Costa Rica's nature is depicted on the new biometric passport or ePassport in an artwork design
#Identity Technology

Costa Rica: the art of passport security

Global Trends
4 Mins.

One of Central America’s most progressive countries, Costa Rica has rolled out a new biometric passport that embodies state-of-the-art security and imaging technologies – as well striking artwork that reflects the nation’s biodiversity and values

Although ePassports are now available in about 160 countries worldwide1, a surprising number of the nations clustered around the Caribbean still rely on older-style machine-readable passports. At least 20 countries in the region have yet to make the leap to biometric passports, even though most have plans to do so. And for good reason.

Machine-readable passports without a chip encoded with the passport holder’s biometric details create challenges for security and convenience. Without this chip, these non-ePassports are more susceptible to forgery and fraud and rely on manual processes for verifying identity – this slows border checks, frustrating travelers’ journeys.

Innovation in identity verification

As one of the most progressive countries in the region, Costa Rica embraced the modernization of its passport and ID technology in 2021, just as the nation – along with much of the rest of Central America – reached the 200-year anniversary of independence from Spain.

Costa Rica’s Biometric Bicentennial Passport, as the initiative is known, has been as ambitious as it has been innovative.

Drawing on the dual expertise of integrated identity solutions provider Veridos and Latin American systems integrator GSI Sertracen, the country’s General Directorate of Migration and Immigration (DGME) commissioned a holistic next-generation passport system that comprises:

  • the creation, personalization, and issuance of new electronic passports and
  • a biometric verification system through which new passport applicants’ biometric data is enrolled and encoded on their passport’s chip and data page.

Simple, secure process

Costa Rica's biometric passport combines security and design in one ID card

The technology from Veridos makes the process of obtaining a new passport simple, quick, and secure. When a citizen applies for a passport, their fingerprints and facial image are captured electronically at either the Directorate’s offices, the Bank of Costa Rica, a post office, or one of the country’s consulates around the world, with those details stored in a secure database hosted by the Costa Rican government.

The biometric data is then saved to a chip in the cover of a citizen’s passport, providing the ability for border teams to quickly perform identity verification. That also makes the passport fully compliant with global standards for identification.

The passport’s pages feature more than 60 other security features, including holographic effects, microtext, security threads, intaglio, latent images, relief patterns, multiple laser images, and flipbook animations – some visible to the human eye, others not. But some of the most innovative elements sit within the passport’s main data page.

By using polycarbonate (rather than cotton-based paper), the passport’s all-important data page has been made highly durable, to the point where it will outlast the expiry of any passport. But it also means that security features can be directly embedded into different layers of the polycarbonate page, making it virtually impossible to counterfeit.  

Taking advantage of the properties of polycarbonate, the new Costa Rica data page features multiple laser-engraved images and security features, including a transparent portrait window and a holographic strip. “It is the first passport in the whole of the Americas region to include a true color photo on a polycarbonate page,” highlights José Rolando Colchado, Managing Director of Veridos Mexico. The technical feat of creating a bright, clear image on polycarbonate was achieved through the use of Veridos’ highly innovative Clip ID technology. And it’s a passport technology that is already well-proven, having been in use across Bangladesh’s 72 domestic passport offices since 2020.


Form plus function

Costa Rica's nature and animals like the jaguar are visible in the design of the new biometric passport

The passport’s other visa pages – made from cotton paper – are printed with intricate artwork that acts as a canvas for further security.

While countries issuing new passports often rely on third-party partners to execute much of the artistic design work and provide suitable motifs that represent the country, Costa Rica wanted a more hands-on and local touch. The General Directorate of Migration and Immigration commissioned its own team at Esencial Costa Rica (Marca País) to lead the artistic design of the document.  

Their brief was to showcase four important facets of the country: biodiversity, renewable energy, education and peace, and talent. These are represented in a series of stunning motifs showing plants, animals, ancient monuments, and other elements that are unique to the country’s different regions and world-famous biodiversity. Veridos teams then created those designs in sets of security backgrounds using microtext, latent patterns, and guilloche, among other techniques.

“We worked very actively with Marca País to ensure we captured all the nuances of their designs and to turn those into security patterns, whether that involved a hammerhead shark, a tree frog, or a page featuring the country’s mysterious pre-Columbian stone spheres,” says Colchado. “Every single visa page is different and every single element on those – as beautiful as they may be – is a security measure.”

Rapid deployment

Veridos, together with GSI Sertracen, may have provided the technical expertise and solutions, but the Costa Rican government is running the complete ongoing operation from its sites. This ensures that citizens’ data is held securely and locally at General Directorate of Migration and Immigration data centers. “Security around biometric data is vital. While we provide, install, and integrate all the systems and applications, the Directorate is in full operation control of the systems and all data,” emphasizes Colchado. “Partners have no access to live data.”

Despite all the care that has been taken in design and implementation, the rollout has been rapid. The solution for both enrollment and passport issuance was installed and implemented in just 10 months, enabling the Costa Rican Directorate for Migration and Immigration to start offering its first ePassports from March 2022.

Demand has already been high for the new documents. In the first three months of the service’s availability, 68,000 new biometric passports were produced.2

One driver behind that is the benefits for Costa Rican citizens – passports can be processed more securely and quickly at borders. And with the Costa Rican authorities looking to use eGates at airports in the near future for both citizens and international travelers, that convenience will only be extended.

This underscores the fact that the Costa Rican ePassport is not only an identification instrument, but also an efficient and secure document that enhances the travel experience – and it does that as one of the world’s most visually attractive ID documents.

  1. Which countries have ePassports?ReadID

  2. Press release, Costa Rica General Directorate for Migration and Immigration

Published: 23/09/2022

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