In Depth

Passport renewal: how long does it take?

Heathrow set use facial recognition technology at every stage of departure

UK passport

London’s Heathrow Airport is set to eliminate its standard passport checking procedure in favour of facial recognition technology from this summer.

Britain’s largest airport, which sees more international passengers per year than any other airport in the world, is installing “permanent facial recognition technology in the hope that travellers spend less time going through checks”, the Daily Mail reports.

The Times adds that the project will cost a total of £50m and means passengers will not need to show their passports or a boarding pass. The paper says it is the “biggest single deployment of biometric technology in the world”.

Travellers will still need to ensure that their passport is valid for travel, however. So if you need to apply for a passport for the first time or renew an existing one, here’s everything you need to know:

How do I renew my passport?

Passport application forms can be found online or picked up in a post office. Along with the completed application form, you will need to submit two identical photos that meet the requirements outlined here and your old passport. It will be cancelled and returned to you so that you can continue to use any unexpired visas alongside your new passport. Guidance about how to fill in the form can be found on the Passport Office website

How do I apply for my first passport?

The process is similar to the renewal procedure outlined above, but you will need to have your photograph and application form countersigned by a professional person such as a teacher, police officer or solicitor in order to confirm your identity.

You will also need to send in your birth certificate and, if you were born on or after 1 January 1983, your mother or father’s birth certificate or passport number and your parents’ marriage certificate.

How much does a UK passport cost?

As of March 2018, the cost of getting a new passport or renewing your old one for both children and adults has increased.

For the first time, the Home Office has made it more expensive to apply by post than online.

A standard UK adult passport now costs £75.50 for online applications and £85 for postal applications. The cost of a child’s passport has also risen to £49 online and £58.50 in the post.

The Sun says the changes are “underpinned by new fee-setting powers given to HM Passport Office under the Immigration Act 2016 to give it the resources it needs to process six million applications a year”.

Fast-tracking your application or using the Post Office’s Check & Send service (see below) will add to the cost.

How long does it take to get a passport?

For straightforward passport renewals, the government has launched an online service, which should take just ten minutes to complete.

As well as avoiding the Post Office queues, “UK citizens can say goodbye to the awkward photo booth sessions too, as applicants will be able to upload a digital photo from their smartphone or tablet instead”, says the Daily Express.

It normally takes about three weeks to get your document.

However, those who are applying for a first passport, have lost their passport or had it stolen, or are making changes to their name cannot do so online.

If you need a new passport more urgently, you can pay extra to book an appointment at a Passport Customer Service Centre and get your passport on the same day for £177 or within a week for £142.

However, ordering an adult passport for someone who has not had one before can take six weeks, and the fast-track service is unavailable.

During busy times, including the run-up to Christmas and school holidays, waiting times can be longer. The Passport Office advises people to allow “plenty of time” to apply and not to book travel until the passport has been received.

Watch out for scam websites

Those applying for new passports have been warned that some websites that look like they are part of an official government site are used to overcharge or steal your money.

These scam websites “can charge huge fees for services official government sites offer for free and can often pay to be at the top of internet search engines such as Google to look legitimate”, says The Sun.

When renewing a passport be sure to use an official government website with a gov.uk address.

How can I make sure my application isn’t rejected?

Incorrectly filled in forms and photographs that do not meet the Passport Office’s exacting standards are two common causes of rejection, which will extend your wait for a new passport.

“The guidelines of passport photos are so strict that the smallest of errors can lead to delays,” the Passport Office warns. “No smiling, silly faces or poses.” The photo must be framed correctly and be in proportion. For a full list of guidelines, refer to their website.

The Post Office offers a Check and Send service to ensure applicants don’t fall foul of these problems. For a £9.75 fee, a member of staff will look through your application and photographs to make sure they comply with the rules.

For more information, or to talk with a member of the Passport Office team, call 0300 222 000.

What do I do if my passport is lost or stolen?

Stolen passport crime was on the rise last summer, with a Daily Mail investigation recently revealing that criminal gangs in Western Europe were selling them on for as much as £2,500 to people traffickers.

Security experts told the paper “owning a genuine British passport was like winning the lottery for jihadis and criminals - allowing them to slip across borders undetected”.

So what should you do if you suspect your passport has been stolen?

First, report it to the local police and ask for a written report as the government may need to see this information when applying for a new passport.

Travel insurers may also ask for a police report should you lose your passport abroad and need to claim expenses for changing your travel plans.

“You must cancel a lost or stolen passport as soon as possible,” says the Gov.uk website. 

