Life

Travelling this summer? You need to know these rules about your passport

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Chloe Gray
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A story of a damaged passport has hit the headlines and reminded Stylist’s Chloe Gray of a similar experience that nearly shattered her Maldivian dreams. Here she explains how to not make the same mistake…

What’s the most stressful part of going on holiday? Finding a flight that means you don’t have to get up at 3AM but also means you get the whole day to enjoy your destination? Narrowing down the 30 restaurants you want to visit to a realistic number for your three day trip? Getting a different pair of shoes for each day when you only opted for carry-on?

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For Miss Universe Australia it wasn’t flights or clothes that made the most stressful relaxing thing a nightmare, but a tiny drop of water.

Tegan Martin, the 26-year-old beauty pageant winner, was unable to board her flight home from Bali after being told that a tiny watermark in the top right of her passport meant she was unable to fly home.

In a now expired Instagram Story, Martin said that immigration officials at Denpasar airport told her that passport appeared wet.

I can think of worse places to be stuck, but I sympathise with Martin. Hearing about her situation gave me flashbacks to a time in 2016 when I nearly couldn’t go on my holiday because of a marked passport. 

Going on a hunt for my passport two weeks before I was due to fly, I felt very smug with my organisation. I don’t know what came over me that day, as usually I am the type of person who flaps about last minute trying to find it, but I did. I found it. 

Flicking through idly, I saw a luminous yellow spill all over the pages from an exploded highlighter that had been lying in the same drawer.  My photo and information hadn’t been inked on so I didn’t panic. That’s until my housemate pulled a face of alarm and insisted that I check it was OK to fly. 

I called the airline we were due to fly with, the airport I was flying from and the even Passport Office to work out whether I’d be OK and honestly, no one knew the answer. I was ‘heavily advised’ to buy a new one rather than risk the horror of turning up to the airport with a bag full of bikinis and having to return to rainy England. 

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Filling out a passport form is a challenge at the best of times, but with the time pressure it’s even worse. And more than that, it’s expensive. 

I had to pay £5 for my new photos (in which I look hilariously pissed off), £8.25 to send my form in first class tracked post back to my mum to get someone I had known for more than two years to confirm my identity, and then £85 for the passport itself and risk it not returning in time. 

By the end, I was emotionally, and monetarily, spent. 

What counts as passport damage?

For Martin (and me) the problem was that our passports went beyond ‘reasonable wear and tear’. Most countries accept a bit of used-looking passport, but clearly neither of us realised how little leeway that term gives. It can mean fanned pages or slightly fraying edges, but anymore and your passport is considered ‘damaged’. 

Some things to look out for include:

  • The details being indecipherable
  • The laminate lifting enough to allow the possibility of photo substitution
  • Discolouration to the bio-data page
  • Chemical or ink spillage on any page
  • Missing or detached pages
  • The chip or antenna showing through the end paper on the back cover for the new style e-passports
  • The chip being identified as damaged after investigation

What to do if your passport is damaged

In the UK you can get an urgent passport by booking an appointment with the Passport Office. You can do it online via gov.uk/get-a-passport-urgently – but be aware that even with this service the earliest you’ll be able to get an appointment is two days after applying. Oh, and it costs an eyewatering £177. 

You can also apply for a one week fast track service here, costing a still unsightly £142.

The most sensible advice? Do a me. Not throwing highlighter all over your passport bit, but the checking ahead of time bit. 

And seriously, really really do not throw highlighter, water or any other liquid all over your passport. It is expensive and stressful.