I noticed that quite a lot of countries enforce expiration dates for their IDs, and according to Wikipedia, they seem to be valid for 10 years in many countries.

I figure that limiting the validity of an ID ensures that people have to "regularly" contact agencies and allows to update the picture, but I cannot really figure out why it seems to be the norm.

Why do many countries set expiration dates for the identification documents they issue?

  • 10
    If you had inexpirable IDs you'd very very quickly have millions of valid IDs out there belonging to dead people. At least this way there is an out. Every ID that is printed needs to some day be made invalid or deleted. Jul 1 at 8:42
  • 8
    The cynical answer would be "So that people have to pay for a new one", but I doubt that's the answer you're looking for.
    – Zibbobz
    Jul 1 at 12:41
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    Well, a driver's license used to literally be a piece of paper. I am certain that today's identification cards will seem infantile compared to what happens 100 years from now.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Jul 1 at 15:41
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    @Zibbobz I've always wondered why they make you pay for new IDs. Sure, I can see the reason for updating them regularly, but this shouldn't cost as much as it does. Maybe a few bucks for the printing, lamination, bytes of data sent to a records server or whatnot, but the actual price they charge for what should just be a basic service seems to be just a screw-you to poor people. Jul 1 at 16:12
  • 2
    @StianYttervik - At least in Spain, ID cards expire in 5 to 10 years except for people over 70 or 75 years old. Therefore most people have a permanent ID card when they die, so apparently valid IDs of dead people aren't a concern.
    – Pere
    Jul 1 at 21:37
  • Many identity documents contain pictures. These pictures will not be very useful after several decades. German identity cards are valid for 10 years if issued after the 24th birthday, but only for 6 years if issued earlier.
  • Many identity documents contain security features which evolve over the years. Decades-old documents will no longer be state of the art in this regard.
  • Biometric information was added in recent years. This would not be present in older documents.
  • 5
    On the flip side, If you're age 21–64 in Arizona, if you get a driver's license your license expires on your 65th birthday.
    – Don Hosek
    Jun 30 at 17:32
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    It also means that someone making a fake ID can't pick whichever standard they'd prefer to imitate from arbitrarily long ago, nor choose any period of historical disruption to record keeping as an issue date (which might allow them to plausibly claim to be someone who slipped through the cracks). They have to attack relatively recent standards and records.
    – Ben
    Jun 30 at 22:58
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    In germany it is also a plot to finance the privatized Bundesdruckerei which prints those and gets a nice influx of funding this way. Another "bonus" you get from limited time identity cards is a chance to catch your dissidents when their identity documents run out and they need to visit your embassy to renew them...
    – schlenk
    Jul 1 at 23:06
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    @schlenk, do you have any information that the Bundesdruckerei turns a profit on identity cards? And is your comment re dissidents supposed to apply to Germany?
    – o.m.
    Jul 2 at 4:40
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    @o.m.: About the Bundesdruckerei. It is a for profit company that was 100% owned by the state but was privatized, and went nearly bancrupt due to interesting financial exploits by the new owners. The state bought it back in 2008 and one of the main reasons it did not went bancrupt was the new identity card deal. (welt.de/wirtschaft/article1767242/…): "Die Bundesdruckerei stellt unter anderem den neuen, elektronischen Reisepass her. Vor allem Dank dieses Auftrags konnte sich das angeschlagene Unternehmen sanieren."
    – schlenk
    Jul 2 at 10:45

This is a simple countermeasure against identity theft, falsified documents, and fraud more generally put. Someone who successfully falsifies a document is whatever the document says they are until they are confronted by an official who can (in)validate the document. An expiration date guarantees that everyone is periodically forced to confront an official. It's old-school and low-tech, but still a reasonably effective obstacle to a broad class of cheats and scoundrels (tax evaders, deadbeat dads, grifters, welfare abusers, etc).

  • 5
    Surely the expiration date isn't the most challenging detail of the document to successfully falsify. Did you mean to suggest that every cheat and scoundrel is thus periodically forced to repeat the forgery, because an expiration date too far in the future would not be believable? Or did you mean that the assumed forgery process necessarily involves a genuine official? Jul 1 at 22:43

A simple reason is because we age. Most of the identity documents have some form of photo on them and as you age you are going to look less and less like the person in the picture. One of the simple solutions to that is to is to have the document expire after a certain time so that a new more accurate picture can be taken.

This is an issue that varies in severity depending on the age of the person at the time of the photo. For example someone who gets a photo at the age of 16 is going to look different sooner than if it was taken at the age of 26.

What good does a identification with photo id do if the person looking at it has to adjustments for age to see if the person in question is a match or not.

Another issue as pointed out is that if the ID is obtained by someone who looks similar it could be used as a fake. The person could be someone who is closer in age for when the photo was taken.

  • 2
    People die, too. A person who looks similar might obtain the ID and assume the identity of the ID holder. It seems unlikely but it has happened. In the old days, one ploy for assuming the identity of another was to visit a graveyard and find the tombstone of someone about your age and obtain their birth certificate.
    – Wastrel
    Jul 2 at 14:58
  • Don't you need ID to obtain your birth certificate? Jul 2 at 17:02
  • Yes but depending on the area you don't need photo id a social security card is a good example of id without a photo.
    – Joe W
    Jul 2 at 17:17

Consider an identification document that doesn't expire, issued to someone around the person's 18th birthday. Now imagine that 70 or 80 years have passed. How easy or difficult will it be to conclude whether the document describes the 88- or 98-year-old person presenting it?

The consensus is that one must draw the line somewhere. Requiring frequent renewal is burdensome on both the bearer and the issuing authority. Consequently, ten years is the most common line to draw, although, as the question implies, some countries and other jurisdictions have drawn it elsewhere.

  • 2
    As a thought experiment, imagine we would use base-8 numeric notation and not base-10. Would documents last 10 or 8 years?
    – o.m.
    Jul 1 at 3:06
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    @o.m. Trick question! 8 years do not exist in base 8 :)
    – gerrit
    Jul 1 at 9:47
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    @gerrit, 8 in base 8 would be written "10". Which is my point. People don't pick breakpoints at random, it is a cultural pattern. Compare the three-strikes laws in the US, would they exist they way they did/do if baseball rules prescribed four attempts?
    – o.m.
    Jul 1 at 10:25
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    @gerrit In the UK, full driving licenses from before the photo-ID era were valid up to age 65 or 70, so they could be valid for more than 50 years. Unlike modern licenses and ID cards, they were physically made so they would last that long - I still have my first license issued in the 1960s (a small booklet similar to a passport), though it has now been replaced by a tatty single-sheet paper license and photo-ID card that must be renewed every 10 years.
    – alephzero
    Jul 1 at 11:45
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    @alephzero - in the UK the paper (counterpart) licence was abolished in 2015 - only the plastic part is relevant now. Paper-only licences from before 2000 are still valid though.
    – Wai Ha Lee
    Jul 2 at 8:45

In addition to the other answers, one point that's pretty important nowadays: people move! At least in the US, your driver's license has your address on it, and in many places is used as proof that you can do things like vote, which depend on your address. Requiring a new ID periodically can help limit the (unintentional or intentional) misuse of that ID.

  • German ID cards also have an address on them. You are required to register at your place of residence. Instead of issuing a new card when you move, a sticker gets applied to the address field containing your new address (and stamped by the relevant town hall). So updating the address wouldn't really be much of a reason ...
    – Jan
    Jul 2 at 15:34

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