There are a few jobs we only do every decade. Cleaning behind the fridge. Filling out the census forms. And, of course, applying for a passport.
The problem with jobs that only crop up every decade is a lot changes in the interim years. So if you’ve not applied for a passport for a while then prepare yourself, because things are a bit different.
For better or for worse, Brexit has happened and we now have blue passports (printed in Poland, mostly). But there are a few other key changes to your passport that might has slipped your notice. For a start, you might not have as much time till your current passport expires than you think. And when you factor in the strikes just announced by HM Passport Office staff, you might start to panic.
Don’t worry – it’s not as bad as you think. Here’s everything you need to know.
When do you need to renew your passport?
As a (very) general rule, you should consider renewing your passport at least nine months before your current one is due to expire.
That might sound excessive, but a lot of things can catch you out when it comes to foreign travel. The country you are visiting may have different rules to other countries about the minimum time you should have on our passport before it expires. In addition, EU countries require your passport to have three months of validity from the end date of your vacation. Finally, the current advice is to allow for 10 weeks for a new or renewed passport to be processed and issued.
What’s the difference between issue and expiry dates?
Passports have both issue and expiry dates. This didn’t matter too much when the UK was a member state of the EU. And there were a couple of nice perks we got too.
Back then, if you applied for a passport when you still had some time left on your existing one, this was tagged on to the new passport. So if you had five months to go when you renewed, then your passport would show 10 years and five months on the expiry date. In a post-Brexit world, you’ll simply get your standard passport with matching issue and expiry dates.
Why does this matter?
There are a lot of passport urban myths out there. But a lot of the confusion that I’ve seen – and where people have been refused boarding – is because of a focus on expiry dates rather than issue dates. This applies mainly to EU / Schengen area travel.
Take a look at your current passport. If you are travelling to the EU / Schengen area, it must have been issued less than ten years before your day of arriving in the country in order to be valid.
Not only that, the expiry date must leave you with at least three months from the date you leave the EU.
So if you are going to Spain in June and your expiry date is September 2023, then you might think you are okay. And you are for the expiry date rule. But if the issue date is December 2012, then some airlines tell me you could refused entry.
Note that these are the rules for the EU / Shengen area only. It’s true that some other countries do require you to have a six month period of validity on your passport, though not many of the main non-EU destinations which often allow you to go right up to the expiry date.
So don’t panic! Take a look at your passport and can check the entry requirements of each country you might be visiting here. You should also take a good look at the various visa rules while you’re at it too.
How to renew your passport
You can still get forms to renew your passport at the Post Office or calling to get a form, but it’s a tenner more – £93. Renewing online is simpler and cheaper at £82.50. You’ll need an acceptable photograph, a debit or a credit card and your old passport if you have it. Here’s how to get started.
I recently applied for a passport renewal and let me tell you, it’s just as important as it ever was to get the details right. I must say, I found the whole process pretty straightforward and efficient. But I applied in a ‘dead zone’ of low demand last October. Though I was told it would take ten weeks, it took two. However, if I was pushed for time I would have gone for the emergency option, which I’ve also done in the past (it’s no fun).
Bear in mind that the photo rules are, if anything, even stricter. Your photo must now be in digital form for the application, which is no hardship. But don’t get tempted to pull one off Instagram, because the old rules still apply.
The rules state the picture must be:
- clear and in focus
- in colour
- unaltered by computer software
- at least 600 pixels wide and 750 pixels tall
- at least 50KB and no more than 10MB
- contain no other objects or people
- be taken against a plain light-coloured background
- be in clear contrast to the background
- not have ‘red eye’
- be facing forwards and looking straight at the camera
- have a plain expression and your mouth closed
- have your eyes open and visible
- not have hair in front of your eyes
- not have a head covering (unless it’s for religious or medical reasons)
- not have anything covering your face
- not have any shadows on your face or behind you
Got all of that?!
All these requirements makes going to a photo both or shop a safer option. Of course, finding a photo both is no easy task these days, so you might want to have a look online to find a photography shop that can do the job for £10 to £15. This is the most painless option and you get a code that you can download your passport compliant picture directly on to the form.
I’m still scarred by the memory of waiting on the streets outside the London Passport Office eleven years ago, where I and a fellow group of badly organised travellers were corralled in up to a huge waiting room for our coveted appointment. These appointments are a one-off opportunity to get your passport issued quickly, so make sure you have absolutely everything you need to hand and triple check it before you attend
In the past, you couldn’t walk out with a passport – you’d have to go back at a later date. However, the passport office has a new Online Premium service where you apply online, get a 30-minute appointment and get your passport – for £193.50
If you can’t afford that, then there is a one-week Fast Track option. Again, you apply and book and appointment online and the passport is delivered to you in a week (you’ll need to sign for it on arrival). This still costs £155 for an adult and £126 for a child.
But here’s the big issue. News of the upcoming passport workers strike will inevitably have an impact on the availability of appointments. Which is why you and your family should check your documents now if you are traveling this summer.
My fellow TV expert and master of all things travel, Simon Calder, has estimated that up to one million people could get stuck in the queue when the recently announced passport workers strike goes ahead in April. The Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union has announced that more than 1,000 of its members will walk out of the bulk of their offices. The strike is due to last from 03 April to 05 May – right in the heart of holiday season.
As Simon says, if people panic and rush applications through when they still have a fair bit of time on their existing passports, it will clog the system and make things worse. Bear in mind that you have to send your existing passport in, so if you jump the gun when you don’t need to apply, you could find yourself in limbo waiting for the new passport to arrive. Only apply if you’ve checked the entry rules for the country you’re visiting and your passport doesn’t meet the criteria.
Scams and fake firms
Despite years of warnings in the Mirror and on television, search engines like Google are still allowing fake passport companies to appear high up in their search drives. These companies often look like the ‘official’ channel for applying for a passport and many people who contact me about them didn’t realise that they were a third party.
These firms charge frees to fast track your passport. This is not possible, other than by paying the standard fast-track fees I mentioned in this article. So make sure you are applying on the official Passport Office site and avoid the fake firms!
Featured in Mirror – Martyn James