With backlogs in issuing new passports now causing delays of up to 10 weeks, the Director General of the Passport Office has warned that many people are applying to renew too late and risk missing out on summer holidays as a result. But even if you think you have a valid passport, you may still face problems at borders, especially in the wake of Brexit. Here are some cautionary tales.
1. Validity trap
As I have warned about before, since we left the EU many readers have been caught out and either been turned away from the airport, or had to rush to renew their passport, because of a new quirk in the validity rules. The British government has, for several years, been issuing passports with an extra few months added to the overall 10-year validity. It happened when a current passport was renewed before the previous one expired and so the extra months were added to the expiry date on the new one. But these extra months don’t count for EU countries. They put a 10-year limit on the overall validity and also require it to be valid for at least three months beyond the date of your visit. So it is this – the date of issue, not of expiry – which it is critical to check before your travel and for practical purposes, your passport runs out nine years and nine months after the date it was issued. The Foreign Offices says it hopes the anomaly will be sorted out “this spring”, but don’t take a risk until it is confirmed.
2. Condemned to the slow lane
I’ve made several trips to EU and EEA countries since the Brexit arrangements came into force and in most cases I have had to queue longer at immigration than EU citizens. The key problem is that passports must now be stamped by an immigration officer, which means that British passport holders can’t normally use the automatic machines. At Bergamo they got around the problem by stationing an offer just after the machine gates – all he had to do was administer a stamp, because the passports had already been checked. But this seems to be the exception rather than the rule – I had long waits at Zurich and Rome, for example. By the end of September, the situation may change. A new “EES” IT system is planned by the EU which will capture your name, biometric data (fingerprints and facial images) plus the date and place of entry and exit. Whether or not this actually speeds things up, or causes other problems, remains to be seen.
3. Too many stamps
The need for stamps may also cause you a problem if you travel regularly in the short term, perhaps for business as well as pleasure. Until the EES system is up and running, you will use up half a page of your passport on each trip (each page only fits four stamps and some visas take up a whole page). If your passport is full, you may be unable to fly, and some countries require two or three blank pages for your document to be deemed acceptable.
4. Wrong stamps
The most common problem with stamps is caused when immigration officers take issue with “souvenir” versions. These are sometimes offered to tourists at destinations like Machu Picchu or on trips to Antarctica, for example. But an officer who wants to be awkward can construe them as defacing an official document and so making it invalid. Even legitimate stamps can also cause problems. For example, you can’t visit the US under the usual ESTA Visa Waiver Program if you have traveled to North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen.
5. Damage and dog-ears
After a few years most passports suffer a certain amount of wear and tear. Delamination of the photo page is an obvious problem because it might suggest it has been tampered with. But damage on any page can be enough to see it rejected. One reader contacted us recently after her passport was refused for a visit to Mexico because it had a red wine stain on one of the pages – even though it was one of the blank ones kept free for visa stamps.
Have you had a problem with your passport that’s caused you to miss a holiday? Comment below to join the conversation