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ePassport Frequently Asked Questions

Why has the ePassport been introduced?
The ePassport has been introduced to further enhance the security of the New Zealand passport and ensure New Zealand meets the requirements for USA "visa waiver" border entry from 26 October 2006.

All passports issued by Department of Internal Affairs currently meet International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and United States (USA) visa waiver requirements, except for the inclusion of an electronic chip containing biometric identifiers. New Zealand must now incorporate a chip in each new passport to fully comply with ICAO standards and meet the US changes to the Visa Waiver Programme (VWP).

New Zealand prides itself on having one of the best passports in the world. These enhancements will strengthen the already good reputation of the New Zealand passport.

What is the benefit of the ePassport?
Putting the microchip into the passport will:
  • Reinforce the integrity of the passport. The New Zealand passport has the equivalent of an AAA+ international security rating that allows New Zealanders to travel to many other countries through visa free arrangements. The new requirements will preserve the existing visa waiver arrangement with the USA. If we don't implement this technology the result is likely to be new and additional visa requirements creeping back in.
  • Ensure that New Zealand has the best opportunity to keep ahead of the increasingly sophisticated international passport fraudsters.
One of the most common acts of fraud involving New Zealand passports is the replacement of photos or the passport being used by someone who looks similar to but is not the holder. Over time the ePassport will make it very difficult for someone else to use your passport.

Another common form of fraud is the manufacture of counterfeit passports. The ePassport is significantly more sophisticated and therefore substantially harder to reproduce.

What is the US visa waiver programme and how does the ePassport affect the programme?
The US visa waiver arrangement allows travellers from New Zealand and the other 26 visa waiver countries to enter the USA for holiday or business purposes for a period up to 90 days without a visa. Providing all passports, issued from 26 October 2006, contain the microchip (with the image of the holder’s photograph) the passport holder will still be able to enter the US according to the rules of the visa waiver programme. If a person has a passport issued prior to that date and it is still valid then they will continue to be able to enter under the visa waiver programme, providing it is a machine-readable passport.

Which biometric identifier will be in New Zealand passports and why?
New Zealand will be using the facial biometric identifier. A microchip will be embedded in the passport containing the holder's passport biometric information and a digitised image of the passport holder's photograph.

New Zealand is using this biometric identifier because it is the required biometric standard of ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) of which New Zealand is a member. ICAO is an agency of the United Nations.

What New Zealand travel documents will the microchip be added to?
Travel documents that have the microchip added by the end of 2005 are the New Zealand:
  • Passport
  • Diplomatic passport
  • Official passport
  • Refugee Travel Document (RTD)
  • Certificate of Identity (COI)

How is the biometric identifier being added to the passport?
A chip will be embedded in the passport in a polycarbonate leaf in the back of the book. This chip will carry a digital image (photograph) and the normal passport bio data details of the passport holder. This microchip will enhance security by linking you to a digitised version of your photograph. It will make it more difficult for fraudsters to use your passport and will help reduce passport theft.

What information will be held on the microchip?
The data that is included in the chip is:
  • The two Machine Readable Zone lines as printed in the passport.
  • A compressed version of the image (photograph) printed in the passport.
  • The coordinates of the eyes on the image encoded in the chip.
  • The computer name of the machine used for encoding the chip.
  • The date and time when the data was assembled.
  • The DSO (Document Security Object) that will include;
    • The document signer information and certificate;
    • The data digital signature.
Once encoded the chip is write protected to ensure the details cannot be modified.

How will the microchip be used at a border control?
In countries with chip readers, when the traveller passes through Customs the passport will be read. This process will validate the information on the chip when the passport is presented to the Customs Officer. The information cannot be accessed without special security technology.

If the border control has a facial recognition camera, a photo will be taken of the holder and compared electronically against the chip data.

Can my information be "skimmed" from the data?
There has been some concern about people skimming the data on the chip and using it fraudulently. We took this into account when we designed the chip data access procedure and the security processes, which virtually eliminate this risk.

Who will use the information on the microchip?
The microchip will be used at entry points to countries so that border officials can verify that the traveller presenting the passport is really the passport holder of the passport they're presenting.

As this technology is new and we are among the first countries in the world to use it, many border controls will not have the technology to read the chips. Customs processing in these cases will use their current procedures. The ePassport meets all the requirements of those procedures.

The information on the chip gives the border control officer one more means of verifying the identity of the person presenting the passport. The digital data loaded onto the chip will be much more difficult to forge and gives border control a higher degree of confidence that the passport has not been tampered with.

Can I see the information held on the microchip?
Not normally. The information held on the microchip is the same information that is contained in the bio-data page of the passport. Department of Internal Affairs Identity Services offices will have a PC with a reader connected to it that can allow customers to view the information on the microchip. Please contact us if you wish to make an appointment to visit an Identity Service office to view the information on the microchip.

What will the ePassport look like?
The new ePassports will look similar to our current passport books. There are two identifying factors - the small symbol on the front cover indicating that electronic chip has been embedded in the passport, and the polycarbonate leaf in the back of the book inside which the chip is located.

There are a number of other changes that will appear in this new passport that do not relate to the chip feature.
  • ePassports will not have the holder' Country of Birth printed in the books.
  • The current keyboard character used to indicate the document holder is of an unspecified gender is a dash (-). ICAO has changed the character used to indicate a person of unspecified gender to an X. You will now only be able to enter M, F or X in the sex field.
  • Endorsements will be printed on sticky labels and stuck into page 4 of the book.

Will the application process be any different or take longer?
No. The application process won't change at all.

Can I still use my existing passport?
All valid machine-readable passports that were issued before and during the introduction of the ePassport are still valid until the expiry date printed on the passport.

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Last updated: 29/06/2006