National identity cards in the European Economic Area
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National identity cards are issued to their citizens by the governments of all European Union member states except Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom, and also by Liechtenstein. Citizens holding a national identity card, which states EEA or Swiss citizenship, can use it as an identity document within their home country, and as a travel document to exercise the right of free movement in the EEA and Switzerland. Identity cards that do not state EEA or Swiss citizenship, including national identity cards issued to residents who are not citizens, are not valid as a travel document within the EEA and Switzerland.
National identity cards are often accepted in other parts of the world for unofficial identification purposes (such as age verification in commercial establishments that serve or sell alcohol, or checking in at hotels) and sometimes for official purposes such as proof of identity/nationality to authorities (especially machine-readable cards).
Four EEA member states do not issue cards defined by EU as national identity cards to their citizens: Denmark, Iceland, Norway and the United Kingdom (except to residents of Gibraltar); although Norway is expected to start issuing such cards from 2020. At present, citizens from these four countries can only use a passport as a travel document when travelling between EEA member states, and Switzerland. However, when travelling within the Schengen Area or Common Travel Area, other valid identity documentation (such as a driving licence or EHIC card) is often sufficient. Ireland issues a passport card which is valid as national identity card in other EU countries.
As an alternative to presenting a passport, EEA and Swiss citizens are entitled to use a valid national identity card as a travel document to exercise their right of free movement in the European Economic Area and Switzerland.
Strictly speaking, it is not necessary for an EEA or Swiss citizen to possess a valid national identity card or passport to enter the EEA or Switzerland. In theory, if an EEA or Swiss citizen outside of both the EEA and Switzerland can prove their nationality by any other means (e.g. by presenting an expired national identity card or passport, or a citizenship certificate), they must be permitted to enter the EEA or Switzerland. An EEA or Swiss citizen who is unable to demonstrate their nationality satisfactorily must, nonetheless, be given 'every reasonable opportunity' to obtain the necessary documents or to have them delivered within a reasonable period of time.
Additionally, EEA and Swiss citizens can enter a number of countries and territories outside the EEA and Switzerland on the strength of their national identity cards alone, without the need to present a passport to the border authorities (although Swedish and Finnish law does not allow their own citizens to travel outside the EEA/Switzerland without a passport, in practice meaning that direct outbound travel from Sweden/Finland to such countries with only an ID card is not possible, probably including UK after Brexit if no deal, since no change of the relevant law was included in the Swedish law change for Brexit):
Of these countries, however, the following only accept national ID cards of EEA/Swiss citizens for short-term visits, and require a passport to take up residency:
- Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Faroe Islands (Kingdom of Denmark)7
- North Macedonia
- North Cyprus
1. Unlike Gibraltar, the British overseas territory of Akrotiri and Dhekelia and the British Crown Dependencies of Guernsey, the Isle of Man, and Jersey are not part of the European Union. Nonetheless, EEA and Swiss citizens are able to use their national identity cards as travel documents to enter all of these territories.
2. Monaco is de facto part of the Schengen Area under an arrangement with France, while San Marino and Vatican City are enclaves of Italy with open land borders. Further information: Schengen Area § Status of the European microstates.
3. Only machine-readable ID cards.
4. Only for EU citizens.
5. Except for nationals of Liechtenstein
6. Nationals of France may stay for max 6 months with an ID card. Other EEA/Swiss nationals (except Croatians) may enter on an ID card only if in transit to a third country and staying for max 14 days.
7. Except for Nordic citizens
Turkey allows citizens of Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and Switzerland to enter for short-term visits using a national identity card. Egypt allows citizens of Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, and Portugal to enter using a national identity card for short-term visits. Tunisia allows nationals of Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland to enter using a national identity card if travelling on an organized tour. Anguilla, Dominica, and Saint Lucia allow nationals of France to enter using a national ID card, while Dominica de facto also allows nationals of (at least) Germany and Sweden to enter with a national ID card (as of March 2016). Gambia allows nationals of Belgium to enter using a national ID card. Finally, Greenland allows Nordic citizens to enter with a national ID card (only Sweden and Finland have them, whereas Norway will introduce them in 2020). In practice, all EEA and Swiss citizens can use their ID cards, because no passport control takes place on arrival in Greenland, only by the airline at check-in and the gate, and both Air Greenland and Icelandair accept any EEA or Swiss ID card.
Although, as a matter of European law, holders of a Swedish national identity card are entitled to use it as a travel document to any European Union member state (regardless of whether it belongs to the Schengen Area or not), Swedish national law did not recognise the card as a valid travel document outside the Schengen Area until July 2015 in direct violation of European law. What this meant in practice was that leaving Schengen directly from Sweden (i.e., without making a stopover in another Schengen country) with the card was not possible. This partially changed in July 2015, when travel to non-Schengen countries in the EU (but not others, even if they accept the ID card) was permitted.
