5 Things You Need to Know About the New U.S. Passport Design

The U.S. passport is getting a face-lift to prevent forgery and heighten security. Here's a primer.

By Liz Weiss, Staff WriterSept. 12, 2016
By Liz Weiss, Staff WriterSept. 12, 2016, at 1:19 p.m.
U.S. News & World Report

5 Things You Need to Know About the New U.S. Passport Design

Close up of woman's hand holding open passport.

The passport is getting a makeover soon.(Getty Images)

In case you haven't heard, the U.S. will begin issuing passports with new safety features to help mitigate fraud and mishandling. The inventive design, which is expected to be rolled out at the end of 2017 or early 2018, is making headlines thanks to its new embedded data chip and intricate engravings and inks, which are difficult to emulate. "The forensic features of the book are keeping a step ahead of people who would want to compromise the integrity of our document," says Brenda Sprague, deputy assistant secretary for passport services at the Bureau of Consular Affairs. To help you stay attuned to shifts underway, U.S. News spoke with industry experts to get the lowdown on design developments you can expect in the future.

There's a High-Tech Embedded Chip

While passports have contained chips since 2005, the new machine-readable chip is protected by a polycarbonate coating to prevent your personal data from getting into the wrong hands, Sprague says. "As time has passed, chips have become more sophisticated," she says. The new data page will be covered in the polycarbonate material and is configured in a way where only other countries with the same technology will be able to read and verify the authenticity of the chip, she explains. As an added bonus, the coating will also protect the book from damage, tearing and identity theft, should you lose your passport and a skilled thief attempt to obtain or alter the chip.

The Ink and Artwork Is Getting More Innovative

After working closely with the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing and the Department of Homeland Security, the new design in the works will feature a higher "level of intricacy," Sprague says. Elaborate components, such as a watermark, tactile accents (think raised design elements) and color-shifting inks, which showcase varying hues according to your perspective, are increasingly more difficult to counterfeit, Sprague says. The new document will also contain micro-printing and graphics that are tiny, yet clearly delineated with appropriate black light or magnification, along with biometric features and visual recognition that's "going to add a level of protection to identify an imposter," Sprague says.

There Are Fewer Pages

If you love filling up your passport pages with stamps, you may not be pleased with the 28-page restriction, rather than the original 52 pages. "Now when you fill your passport, you'll need to get a new one," says Christine Sarkis, senior editor at travel site SmarterTravel. And with passport pages becoming coveted real estate, "it's natural to wonder if there's a way to get passport control officers to consolidate stamps more efficiently to save pages," she says.

On the upside, the smaller passport is more durable, says Tom Spagnola, senior vice president, supplier relations at CheapOair. Plus, the pages will be perforated with small holes that vary in size, making tearing or tampering with the pages more challenging.

Your Picture Is Going to Be Clearer

As part of passport awareness month, the U.S. State Department has championed an initiative to help travelers take picture-perfect passport photos. A staggering 250,000 applications are rejected or placed into an exception category because the picture is not up to standards, Sprague says. Sample photograph slip-ups include low-quality resolution, incorrect sizing, blurriness, grainy or poorly lit images and glare. In fact, photos with eyeglasses will be prohibited in the future.

How You Use Your Passport Will Change, Too

Aside from a major passport redesign that will change the forensic quality of the book, you'll likely benefit from a speedy screening process, too. "The readable chip and all of the technological advances will help expedite the process coming back through customs," Spagnola says. "I think it will be a faster process," he adds. The process for renewing your passport is going to change in the future, as well. A new platform that will allow people to renew their passports online is in the works for 2017, Sprague says. Eventually, you may be able to upload your own photograph to renew your passport online, allowing for a more seamless and quicker application process.

That said, with the REAL ID Act going into effect in 2018, passport renewals are going to spike next year. The REAL ID Act will require more rigorous passport renewal requirements, including an alternative form of identification, such as a passport card or permanent resident card if you live in one of the 27 states and territories that do not issue REAL ID-compliant driver's licenses or identification cards. Therefore, it's best to renew your passport sooner rather than later, Spagnola says.

Liz Weiss, Staff Writer

Liz Weiss is a senior editor at U.S. News & World Report. With more than six years of ...  Read more

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