There have been plenty of stories in the media recently about UK citizens being turned away from flights to the United States because they have ‘wrong’ type of passport. So, what is this all about?
As from April 1st 2016, all visitors to the US from 38 countries participating in the Visa Waiver programme (which includes the UK) can only travel if they have an electronic passport.
What is an electronic passport?
An electronic passport (also known as a biometric, digital or e-passport) is a combined electronic and paper passport that combines clever contactless smart card technology that can be used to authenticate the identity of travellers.
The system is designed to fight passport fraud, giving an extra layer of security. It uses facial recognition technology and biographical details which are expensive and difficult to forge when all security mechanisms are fully and correctly implemented.
Britons with ‘old style’ non-electronic passports are reportedly not being allowed to fly to the US, leaving them having to delay travelling while they get an up-to-date passport, at a cost of up £137.00.
How do I know if my passport is electronic?
The change to biometric passports in the UK was rolled out in October 2006, meaning that Brits who last renewed their passports between April and October 2006 typically may not hold a chipped passport.
The electronic chip is typically embedded in the front or back cover, or centre page, of the passport. For UK passports, you should see a biometric symbol (which looks like a camera) on the front cover of your passport, as shown in the picture above.
If you are travelling to the US and your passport is due for renewal between now and October this year, then it is imperative that you check whether your existing passport is biometric. If not, then you have different ways to renew it, depending on how soon you intend to fly.
Travelling over a month’s time?
Your can renew or replace your passport up to nine months before your current one expires.
You can renew your passport by applying online and posting the application and relevant documentation at a cost of £72.50.
The Post Office’s Check and Send service costs £82.25 and does what it says on the tin – you simply complete the application and take it in to your local post office where a member of staff will check all is in order before sending it on to the Passport Office.
This avoids any delays in the issue of your passport, due to you submitting an incomplete application or supplying the wrong documentation.
You should get your new passport within 3 weeks.
Travelling within the next two weeks?
You’ll need to book an appointment at a Passport Customer Service Centre in order to take advantage of the one week Fast Track service. The cost varies from £103 to £111 depending on the type of passport you are renewing.
Your new e-passport is sent to your home within one week of your appointment (excluding bank holidays) provided you have a completed application form, two photos and all your supporting documents.
The one day Premium service costs from £128 to £137 and, as with the Fast Track service, you’ll need to book an appointment at your nearest Passport Customer Service Centre.
You will get your e-passport on the same day if you provide a completed application form, two photos and all the necessary documentation.
You can usually collect it four hours after your appointment.
Do I still need an ESTA if I am travelling to the US?
Yes. Even if you do have an e-passport, you will still need a valid ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) in place before you travel to the United States.
Don’t get caught out
There are estimated to be over a million non biometric passports still currently in use so if you are planning on visiting the US any time soon, whether for business or pleasure, make sure your passport is up to date.
Travelling soon? Don't forget travel insurance.
Whether you're travelling to the US or elsewhere, it's vital to take out travel insurance before you go to protect yourself from medical emergencies, lost/stolen baggage, cancellations and more.