Toothbrush, phrasebook, what have I forgotten?

Simon Calder guides you through that last-minute passport panic
Click to follow
The Independent Travel
You are due to travel to Greece or Spain, and you have just discovered that your passport has expired, been chewed by the dog, or is not in the drawer where you thought you'd left it. In any of the past 20 summers, you would simply have taken a couple of photos and some vague evidence of identity to the nearest post office and bought a British Visitor's Passport, the instant travel document that allowed travel to most parts of Europe.

As part of a crackdown on illegal migration, this fall-back facility has been withdrawn - the visitor's passport expired on New Year's Eve. Unless - and until - Michael Howard's plans for a national identity card come to photographic fruition, only a full 10-year passport will do. But don't panic until you have read this emergency guide.

I am booked to travel today. Can I just turn up at the airport and hope to bluff my way through?

Almost certainly not. Airlines are extremely assiduous about checking passports, for two reasons. The first is for security: the name on the flight ticket must match the name on the passport, which is tricky if you have no passport. The second reason is because the airline wants to make sure you will be admitted to the destination country. Increasingly many countries impose fines on airlines that bring in people who are refused entry by Immigration; in Britain the fine is pounds 2,000.

Had you checked last weekend, you could have applied for the Artac emergency passport service. Artac is a consortium of travel agents (call 0500 757737 for the branch nearest you) that is authorised to process passport applications. Artac reckons it can get you a passport in two working days, if you pay the courier charges.

But we're always being told to apply weeks in advance for a new passport. How can I get one in a matter of days?

By turning up in person at the Passport Office at Clive House, 70-78 Petty France, London SW1 (close to St James's Park underground station) on Monday morning. The office opens at 9am, though you would be advised to get there by 8am if you want to be at the front of the queue and be seen immediately. Make sure you have all the relevant documentation ready: an application form (which you can get today, from any post office), endorsed by a pillar of the community such as a doctor; two photographs, similarly endorsed; your old passport if you have it, or the number of the previous one if it has been lost or stolen; and evidence of the immediacy of your need, such as flight tickets. In my (rather too frequent) experience, if everything is in order you will be told to return a few hours later to pick up the new document. The same procedure applies at any of the regional passport offices, at Belfast, Glasgow, Liverpool, Newport and Peterborough.

So I've got the new passport, but I'm heading to Goa next day - and my Indian visa was in the old one. Is there anything I can do to get a new visa instantly?

Just try your luck and hope that the official is helpful. The Indian High Commission has been known to oblige with instant replacement visas in the past. If you were going to Australia, then you can get a visitor's visa on the spot at Australia House, just around the corner from the Indian Commission. But if you were planning to work in your destination country, the procedure is likely to be extremely long-winded.

I've heard that Barcelona is the place par excellence to get your passport stolen. What should I do if mine goes missing while I am there this weekend?

In theory, you have to wait until the British consulate re-opens on Monday, and apply for a new passport there. In practice, you may be able to persuade your airline to bring you home without any documentation, if you can provide the police report of the theft - and evidence of your right of abode in the UK.

But I'm planning to travel from Spain to France, Germany and the Benelux countries. I no longer need a passport to travel through these countries, do I?

Yes, you do. Under the Schengen Accord (named after a small village at the corner of Luxembourg, France and Germany), frontier controls between these countries have been abolished. But the right to travel freely is accompanied by a duty to provide identification upon request. And for British citizens, for whom there is no identity-card system, the only suitable document is a valid passport.

So what is The Independent's solution to avoid passport calamities?

When you book your trip, make sure your passport will be valid - and with a bit of "headroom" to spare, for countries that require passports to have a certain amount of life (three or six months) left in them.

Better still, get a second passport. Every regular traveller should have a pair. The UK Passport Agency will routinely issue a second one on payment of the usual pounds 18 fee. This will endow you with a great amount of freedom: to travel abroad while your passport is being processed by some of the slower visa-issuing authorities (such as China and Vietnam); to travel to Arab countries on one passport and to Israel on the other document; to travel despite suffering the theft of a passport. The truly sophisticated traveller will have his or her second passport issued by a different country, if there is a sufficiently strong connection by birth or residence to acquire one.

Comments