This will greatly reduce the risk of anyone else using your passport or your identity. The government website has a form you can fill in online - and someone else can report a lost or stolen passport on your behalf if you can’t do it yourself.

For lost documents, as soon as you have reported your lost passport online you can apply for a replacement. If you don’t plan to travel for at least four weeks, the best option is to pick up an application form from your local Post Office.

If you lose your passport abroad, you’ll need to fill in the online form LS01, putting in as much detail as possible, then send or take the completed form to the nearest British Embassy, High Commission or Consulate.

Changing name due to marriage

People may not realise that passports with the holder’s maiden name on them are still eligible for travel, writes the Daily Express, but this can cause problems if a traveller’s details don’t match when it comes to booking flights. 

“If using the new name for flights whilst the old one is on the passport, this will prohibit travel so they must both match. Instead, a new passport can be applied for in the new name up to three months before marriage, which must be signed by the registrar or minister,” says the newspaper.

This can be done online or by getting a form from the local post office.

What about Brexit?

Following Britain’s vote to leave the EU, the government announced that the current burgundy passports which bear the words “European Union” will be replaced with dark blue passports - which were first introduced in 1920 and continued until 1981 - eight years after the UK joined the EU.

Once Britain has left the EU, the new blue passports are expected to be phased in gradually over time.

The government has assured Britons that passports will only have to be renewed once they reach their current expiry date, to avoid a mad rush that could overwhelm the passport office.

Yet the re-introduction of blue passports has proved hugely divisive, especially after it was revealed that the new versions would be produced by a Franco-Dutch company, causing consternation among many Brexiteers who had touted the move as a symbolic victory for British national sovereignty.

The government was embroiled in another passport-related row last summer, after it was announced British passport holders will get their own lanes at airports after Brexit.

Theresa May reportedly overruled Home Secretary Sajid Javid to enforce plans for separate lanes “as an important sign to voters that Brexit has happened”, despite research showing it will actually make queueing times longer.

What about recent changes to renewal policy?

The UK government has been accused of short-changing millions of British travellers with a change to its passport renewal policy.

Up until last autumn, when UK citizens renewed their passports, “time remaining on the existing document was added to the new one - up to a maximum of nine months”, reports The Guardian.

But under changes introduced in September this no longer applies and any remaining months will be lost if an attempt is made to renew the document early.

Passports are valid for ten years but change in rules with regard to carrying over validity “could lead to applicants renewing their passports as late as possible to eke out the validity”, says The Guardian.

However, that’s risky as “many countries do not allow visitors with less than six months on the passport”, adds the paper.

It means “for many Britons the life of their passport has been cut from 10 to less than nine and a half years, equating to a 5% increase in price”, says the Daily Telegraph.

What about dual citizenship?

Brexit has also seen the number of people applying for dual citizenship skyrocket, as people rush to retain the benefits of EU membership before the UK leaves.

The most obvious route to EU citizenship is through family links in a member state - a parent or grandparent born there, for instance, or having an EU national spouse - or by being a resident for a substantial length of time, usually between five to ten years.

But even without a close continental connection, the door to the EU is not necessarily closed.

Here are a few of the more unusual routes to citizenship offered by some member states.

What about renouncing British citizenship?

While the cost of renewing a passport has gone up dramatically, so too have the fees associated with renouncing British nationality.

The Home Office has quietly raised the renunciation fee per person by more than £50 from £321 to £372, meaning a typical family could end up paying more than £1,000.

It follows a surge of Brits living in Europe seeking foreign citizenship amid continued fallout and uncertainty from the Brexit vote, reports The Independent.

EU statistics agency Eurostat found that the number of British people seeking the citizenship of other countries increased by 165% in the year after the referendum compared with the previous year.

However, many EU countries, including the Netherlands and Austria, prohibit dual citizenship, meaning Britons are forced to pay twice to renounce their citizenship and apply for a new one.

The Home Office says the sharp increase reflects the increased cost of handling applications, but ministers have been accused of “cashing in on Brexit”.

Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder said: “This is the Conservative Brexit government and the Home Office giving Brits in the EU the last kick out the door”.

Will Brexit ruin my pet’s holiday?

EU negotiator Michel Barnier has warned that if the UK leaves the EU without a deal in 2019, the “ability of dogs and cats to cross the Channel” will likely be hampered.

Pet passports are issued by EU countries and other EFTA members, but if the UK leaves the EU, it will not automatically be given the authority to issue pet passports, and would require a deal.

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