirm the chip is ok is to check with your passport issuing agency... or if you arrive in Australia and can successfully use SmartGate, it's definently working :)

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