Finland’s ‘world first’ digital passport trial could signal the future of EU travel

Finland has launched a digital passport trial, the first time such a document has been tested in a “real border control” environment – and it could be the start of a wider move by EU countries.

The digital document could potentially reduce queueing times. Finnish passengers flying from Helsinki to the UK on some Finnair flights can pass through border control using Digital Travel Credentials (DTC).

“It is likely that we will continue to see more and more countries introducing [this] in the future,” Tony Smith, chairman of the International Border Management and Technologies Association, told i.

The test is part of an EU pilot scheme. It launched on 28 August and will continue until February 2024. It is led by the Finnish Border Guard and run in partnership with Finnair, the Finnish police and airport operator Finavia. The European Commission co-funding the project with €2.3m (£1.8m).

The documents are also set to be tested at Croatia’s Zagreb International Airport later this year. When the results are in, the EU Commission is expected to work up a proposal to roll out digital passports to the rest of the bloc.

What are Digital Travel Credentials?

“It is, essentially, a digital alternative to a passport which can be used on a mobile device to establish nationality and identity,” said Mr Smith. The International Civil Aviation Organisation has been working on the DTC for several years.

How does the DTC work?

Travellers eligible to volunteer for the scheme must first download the FIN DTC Pilot app on a smartphone. The app is available through the Google Play Store or the Apple Play Store.

Passengers need to have a screen-locking method activated on their phone before installing the app – this could include a fingerprint, face ID or pin number check.

Volunteers must then register with police at the permits service of Vantaa Main Police Office in the Finnish Capital Region.

After booking an appointment, they must take their usual, physical passport with them. The document will be used to create the digital version.

As part of the registration process, applicants need to sign a consent form and have their photograph taken. The photo will be used in the facial recognition process.

They can use the digital document at Helsinki airport when travelling to the UK and returning to Helsinki airport on direct Finnair flights until February 2024.

Each time a traveller plans to use their DTC, they will need to send their information through the app to the Finnish Border Guard, between four and 36 hours before their flight.

Travellers are still subject to UK border control rules on arrival.

Can the DTC cut queueing time at the airport?

During the trial, there are queues specifically for volunteers. Border guards cross-check travellers’ photographs with the image taken when they registered with the police.

Passports are placed on a reader and the traveller looks into a camera. With this process cleared, they are through border control.

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