Shut Your Mouth, Please

Athens News

All new passport photos must be of an unsmiling face with its jowl shut or else authorities will reject the application for failing to meet the new rules introduced in January to cbmbat fraud

By Kathy Tzilivakis

Talk about turbulence. Officially, Greece's new hi-tech passports took off in January but complicated photo regulations made it difficult for them to get off the ground.

Officials processing the passport applications in downtown Athens, Kallithea, Pangrati and Egaleo told this newspaper last week that the situation has greatly improved. Several hundred applications were rejected last month at these four centres because the photo did not meet specification.

Only 50,000 passports have been printed at an ultramodern facility managed by the police since the start of this year, according to the public order ministry. The multimillion-euro technology, however, can mass-produce as many as 60,000 passports a day. It was purchased from TOPPAN, a Japanese company. The same printing technology is currently being used for passport production in countries like the United States, Canada and New Zealand.

The new passports contain a biometric chip that holds a digitised photo and signature to prevent counterfeiting. Photographs on new passports are now digitised onto the page, making them more difficult to tamper with.

This Multimillion-euro Japanese technology can mass-
produce as many as 60,000 passports a day. However,
only some 50,000 passports have been printed since January
No longer issued by local prefectures, the new passports are being mass-produced at a new hi-security central office in the eastern Athens suburb of Kessariani (8 Hiou St).

The old Greek passports are very easy to forge. Fakes sell for several thousand euros on the black market. More than 2,000 counterfeit passports were confiscated last year.

The new passports contain the following personal details (in Greek and Latin characters) of the holder: last name, given name, maiden name, nationality, date and place of birth, sex and height. The passport will also state the date it was issued.

Passport FAQs

My 'old-type' Greek passport expires in 2008. Is it still valid?

Yes, but only until the end of this year. Only the new biometric passports will be accepted as of 1 January 2007.

Where can I apply for a new passport?

The public order ministry has set up application centres at 99 police stations across the country. To find the nearest one, ring the OTE directory information 11888. There are also 151 application centres being set up at Greek consulates around the world.

What are the application requirements?

There are five application requirements:

1) Application form (available at all application centres)

2) A recent digitised photograph

3) A photocopy of both sides of your Greek identification card

4) A statutory declaration (ypefthini dilosi) stating whether you have ever been convicted of forgery or making a false statement regarding the issuing of a passport and whether you are currently facing criminal charges. The statutory declaration must also indicate whether you have evaded the mandatory draft (for adult males) and whether the courts have denied you the right to leave the country

5) A receipt of payment for the following fees: 26.40 euros for a standard passport valid for five years and an additional 25 euros for the passport booklet. These fees are paid at the tax office or at a Citizens' Service Centre (KEP)

Can I use any passport-size photograph?

No. The photograph (taken by a commercial photographer) has to meet several specifications. For instance, it must have been taken within the last 12 months. The size of the photo must be 40mm wide and 60mm long and must be printed on high-quality photographic paper. Photos must be taken with uniform lighting so as not to show shadows or backgrounds.

Photos must show the full front view of the face, centred in the photo and squared to the camera.

Eyes must be open and clearly visible. Glasses may be worn, but the eyes must be visible. Sunglasses are not acceptable. Hats are not permitted. Religious head coverings may be worn, provided that the full facial features are clearly visible.

Facial expression must be neutral (no smiling or frowning) with the mouth closed. Red eyes are not acceptable.

When are the passport issuing centres open?

These centres (99 in total) are open weekday mornings and evenings, as well as weekend mornings. The centres will remain closed on national holidays.

Can I send someone else to submit my application for me?

No. The applicant must submit his/her application in person.

Can I submit my application at one of the Citizens' Service Centres (KEPs)?


What is the application procedure?

The applicant submits his/her application at one of the special centres. Employees there examine the application to make sure that all documents have been filed. The application is then forwarded to the central passport-issuing centre in Kessariani, where it is printed and sent to the application centre.

How long does it take?

The new passports should be ready in three workdays. It can be issued in one day, but only in an emergency.

How long are passports valid?

The new adult passports are valid for five years. The ones issued to children under age 14 are valid for two years. Passports issued to children over age 14 are valid until their 18th birthday

The page will be covered with plastic, as it is now, but this sheet of plastic is extremely fine - less than 10 thousandths of a millimetre - and easily destroyed if tampered with. Digital holograms will be printed on top of the plastic sheet. To the naked eye, the holograms will look like simple lines, but they are actually words and phrases written in tiny letters which, Samaras explains, are an additional security feature because they may contain anagrams or deliberate spelling mistakes known to the authorities but not to forgers. Also printed on the plastic will be images from Greek culture over the ages, such as the Parthenon. Similar images will be printed on all the remaining pages of the passports, which changed colour from maroon to blue.

EU moves

The new digitised passport fulfils a European Council regulation approved in December 2004. The directive mandates the inclusion of a facial image and fingerprints in passports issued by all 25 European Union member states. The regulation is aimed at protecting passports against falsification and at harmonising security features used in the production of the documents.

In compliance with recommendations of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the new passports will include an embedded 'contactless' radio chip that will store the biometric identifiers (digitised fingerprints and a face scan).

EU member states have until 28 August 2006 by which to include face scans in all new passports and until 28 February 2008 to include digitised fingerprints. The new passport will allow holders to enter the US - the world's top campaigner for biometric passports - without a visa.

Note: The United States last year had announced a 26 October 2005 start date for mandatory biometric passports for all non-visa travellers. EU Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Franco Frattini, however, requested an extension to 28 August 2006. In June, the US agreed to extend the biometric deadline until 26 October 2006.

(Posted on 17 March 2006)

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