Similarly, Finnish citizens cannot leave Finland directly for a non EU/EFTA country with only their ID cards.
Additional checks for some citizens
UK Border Force officials have been known to place extra scrutiny on and to spend longer processing national identity cards issued by certain member states which are deemed to have limited security features and hence more susceptible to tampering/forgery. Unlike their counterparts in the Schengen Area (who, under the previous legal regime in force until 7 April 2017, were obliged to perform a 'rapid' and 'straightforward' visual check for signs of falsification and tampering, and were not obliged to use technical devices – such as document scanners, UV light and magnifiers – when EEA and Swiss citizens presented their passports and/or national identity cards at external border checkpoints), as a matter of policy UKBF officials are required to examine physically all passports and national identity cards presented by EEA and Swiss citizens for signs of forgery and tampering. In addition, unlike their counterparts in the Schengen Area (who, under the previous legal regime in force until 7 April 2017, when presented with a passport or national identity card by an EEA or Swiss citizen, were not legally obliged to check it against a database of lost/stolen/invalidated travel documents – and, if they did so, could only perform a 'rapid' and 'straightforward' database check – and could only check to see if the traveller is on a database containing persons of interest on a strictly 'non-systematic' basis where such a threat was 'genuine', 'present' and 'sufficiently serious'), as a matter of policy UKBF officials are required to check every EEA and Swiss citizen and their passport/national identity card against the Warnings Index (WI) database (note, however, that with effect from 7 April 2017, it is now mandatory for border officials in the Schengen Area to check on a systematic basis the travel documents of all EEA and Swiss citizens crossing external borders against relevant databases). For this reason, when presented with a non-machine readable identity card, it can take up to four times longer for a UKBF official to process the card as the official has to enter the biographical details of the holder manually into the computer to check against the WI database and, if a large number of possible matches is returned, a different configuration has to be entered to reduce the number of possible matches. For example, at Stansted Airport UKBF officials have been known to take longer to process Italian paper identity cards because they often need to be taken out of plastic wallets, because they are particularly susceptible to forgery/tampering and because, as non-machine readable documents, the holders' biographical details have to be entered manually into the computer.
According to statistics published by Frontex, in 2015 the top 6 EU member states whose national identity cards were falsified and detected at external border crossing points of the Schengen Area were Italy, Spain, Belgium, Greece, France and Romania. These countries remained the top 6 in 2016.
- Usage in own country
There are varying rules on domestic usage of identity documents. Some countries demand the usage of the national identity card or a passport. Other countries allow usage of other documents like driver's licences.
In some countries, e.g. Austria, Finland and Sweden, national identity cards are fully voluntary and not needed by everyone, as identity documents like driving licences are accepted domestically. In these countries only a minority have a national identity card, since a majority have a passport and a driving licence and don't need more identity documents. This is also true for Ireland where those who have a passport and a driving licence have less need for the passport card.
- Usage outside own country
EEA and Swiss citizens exercising their right to free movement in another EEA member state or Switzerland are entitled to use their national identity card as an identification document when dealing not just with government authorities, but also with private sector service providers. For example, where a supermarket in the UK refuses to accept a German national identity card as proof of age when a German citizen attempts to purchase an age-restricted product and insists on the production of a UK-issued passport or driving licence or other identity document, the supermarket would, in effect, be discriminating against this individual on this basis of his/her nationality in the provision of a service, thereby contravening the prohibition in Art 20(2) of Directive 2006/123/EC of discriminatory treatment relating to the nationality of a service recipient in the conditions of access to a service which are made available to the public at large by a service provider.
On 11 June 2014, The Guardian published leaked internal documents from HM Passport Office in the UK which revealed that government officials who dealt with British passport applications sent from overseas treated EU citizen counter-signatories differently depending on their nationality. The leaked internal documents showed that for citizens of Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Sweden who acted as a counter-signatory to support the application for a British passport made by someone whom they knew, HM Passport Office would be willing to accept a copy of the counter-signatory's passport or the national identity card. HM Passport Office considered that national identity cards issued to citizens of these member states were acceptable taking into account the 'quality of the identity card design, the rigour of their issuing process, the relatively low level of documented abuse of such documents at UK/Schengen borders and our ability to access samples of such identity cards for comparison purposes'. In contrast, citizens of other EU member states (Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Romania and Spain) acting as counter-signatories could only submit a copy of their passport and not their national identity card to prove their identity as national identity cards issued by these member states were deemed by HM Passport Office to be less secure and more susceptible to fraud/forgery. The day following the revelations, on 12 June 2014, the Home Office and HM Passport Office withdrew the leaked internal guidance relating to EU citizen counter-signatories submitting a copy of their national identity card instead of their passport as proof of identity, and all EU citizen counter-signatories are now able only to submit a copy of their passport and not of their national identity card.
