My travel passport contains the "biometric" RFID chip. While I can at any moment check that my passport itself is intact (not torn or anything) I can't check whether the chip inside is functioning as expected and whether the antenna used for powering it is intact.

Suppose I'm trying to cross the border and my passport is attempted to be accessed via RFID and the RFID system in my passport malfunctions. Now what? Am I denied entry?


I've had a malfunctioning barcode passport (those pre-biometric hologrammed ones) for 10 years. Basically ever since I first got the passport I was unable to successfully scan it anywhere I went. During that timespan I travelled many countries, including and not limited to the US, India and Australia, and it never worked. What happens in case the automatic scan doesn't work is that the customs officer tries scanning it again and when that fails too they enter the passport number manually in the system. That's it. I would say you have nothing to worry about. Unless there are valid reasons for not letting you in the country you should be fine.

In case you just want to know if the RFID works you can try reading it using a dedicated reader (or a compatible mobile phone). You might get gibberish/unreadable data (or not, depending on the passport and its functioning) but at least you'll know if the chip responds.


Most smart cards have 'passive RFID' chips on them which don't require an on-board power source and thus do not have an actively transmitting antenna. They are usually powered by electromagnetic induction, i.e., placed closed to a reader that powers up the chip. Failure rates, thus, are low for passive RFID chips and more often than not a read failure occurs when the reader isn't able to pick up signals properly due to attenuation (signal weakening due to distance / material obstructions) rather than the chip on card itself failing. Other reasons could include extreme temperature variations that cause chip to contract/expand but operating range on most smart cards can work fine for -20 deg C to 50 deg C range.

TL;DR: There's no easy way to determine whether your card has failed (unless it's physically bent/damaged), but card failure is not THAT big a problem.

Most national ID smart cards also have additional security features such as holograms/watermarks to prevent counterfeits so border officials will still have a way of determining (to an extent) whether it's genuine. Even if one does fail, I'm sure immigration/border control authorities should have procedures in place, similar to those already in place for damaged paper passports.

  • 1
    yup. I've once had a border guard alert me to damage to my passport I'd not noticed before. Was no problem, he just told me to get it replaced when I got home and wished me a pleasant stay (this was in the US I think, post 9/11 but pre-TSA). You can't see whether the chip is functional, so they can't hold you responsible for it (unless they make a note in it and on next entry months later it's still there maybe).
    – jwenting
    Jan 18 '12 at 6:42

Most likely, the agent will scan the barcode to accomplish the same thing. If that doesn't work, the agent can type in the passport number. I would guess with a faulty RFID, they would be more likely to suspect a fake passport and ask more questions, check baggage, etc.

  • This is exactly what happens. My (Hungarian) passport chip malfunctioned when I landed at Heathrow and the closest agent to the eGates is marked for this problem so I went there and got processed without a problem. There were no extra questions.
    – chx
    Jun 21 '15 at 18:35

You accidentally get confused with someone on the no-fly list? :) Worst case they can scan the barcode or even enter the number manually - your face etc is still on the system, much like those who don't yet have RFID passports. There may be a few interesting questions, but you should still be allowed in.

The US is the only tricky one I can think of as they now insist on RFID chipped passports for entry into the country, but even they have backup plans.

  • 4
    I'm pretty sure they don't require RFID passports. They do require Machine Readable passports, but that means one with the magic barcode thing at the bottom of the details page
    – Gagravarr
    Sep 3 '11 at 10:53
  • Believe I got the impression from articles like this: pcworld.com/article/123246/… - but maybe it's only for ones they issue.
    – Mark Mayo
    Sep 3 '11 at 11:23
  • 1
    I think it is, yes. Many countries are moving to them too. For arrivals though, if you're coming in under a visa waiver program or similar, you need a Machine Readable Passport
    – Gagravarr
    Sep 3 '11 at 13:04
  • Until earlier this year, I had a non-machine-readable (U.S.) passport. It worked fine.
    – nibot
    Sep 3 '11 at 18:22
  • 1
    I have a friend who's RFID chip is less than reliable after his passport got heavily stamped due to a 'language barrier' in eastern Europe. When he comes back to the UK on his NZ passport they can't always get it to register so they revert to the bar code and scan three or four of his fingers.
    – Stuart
    Sep 5 '11 at 11:32

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.