Worried about passport delays? I just got mine back after an agonising wait. Here’s my advice.
I realise this isn’t really the sort of thing we usually write about here on S&TS, but I wanted to share my recent passport renewal nightmare in the hope that it might save someone else some passport-related anxiety in future. Plus, it’s cathartic for me.
The relief I felt when my passport was finally in my hands was overwhelming.
The passport delays and subsequent one-day strike have been well-publicised over the last few months. I’m not going to go into the details or politics of that (the online comment sections of newspaper websites are where you should head if that’s what you’re after), I’ll just tell you what happened to me in a nutshell and what I learned over three very stressful weeks.
I sent off my passport application form in the post in the middle of May, expecting a three week turnaround as promised on Her Majesty’s Passport Office (HMPO) website. I got a letter saying my photo wasn’t right so I got another one taken and sent that off in mid-June. Five weeks passed and as I was due to travel to Ibiza for a press trip on 30 July I rang to check the status of my application. There followed three weeks of almost daily chasing and an increasing amount of stress as it looked like I wouldn’t be able to travel, before my passport arrived with just a day to spare. Here’s my advice to avoid all that unnecessary stress.
- Use the Fast Track service. If you need to get your passport renewed and haven’t yet sent off your application, I strongly urge you, if you can afford it, to use either the Fast Track (one week), £103 or Premium (one day) service, £128 – details of both are here. Especially if you are travelling in the next two months. That way you are guaranteed to have your passport in your hands within a week. I know it’s more expensive than the standard £72.50 cost but if I calculated the value of the time and money I spent on the phone to HMPO I bet it’s more than the difference.
- Make sure HMPO knows your travel date. If you’ve already sent your passport application off and you’re due to travel within six weeks, I would call the passport office immediately (0300 222 0000) and tell them that your date of travel is at least ONE WEEK EARLIER than it is. Then they’ll work to that date and you’ll have your passport in plenty of time. I had to hold off booking things like travel insurance, my transport to the airport and getting Euros because I didn’t know if I’d be going so I had to rush and do everything the day before I flew, which was not fun.
- Don’t trust the call back service. When you call the main enquiries line they are only able to track the progress of your passport application, they don’t do the actual processing and they can’t call the seven offices that do (they are too busy doing their work, which is frustrating, but understandable) so they email and ask for the office to call you. Six times over three weeks I was promised this and only twice did it happen. Once it got to 24 hours before I was travelling they did call back quickly though.
- Keep your phone on you at ALL TIMES. I missed a call from the Liverpool office (where my application was) on a Sunday because I was in the loo and then the number they left for me to call back was closed – because it was a Sunday. When I tried again during the week I was left on hold on three separate occasions for half an hour and the phone was never answered. Make sure you find out from the main helpline which office is dealing with your application so that they can at least email the right people.
- Go to a passport office in person if you can. The majority of the times that I called the enquiries line they couldn’t access my application on the system. They have to fill in a LOT of your details and even when these are all correct it still sometimes doesn’t work. It was only when I went to the Victoria passport office the day before I was due to leave was a lady able to tell me that my passport had been printed two days previously and was being sent by special delivery. She gave me the number of their courier service but when I called them they said they had no record of any deliveries to my address. The next day, just when I had completely given up hope, my doorbell rang and it was the postman with my passport – it had been sent via Royal Mail, not the courier, but that wasn’t recorded on my application so the lady at Victoria wasn’t able to give me the correct information.
- Don’t panic. Even though it was all incredibly frustrating, my passport did turn up in time. At one point a guy on the phone told me ‘no one has ever missed their holiday because of the Passport Office.’ When he said it I scoffed, and I’m not saying his statement is accurate, but in they end they did deliver for me. Plus, I never found any instances of people online or on the news who actually missed their holidays, only people who, like me, were worried it might happen. As long as the passport office knows your travel date and they have received your application with all the correct info and photos it should turn up in time. But neither I nor HMPO can guarantee that, which is why I refer you back to point number one if you want to ensure minimum risk of panicking.
If you’re having trouble getting your passport back and have any questions leave a comment below and if I can offer any more advice I will.
Can you tell how ecstatic I was?
The sunset over Ibiza – a sight I almost missed out on.