Common design and security features
On 13 July 2005, the Justice and Home Affairs Council called on all European Union member states to adopt common designs and security features for national identity cards by December 2005, with detailed standards being laid out as soon as possible thereafter.
On 4 December 2006, all European Union member states agreed to adopt the following common designs and minimum security standards for national identity cards that were in the draft resolution of 15 November 2006:
The card can be made with paper core that is laminated on both sides or made entirely of a synthetic substrate.
- Biographical data
The data on the card shall contain at least: name, birth date, nationality, a photo, signature, card number, and end date of validity. Some cards contain more information such as height, eye colour, start date of validity, sex, issue place or province, and birth place.
The EU Regulation revising the Schengen Borders Code (which entered into force on 7 April 2017 and introduced systematic checks of the travel documents of EU, EEA and Swiss citizens against relevant databases when entering and leaving the Schengen Area) states that all member states should phase out travel documents (including national identity cards) which are not machine-readable.
However, as of 2017, Greece continues to issue solely non-machine readable identity cards, while Italy is in the process of phasing out the issuing of non-machine readable paper booklets in favour of biometric cards.
Electronic identity cards
All EEA electronic identity cards should comply with the ISO/IEC standard 14443. Effectively this means that all these cards should implement electromagnetic coupling between the card and the card reader and, if the specifications are followed, are only capable of being read from proximities of less than 0.1 metres.
They are not the same as the RFID tags often seen in stores and attached to livestock. Neither will they work at the relatively large distances typically seen at US toll booths or automated border crossing channels.
The same ICAO specifications adopted by nearly all European passport booklets (Basic Access Control - BAC) means that miscreants should not be able to read these cards unless they also have physical access to the card. BAC authentication keys derive from the three lines of data printed in the MRZ on the obverse of each TD1 format identity card that begins "I".
According to the ISO 14443 standard, wireless communication with the card reader can not start until the identity card's chip has transmitted a unique identifier. Theoretically an ingenious attacker who has managed to secrete multiple reading devices in a distributed array (eg in arrival hall furniture) could distinguish bearers of MROTDs without having access to the relevant chip files. In concert with other information, this attacker might then be able to produce profiles specific to a particular card and, consequently its bearer. Defence is a trivial task when most electronic cards make new and randomised UIDs during every session [NH08] to preserve a level of privacy more comparable with contact cards than commercial RFID tags.
The electronic identity cards of Austria, Belgium, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Italy, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Portugal and Spain all have a digital signature application which, upon activation, enables the bearer to authenticate the card using their confidential PIN. Consequently they can, at least theoretically, authenticate documents to satisfy any third party that the document's not been altered after being digitally signed. This application uses a registered certificate in conjunction with public/private key pairs so these enhanced cards do not necessarily have to participate in online transactions.
An unknown number of national European identity cards are issued with different functionalities for authentication while online. Some also have an additional contact chip containing their electronic signature functionality, such as the Swedish national identity card.
New European Union rules
Articles 3/4/5 of Regulation (EU) 2019/1157 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 June 2019 on strengthening the security of identity cards of Union citizens and of residence documents issued to Union citizens and their family members exercising their right of free movement, state:
- Identity cards issued by Member States shall be produced in ID-1 format and shall contain a machine-readable zone (MRZ). Security standards shall be based on ICAO Document 9303. The document shall bear the title ‘Identity card’ in the official language and in at least one other official language of the institutions of the Union. It shall contain, on the front side, the two-letter country code of the Member State issuing the card, printed in negative in a blue rectangle and encircled by 12 yellow stars. It shall include a highly secure storage medium which shall contain a facial image of the holder of the card and two fingerprints in interoperable digital formats. The storage medium shall have sufficient capacity and capability to guarantee the integrity, the authenticity and the confidentiality of the data. The data stored shall be accessible in contactless form and secured as provided for in Implementing Decision C(2018) 7767.
- Identity cards shall have a minimum period of validity of 5 years and a maximum period of validity of 10 years. But Member States may provide for a period of validity of less than 5 years for minors and more than 10 years for persons aged 70 and above.
- Identity cards which do not meet the new requirements shall cease to be valid at their expiry or by 3 August 2031.
- Identity cards which do not meet the minimum security standards or which do not include a functional MRZ shall cease to be valid at their expiry or by 3 August 2026.
- identity cards of persons aged 70 and above at 2 August 2021, which meet the minimum security standards and which have a functional MRZ shall cease to be valid at their expiry.
Article 16 states this Regulation shall apply from 2 August 2021.
