Are you planning to travel to the UK or one of the 27 European Union (EU) countries? Before you go, make sure to perform these five crucial passport checks. The first three checks are applicable to everyone, regardless of whether you require a visa.
Check #1: Expiry Date of Your Passport
Although your passport may not have expired, it’s important to note that certain countries, particularly EU, European Economic Area (EEA), and Switzerland, have specific requirements regarding the minimum remaining validity of your passport. When traveling to these destinations from a third country (which now includes the UK as well since January 1, 2021), you must have a minimum remaining validity on your passport.
If you have a Schengen visa, you need at least three months of passport validity beyond the date you plan to leave the Schengen Area. This applies regardless of the duration of your Schengen visa.
For British passport holders, the UK government advises having at least six months of validity from the date of arrival in the EU, excluding travel to Ireland under the Common Travel Area agreement.
For travel to the UK, your passport only needs to be valid for the duration of your stay. However, considering the potential delays in obtaining new passports, it’s wise to check your passport validity early to ensure it is valid for travel.
Check #2: Age of Your Passport
Many people overlook this check as it’s not widely publicized. Some passports can be extended beyond their original expiry date. Instead of issuing a new passport when it’s due to expire, your government may put an official extension vignette in it to prolong its validity.
However, even if your passport is still valid due to an extension, it may not be acceptable for travel to Europe. EU, EEA, and Switzerland countries require that your passport was issued less than ten years ago. Passport extensions or validity beyond ten years make the passport invalid for travel to these destinations if you plan to travel after the initial ten-year validity period has ended.
The UK government does not specify a cut-off date for the age of a passport; it simply states that it must expire after you leave the country.
Check #3: Condition of Your Passport
While the first two checks are objective, assessing the condition of your passport can be more subjective. However, it is crucial to know what is considered acceptable. If in doubt, it’s recommended to renew your passport before travel.
Obvious forms of damage or defacement include unreadable or missing parts of the passport. For instance, if the corner of your biographical details page is torn off, a visa page is missing, or your personal information is smudged due to water damage, these types of damage and defacement will render your passport invalid for travel to Europe.
Additionally, evidence of tampering or attempts at manipulating the passport photo, even if passport security features make this less of a concern, will also invalidate the passport.
Usage creases and general wear and tear of the passport are generally acceptable for travel. However, it’s always advisable to protect your passport to prevent undue damage or defacement. If your passport is damaged or defaced, it’s better to apply for an early renewal to be safe.
Check #4: Sufficient Blank Visa Pages
For those requiring a Schengen visa, it’s essential to ensure that your passport has at least two completely blank visa pages before applying for the visa. These pages must be entirely blank, with no stamps, remarks, vignettes, smudges, or scribbles. It’s worth double-checking with the destination country if these pages need to be consecutive or facing pages, although it shouldn’t technically matter. Some governments may strictly request two blank visa pages that are consecutive.
The UK only requires one blank visa page, but it must also be entirely blank without any stamps, remarks, vignettes, smudges, or scribbles.
Check #5: Freshness of Your Visa Photo
One common annoyance when applying for visas is the need to retake passport photos each time. However, Schengen visa rules require submitting a photo that is less than six months old. Caseworkers assessing visa applications can easily identify if the photos are older than six months. Reusing photos taken for previous passports or visas will not go unnoticed.
Until governments stop requesting visa photos, the only solution is to take new photos for each visa application.