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Wednesday, July 04, 2007


Today, I'm renewing my passport. It still has three years to run before it expires, but I'm doing it now.

For two reasons: Firstly because it was issued in Madrid. My last one was stolen when I was in Tenerife (which is a huge marketplace for counterfeit passports and other associated dodgy schemes). For some reason, Madrid-issued British passports seem to demand an unusual amount of attention at border points.

Secondly, there is an issue with the photo. This is a conversation I had with an Immigration Officer at London's Heathrow airport earlier this year, after surrendering my passport for inspection (usually one breezes through just showing the photo page as you walk past) :

"Madam, would you please stand out of line over there."

"Is there a problem?"

"Please just stand over there, an officer will be with you shortly."

Of course everyone is looking at me as though I'm some sort of international terrorist. Or at the very least an attempted asylum-seeker. But I patiently wait until finally, a young gentleman approaches, carrying my passport.

"Madam, there is a problem with your passport." He tells me while fingering the plastic covering my photo.

"Oh, and what might that be?"

"We suspect this is a forgery, it hasn't passed our inspection."

"Well I find that hard to believe considering I've travelled in and out of the US several times in the past few months with no problem and from what I've seen, their inspection routine for non-US passports is far superior to yours, here."

"Is that so?"

"That IS so, yes."
By this time I'm getting somewhat pissed off with it all. And I had a connection to make.

"Well Madam, I'd suggest you renew your passport as soon as possible and next time make sure the photograph is placed square on the page."

I looked at him, in disbelief, expecting him to correct what he'd just said.

"Thank you, I'll make sure I'm more careful the next time I stick my photo in my passport."

Blank look (him, not me).

"May I have a complaint form please, I would like to document this discussion."

Much reddening of his face. "I'll get you one."

15 minutes later he returns. "I'm sorry we don't seem to have any."

"Well that's pretty damn convenient. So, may I go now?"

"Yes, Madam."

It takes about 10 days to get a new passport from the British Consulate here. 10 days without a passport. That's a terribly uneasy sensation for me, I feel like a prisoner. I could leave Hong Kong and go to China as I only need my Hong Kong Permanent Identity Card for that. But what if I want to go further afield? What if I need to? Being passport-less is, indeed, a very strange thing.

But I get one of those new cool ePassports, what they call a biometric passport, with a little chip in it, containing encrypted facial recognition information. I hope to hell they do the equivalent of 'squaring that on the page'. And I'd just like to say that my photo is awful. But I have to live with it for 10 years unless, of course, my passport is somehow pinched on my next visit to Tenerife.

Update: I pick up my new passport in seven days. AND I got to keep my current one in the meantime, just in case. Awesome service!!


ellie bee said...

It took 15 weeks, and a call to our senator's office to get my son's passport renewed for his trip to New Zealand. Ten days sounds like a miracle! I have to get mine renewed in a year or so and I am thinking I need to send it on as soon as I get home from a trip this fall!!!

George said...

Good for you Fiona ... I love filing complaints for incompetance and stupidity. As far as the "photo squared up" thing ... the Brits are sticklers for the stiff upper lip stuff ... figuers they would want the passport pic squarely centered. Next time tell them it is squared up ... the page was printed crooked.

Fiona said...

Hi Ellie Bee :) I've heard that since they made passports a requirement at the continental borders over there, it has put real pressure on the passport issuing office. We're a very 'instant' society here, anything more than that, we'd be up in arms ;)

Well, George, the picture was glued on a little crooked but honestly, the way he said it, it was like I was responsible *L* When they talk about stiff upper lip Brits, they're really referring to a certain 'type' and most definitely noone north of Hadrian's Wall ;)

~Tim said...

Oh yeah, you used that make-a-passport-at-home kit right? Geez, get the next one straight!

Some people renewed passports that weren't expired yet (said they were 'lost') so they would not get one with a chip in it. Too Big Brother for them....

Fiona said...

Hahahahaha - you caught me Tim. There I was, I managed to perfect the lamination technique but forgot to make sure the photo was on straight ;) Ooooh I welcome the chip, because it will make my entry into the US faster and easier through that special passport channel. Hopefully, gone will be the days of an up to two-hour queue.

We're OK about chips here, we can be asked to produce our identity cards at any time, and they've contained chips for years, so we've grown up with all this Big Brother stuff :)

Fusion said...

My passport which I expediated for an extra sum of money came in 3 weeks, and on the back page it says:
This document contains sensitive electronics. For best performance, do not bend, perforate, or expose to exterme temperatures.
Wow, maybe I need to get a special briefcase just for it!

Fiona said...

Something from the James Bond range ;)

Apart from pretty extreme security procedures (they extricated my cell phone from me and kept it until I exited the building....eeeeks without contact to the outside world for an hour) it went pretty well.

We have to get someone to countersign the back of the photo with 'I certify that this is a true likeness of....'. Well I was very tempted to write instead 'I certify that unfortunately this is a true likeness of...' but I wasn't sure if they might detain me or something ;)

Trueself said...

Sad to say I don't have a passport and have never had one. What a loser. . .

Anonymous said...

Good for you for not taking any crap from the security. I'd never even thought of a complaint form. Shall have to remember that.

LePhare said...

Wouldn't like to wear a uniform when you're around ;-)

Fiona said...

Wow TS, it's strange for me to imagine not having one, I've had my own since I was 13 and before that was on my mother's. I guess though, that it is inevitable when one lives in these far-flung locations, for it to just be a fact of life :)

Deb - I was so blown away by his ridiculous statement about me making sure my photo it stuck on right *L*. Oh I'll complain if it's called for and that really was called for. The woman at the Consulate laughed and shook her head when I told her about that experience, yesterday.

Ian - well, what WOULD you like to wear? ;) And I do so love a man in uniform!


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