Overview of national identity cards
Member states issue a variety of national identity cards with differing technical specifications and according to differing issuing procedures.
|Member state||Front||Reverse||Compulsory/optional||Cost||Validity||Issuing authority||Latest version|
|Identity documentation is optional||
||3 May 2010|
|National identity card compulsory for Belgian citizens aged 12 or over||
||12 December 2013|
|National identity card compulsory for Bulgarian citizens aged 14 or over||
||The police on behalf of the Ministry of the Interior.||29 March 2010|
|National identity card compulsory for Croatian citizens resident in Croatia aged 18 or over||
||The police on behalf of the Ministry of the Interior.||8 June 2015|
|National identity card compulsory for Cypriot citizens aged 12 or over||
||24 February 2015|
|National identity card compulsory for Czech citizens over 15 years of age with permanent residency in the Czech Republic||
||municipality on behalf of the Ministry of the Interior||19 May 2014|
|No national identity card of EU standard (See Identity document#Denmark).||Identity documentation is optional||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|National identity card compulsory for all Estonian citizens, permanent residents and EU/EEA citizens temporarily residing in Estonia aged 15 or over||
||5 years||Police and Border Guard Board||1 January 2011|
|Identity documentation is optional||
Fees are lower if application is made online and if a passport application is done at the same time.
|5 years||Police||1 January 2017|
|Identity documentation is legally optional but the police have extensive powers to check a person's identity in many situations, up to 4-hour detention to make the necessary verification and take a photograph.||
||1 October 1994|
|National identity card optional; however, a national identity card or passport is compulsory for German citizens aged 16 or over, and valid identity documentation is compulsory for other EEA citizens||
||1 November 2010|
|Identity documentation is optional||Free of charge||
||Civil Status and Registration Office, Gibraltar||8 December 2000|
|National identity card compulsory for Greek citizens aged 12 or over||
||15 years||Police||1 July 2010|
|National identity card optional; however, a national identity card, passport or driving licence is compulsory for Hungarian citizens aged 14||
||1 January 2016|
|No national identity card. Icelandic state-issued identity cards and driver's licences do not state nationality and therefore are not usable as travel documentation outside of the Nordic countries.||Identity documentation compulsory for all persons.||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|Identity documentation is optional. An identity card called "passport card" exists as a card version of a passport. It is optional and can be purchased by Irish passport holders for easy identification and travel within the EEA. In general drivers licences are used as identity cards locally. Public service cards can be used as identity for social welfare purposes.||
||Passport Office, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade||2 October 2015|
|National identity card optional, however, citizens should be able to prove their identity if stopped by territorial police||
||Ministry of the Interior through:
||4 July 2016|
|National identity card optional; however, a national identity card or passport is compulsory for Latvian citizens aged 15 or over||
||5 years||Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs||1 April 2012|
|Identity documentation is optional||
||Immigration and Passport Office, Vaduz||23 June 2008|
|Identity documentation is optional||
||Police||1 January 2009|
|National identity card compulsory for Luxembourgian citizens resident in Luxembourg aged 15 or over||
||1 July 2014 |
|National identity card compulsory for Maltese citizens aged 18 or over||
12 February 2014
|National identity card optional;, however, valid identity documentation is compulsory for all persons aged 14 or over||
||9 March 2014|
|No national identity card currently; however, planned to be introduced in 2020. ||Identity documentation is optional||Norwegian Police Service||2020|
|National identity card compulsory for Polish citizens resident in Poland aged 18 or over.||Free of charge||
||City Office||1 March 2019|
|National identity card (called "Citizen Card") compulsory for Portuguese citizens aged 6 or over||
||Governos Civis||1 June 2009|
|National identity card compulsory for Romanian citizens aged 14 or over with permanent residence in Romania||12 RON to issue a new or a renewal card||
||Police station in proximity||12 May 2009|
|National identity card compulsory for Slovak citizens aged 15 or over||Free of charge||
||1 December 2013|
|National identity card optional; however, a form of ID with photo is compulsory for Slovenian citizens permanently resident in Slovenia aged 18 or over||
||20 June 1998|
|National identity card compulsory for Spanish citizens aged 14 or over||€12||
||Police||20 January 2016|
|Identity documentation is optional||SEK 400||5 years||Police||2 January 2012|
|Identity documentation is optional||
||1 November 2005|
|No UK national identity card (UK ID Cards abolished 2011 by UK Identity Documents Act 2010), although identity cards can be issued to residents of Gibraltar. British driving licences, which are plastic cards showing a photo of the holder, their date of birth and their home address, are often used as general proof of identity. People without driving licences can with limits use PASS cards.||Identity documentation is optional||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A|
- Passports of the European Union
- Visa requirements for European Union citizens
- Schengen Area
- European Economic Area
- European Free Trade Association
- List of national identity card policies by country
- Identity document
- Internal passport
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