National identity cards in the European Economic Area

National identity cards are issued to their citizens by the governments of all European Economic Area member states except Denmark, Ireland, Iceland, Norway and the United Kingdom. Citizens holding a national identity card, which states citizenship of an EEA member state or Switzerland, 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. However, identity cards that do not state citizenship of an EEA member state or Switzerland, including national identity cards issued to residents who are not citizens, are not valid as travel documents within the EEA and Switzerland.
National identity cards are often accepted in other parts of the world for unofficial identification purposes and sometimes for official purposes such as proof of identity/nationality to authorities.
Four EEA member states do not issue cards defined by the EU as national identity cards to their citizens. However, Norway is expected to start issuing such cards from 2020. Ireland issues a passport card which is valid as a national identity card in the EEA and Switzerland. At present, citizens from Denmark, Iceland, Norway and the United Kingdom can only use a passport as a travel document when travelling within EEA member states and Switzerland.
As national identity cards are less bulky and usually cheaper than passports, ID card ownership in the EEA and Switzerland is much more widespread than passport ownership.


Travel document

As an alternative to presenting a passport, EEA and Swiss citizens are entitled to use a valid national identity card as a stand-alone travel document to exercise their right of free movement in the European Economic Area, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
When travelling within the Common Travel Area, other valid identity documentation is often sufficient for British and Irish citizens. When travelling within the Nordic Passport Union, no identity documentation is legally required by Nordic citizens.
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, Switzerland and the UK. In theory, if an EEA or Swiss citizen can prove their nationality by any other means, they must be permitted to enter the EEA, Switzerland and the UK. 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 the following 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:
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:
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 Germany and Sweden to enter with a national ID card. Gambia allows nationals of Belgium to enter using a national ID card. Finally, Greenland allows Nordic citizens to enter with a national ID card. 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, 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 with the card was not possible. This partially changed in July 2015, when travel to non-Schengen countries in the EU.
Similarly, Finnish citizens cannot leave Finland directly for a non-EU/EFTA country with only their ID cards.

Additional checks for some citizens

At the external border crossing points of the Schengen Area, if a traveller presents a travel document without a machine readable zone and the border guard has 'doubt about his/her identity', the traveller may be requested to undergo a more in-depth 'second line' check. In practice, this means that Greek citizens who present a Greek identity card and Italian citizens who present an Italian paper identity card could be subject to additional checks and delay when entering/leaving the Schengen Area.
UK Border Force officers 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. As a matter of policy, UKBF officers are required to examine physically all passports and national identity cards presented by EEA and Swiss citizens for signs of forgery and tampering. By contrast, under the previous legal regime that was in force until 7 April 2017, their counterparts in the Schengen Area were only 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 or national identity cards at external border checkpoints.
Moreover, as a matter of policy, UKBF officers are required to check every EEA and Swiss citizen and their passport/national identity card against the Warnings Index database. By contrast, their counterparts in the Schengen Area were previously not legally obliged to check the passports/national identity cards of EEA and Swiss citizens against a database of lost/stolen/invalidated travel documents. However, with effect from 7 April 2017, it is now mandatory for border guards 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.Regulation 2017/458 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 15 March 2017 amending Regulation 2016/399 as regards the reinforcement of checks against relevant databases at external borders
For these reasons, when presented with a non-machine readable identity card, it can take up to four times longer for a UKBF officer to process the card as the officer 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 officers 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. UKBF officers at the juxtaposed controls have been known to take longer to verify Romanian identity cards.
According to the European Commission, some holders of Italian paper identity cards have been told by UKBF officers at Heathrow Airport that their ID card was 'just a piece of paper' and were advised to apply for a passport to use the next time that they enter the UK. Thus, they were 'confronted with obstacles to their free movement'.
As of 20 May 2019, the UK Border Force advises EU/EEA/Swiss citizens to use their passport instead of their national identity card at the UK border because 'passports are faster for our Border Force officers to process' and 'you can use your EU passport at our eGates'.
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.

Identification document

;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 of free movement in another EEA member state, Switzerland or the UK 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 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 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.
In the UK, by law EU, EEA and Swiss citizens have an 'unlimited right to rent'. However, landlords are legally obliged to check the immigration status of all prospective tenants before the start of a residential tenancy agreement. According to the Right to Rent Document Checks User Guide issued by the Home Office, EU, EEA and Swiss citizens are entitled to produce a national identity card to satisfy this requirement. At the time, however, if the national identity card is not in English, the Home Office advises landlords that 'If in doubt, you can ask the tenant to provide other documents from the list in English. If you are not satisfied that they have the right to rent, you should not rent to them.' In practice, this would affect some EU, EEA and Swiss citizens, as a number of member states issue national identity cards that do not contain English.

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:
; Material
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 biographical data on the card is to be machine readable and follow the ICAO specification for machine-readable travel documents.
The EU Regulation revising the Schengen Borders Code states that all member states should phase out travel documents 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 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 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 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.
Portugal's card had an EMV application but it was removed in newer versions from 16 January 2016.

New European Union standards

Articles 3/4/5 of Regulation 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:
Article 16 states that 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.