Concerned holidaymakers are finding the passport-renewal process is taking much longer than before—with UK ministers urging people to get applications in "as soon as possible".
With summer holidays fast approaching, millions of British travelers are realizing their passports have expired or will soon. According to the Passport Office, there is now an unprecedented demand in passport renewals because five million people had let their documents lapse during the pandemic.
Kevin Foster, the Immigration Minister, said: "We would advise people this is a very — virtually unprecedented — surge in demand, and if people are planning to travel this summer we would advise them to get their application in as soon as possible."
The time frame to receive a passport is far longer than it was pre-pandemic. Back then it was about three weeks, but now total turnaround time for a standard passport application is 10 weeks. In some cases, MPs are claiming it's taking even longer, with the government now urging people not to book trips until they actually have a valid passport in their hands.
Compounding the issue, Brexit has placed limits on how long UK citizens can spend in mainland Europe. Since January 2021, they can only enter an EU country (not including Ireland) if they have at least three months left on their passport. For non-EU countries at least six months validity is required in most cases for entry.
When do I need to renew my passport to travel to the EU?
As non-EU citizens, UK travelers must have a passport that was issued within the last 10 years. Additionally, the passport must also be valid for at least three months after the date they intend to leave their EU destination.
It's important to note the validity date is the passport expiry date, not the date the passport was issued. For example, if you plan to travel to Spain this year on May 1 and leave on May 7, your passport expiry date must be no earlier than August 7, 2022.
Does the three-month rule apply anywhere else in the world?
The three month rule is specific to Schengen Area countries in Europe. If you are travelling elsewhere, check the travel advice for your destination. Most countries outside the EU require that travelers have six months left on their passports before entering.
One notable exception is Ireland where UK citizens don't need a passport for travel thanks to the Common Travel Area agreement. However, Irish immigration officers will check the ID of all passengers arriving by air from the UK so if you're using your passport as ID, it must be valid for the duration of your stay.
When is the best time to renew my passport?
It depends on when you plan to travel, but regardless you'll need to renew it before the passport is nine years and nine months old.
If you have a trip booked or are thinking about one, check the dates on your passport now. You'll need to allow at least 10 weeks to receive a new one, which could potentially be a problem if you've got plans to travel in May, June or July and you're without a valid passport.
"Now that international travel has resumed, we know people will be looking at going on holiday and yet many people are leaving applying for a passport too late," Director General of HM Passport Office, Abi Tierney, said in a statement. "The summer holidays are fast approaching so if you need a new passport, we urge you to apply now."
Ms Tierney said staff are working tirelessly to ensure that passport applications are processed as quickly as possible, but nonetheless applicants are strongly advised to apply early and help ensure that their holiday plans go smoothly.
How to apply for a UK passport
You can apply online for the standard service. This costs £75.50. Or, you can apply for a paper version through the post office. This is a more expensive option at £85.
What if I need to renew my passport ASAP?
If you need a passport urgently, you can apply through the Fast Track or the Online Premium services, but they're also being impacted by the current backlog so expect delays.
There's also the emergency passport option for last-minute documents but this is generally restricted to life-or-death emergencies.
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