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Costa Rica
Thursday, May 26, 2022

Costa Rica’s Biometric Passports: What You Need to Know

Believe it or not, we’re nearly in the year 2022. Every new year brings changes, and among other upcoming developments in Costa Rica, it looks like biometric passports are soon to be implemented throughout the country.

But what is a biometric passport, and why is Costa Rica moving in this direction?

What is a Biometric Passport?

You’re likely familiar with a traditional paper passport, which is a travel document issued by the government. Your passport will contain your identity, so you can use it as photo ID. But passports are typically used to let you travel to different countries.

A biometric passport does the same thing, but it has an embedded microchip inside. This means that your passport is machine-readable and far more secure than a paper passport, as it’s more difficult to counterfeit. More and more countries are shifting to biometric passports.

What Does Biometric Mean on a Passport, and How Does a Biometric Passport Work?

Biometrics are a way of using physical human characteristics, usually to identify someone. You might be familiar with facial recognition and fingerprints, for example. Many smartphones use biometric authentication as a security measure.

A biometric passport has this information stored in an embedded electronic microprocessor chip which contains this biometric data. Usually, this data includes the characteristics of their face, their fingerprints, and their personal information. The chip can then be scanned by a machine and used to authenticate the identity of whoever holds the passport. It’s difficult to forge a passport chip.

To use your biometric passport, go to an ePassport gate and open your passport to the photo page. Hold it down on the reader until the screen in front of you turns green. Your passport may also need to be verified by a person, depending on where you’re going.

What Does the Costa Rican Passport look like?

The Costa Rican passport looks like a smart blue leather booklet on the outside, with the national emblem on the top left corner, just above the words “República de Costa Rica”. At the bottom, as with other biometric passports, there is a small golden symbol that looks a bit like a camera. This can be used to identify it.

This new Costa Rican biometric passport was designed by the Essential Costa Rica nation brand team. The president of the Essential Costa Rica Nation Brand Committee is Pedro Beirute Prada. He explained that the design was intended to “put the essence of Costa Rica in the hands of millions of people.”

So, how could the artwork on a passport represent the essence of Costa Rica?

First of all, the passport is designed by Costa Ricans. This is the first time that Costa Ricans have designed their own passport, and it’s fitting as they would best understand what Costa Rica stands for. Here are the aspects of Costa Rica which are represented in the graphics of the passport:  

  • Biodiversity: Costa Rica is renowned for its stunning natural beauty. A huge part of what makes Costa Rica so beautiful is the biodiversity present there. The graphics depict the islands of Costa Rica, as well as hammerhead sharks, ocean waves, coral reefs, turtles, sloths, and even butterflies.
  • Renewable Energy: Costa Rica is also famous for its efforts towards sustainability and green energy. With this in mind, the designers have included representations of Costa Rica’s volcanoes and hydroelectric plants.
  • Education: Graphics depicting schoolbooks represent the education effort in Costa Rica.
  • Peace: The peace of Costa Rica is shown by the torch of independence, and “Pura Vida”. Pura Vida is a phrase that can be translated to “pure/simple life” and is used as a greeting. But it’s more than just a saying, Pura Vida is considered a way of life, a philosophy to be grateful for the good things in life and to make the most of your opportunities. A pure and happy life is a good life, and it’s something Costa Ricans should be proud to embrace.
  • Talent: The rich reservoir of talent found in Costa Rica is depicted by the traditional ox cart, sculptures, pre-Columbian spheres, Boruca masks, and last but certainly not least, the music of marimba, calypso, and the fantastic Creole swing.

As you can see, the rich culture of Costa Rica is represented in the pages within the passport. It’s appropriate to remind a Costa Rican traveler of home, don’t you think?

Why Is Costa Rica Implementing Biometric Passports?

Now that we know what biometric passports are, how they work, and what the new Costa Rican passport will look like, there’s one more question to ask. Why is Costa Rica making the shift?

Part of the reason has been mentioned already. It is considerably more difficult to forge a biometric passport than a regular paper passport. While a paper passport isn’t exactly easy to forge, it isn’t as secure as a biometric chip. The critical information stored in the chip needs to be authenticated by something called public key infrastructure, this is what makes it so expensive and hard to replicate.

The director of Migration, Raquel Vargas, explains that “This passport puts us at the height of the latest mobility trends at a global level. It prevents forgery and alteration, which makes it a very secure document as it is high-tech.”

As well as this, biometric passwords can have specific protection mechanisms to avoid and detects any attempted attacks. You can feel far more secure with a biometric passport.

Not only that, biometric passports can make it easier to enter certain countries, especially if they have an ePassport gate. But a biometric passport can double as an ordinary passport when you want to enter a country which hasn’t yet implemented them. All of the necessary information is also printed on the photo page, as you’d expect.

The biometric technology and the extra security it can provide isn’t just limited to passports either. Vargas also plans to use this technology for travel documents of refugees and foreign visitors, entry and exit permits, and neighborhood permits for people who live in border communities.

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