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German passports – Down the history line

Imagine you have to apply for a visa in advance for almost every trip, fulfil strict conditions and even expect your visa application to be rejected at the end. For German citizens, this, fortunately, remains the exception, since you can travel with a German passport in 188 countries visa-free.

But that wasn’t always the case. The German passport has a 67-year long history behind it.



How it all started…


It all began with the foundation of the Federal Republic on 23 May 1949. At this time it was still occupied by the allied forces and it became a truly autonomous country only on 5 May 1955.
Despite the autonomy, you still had to apply for your passport at the offices of the allied forces.


On 1 January 1950, the government office “Deutsche Amt für Ein-Ausreiseangelegenheiten” (German Office for Entry and Exit Affairs) became the main issuing authority, but according to the occupation laws this office was under the control of the High Commission for Germany.

One of the first Federal German passports was issued on 13 May 1950 and contained a green passport booklet, which remained for the next 38 years until it was replaced by burgundy coloured European Union document version in 1988.


Finally, on 1st February 1951, Federal Germany received the full right from the Allied forces to issue passports.


In 1965, owner of a German passport could travel visa-free in 21 countries, but the passport had very few security features, which cannot be compared to nowadays passport.


First stage – integration of facial biometrics


On 22 June 2005, the German Federal Government adopted an ordinance introducing biometric passports; the “Bundesrat” gave its approval on 8 July 2005. The then Federal Minister of the Interior, Otto Schily, described the cabinet decision as “an important step on the way to using the great advances in biometrics for internal security”.

The main trigger for the storage of biometric features on passports was the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 in the USA. The Member States of the European Union then agreed on the introduction of biometrics for passports, visas and residence documents in order to better verify the identity of travellers.


The entry into force of this Regulation in 2005 is also referred to as the first stage of the introduction of biometric/electronic passports (ePassports) in Germany. Initially, only an electronic copy of the passport photograph of the passport holder and the data are known from the machine-readable area were stored electronically in the passport.

At the same time, new regulations came into force for – what is now known as biometrics – passport photographs (ICAO-compliant portrait).

Chip integration began on 1 November 2005. The Golden Reader Tool developed on behalf of the BSI is available as an international reference implementation as software for reading the information stored on the chip.


Second stage – Integration of fingerprint data


The first stage of the introduction of ePassports in 2005 was based on a decree of the Ministry of the Interior. The second stage of the introduction of biometric/electronic passports, i.e. the additional storage of fingerprints in the chip of the ePassport, necessitated a change in the law.


Fingerprint as an identification feature

On 25 May 2007, the German Bundestag passed a new passport law.
In addition to the passport photo, the new passport also contains the fingerprint of the cardholder identity. Two fingerprints are taken with the help of fingerprint scanners when applying for a passport at the citizens’ office.

In the case of children under the age of six, no fingerprints are taken; children up to the age of twelve receive a child passport without an electronic storage medium (chip) so that no fingerprints are recorded during the application. If no fingerprints are given, no passport can be issued. Exceptions are only permitted for medical reasons.

Until 1 November 2007 parents could register their children in their own passports, but that is not possible anymore since everyone needs their own travel document. The field religious or artist name was omitted without replacement. At the intervention of the Catholic Church and artists’ associations, this field was reintroduced in the new version of the Identity Card Act on 1 November 2010.

The validity period for passports of younger applicants under 24 years of age was increased from five to six years. Applicants aged 24 and over (previously 26) now receive a passport valid for ten years. The official EU languages Romanian and Bulgarian have been included in the passport. An ‘instruction manual’ has been inserted on the last front page. The serial numbers have been changed to random alphanumeric serial numbers.




Many innovations can only be recognized under special lighting or from a special angle. For example, there is a holographic portrait, as with the ID card. It appears next to the usual photograph in green with lettering and the name of the holder in blue. One of the new ingenious security features is that individual motifs such as the federal eagle can be transformed into the letter D by tilting the data page.

Also new is a personalized security thread, which is equipped with the document number and the name of the holder. In addition, even higher quality security paper with security thread and watermark will be used in the future. Under ultraviolet light, additional motifs such as the Brandenburg Gate and the lettering “Federal Republic of Germany” can be recognised.


The German passport:

  • Has 32 pages (there is a passport with 48 pages for frequent travellers);
  • Contains a chip with biometric data (passport photo and fingerprints);
  • Cannot be extended, but only reissued;
  • Must be valid for at least another six months to apply for a foreign visa;
  • Also exists in blue colour for refugees without other documents.


The standard version of the new passport with 32 pages now costs 60 euros for persons over 24 years of age and is valid for 10 years. Previously, the price for twelve years was 59 euros. For the passport with 48 sides, for frequent travellers, 82 euro and for the express version 92 euro is required.

The German passport, that was introduced in March 2017 is recognized as one of the most advanced and forgery-proof passports worldwide and allows visa-free entry or visa on arrival in 188 countries.


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