Are you planning to travel to one of the UK or one of the 27 European Union countries?
Make sure you do these 5 crucial passport checks before you go – the first 3 apply to everyone, regardless of if you need a visa or not.
Check #1: When does your passport expire?
You might think that because your passport hasn’t expired, you’re free to travel anywhere up until that expiry date. Unfortunately that’s not always the case – especially if you’re travelling to the European Union (EU), European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland.
See, when you travel to the EU, EEA or Switzerland from a third country (and from 1 January 2021, third countries will also include the UK as well) you need to have a minimum remaining validity on your passport.
If you have a Schengen visa, you’ll need at least 3 months passport validity from the date you intend to leave the Schengen Area. This is regardless of how long your Schengen visa is valid for.
And if you hold a British passport, the UK government advises that you have at least 6 months validity from your date of arrival in the EU (although this does exclude travel to Ireland under the Common Travel Area agreement).
If you’re travelling to the UK, the passport expiry date requirement is somewhat less, as your passport only needs to be valid for the duration of your stay.
With many countries experiencing a slower than usual turnaround time for issuing new passports, you should check your passport validity early to make sure you have a valid document for travel.
Check #2: How old is your passport?
This check catches a lot of people out as it’s not so widely publicised.
Some passports can be extended beyond their original expiry date.
You might have a 10-year passport and instead of issuing you a new one when it’s due to expire, your government may put an official extension vignette in it to prolong its validity.
But just because your passport is still valid due to having been extended, it doesn’t mean you can use it for travel to Europe.
The same goes for passports that may have originally been issued for 10 years plus a few extra months.
The EU, EEA and Switzerland countries all require that your passport was issued less than 10 years ago.
Any passport extensions or validity beyond 10 years make the passport invalid for travel to the EU, EEA and Switzerland if you’re trying to travel after the initial 10-year validity period has ended.
UK government guidance doesn’t specify a cut-off date for how old a passport should be, just that it expires after you leave the country.
Check #3: Is your passport damaged or defaced?
While the first two passport checks are objective, when it comes to damaged or defaced passports this can be more subjective.
But all the more important to know what is and isn’t acceptable and if in doubt, renew your passport before travel.
The most obvious types of passport damage or defacement are when parts of the passport are unreadable or missing.
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 are all types of damage and defacement that will render your passport invalid for travel to Europe.
Similarly – although with new passport security features this is becoming less of a problem – if there’s evidence of tampering or attempts at manipulating the passport photo, this will also make your passport invalid.
Usage creases and general wear and tear of your passport will generally be fine for travel, but it’s always a good idea to protect your passport whenever possible so that it doesn’t become unduly damaged or defaced.
And if your passport is damaged or defaced, it’s better to be safe than sorry and apply for an early renewal.
Check #4: Do you have enough blank visa pages?
For those who need a Schengen visa to travel to their European destination, you’ll need to make sure you have at least two completely blank visa pages in your passport before you even apply for your visa.
‘Completely blank’ means just that – there must literally be nothing on those pages.
No stamps, remarks, vignettes or even smudges or scribbles. The two visa pages must be 100% blank.
It’s also worth double checking with your destination country whether those two visa pages also need to be consecutive or facing pages.
Strictly speaking it shouldn’t matter, but there are governments out there that will strictly request two blank visa pages that are on consecutive pages.
Don’t be caught out by this and risk a visa refusal!
The UK only requires one blank visa page, but again this must be entirely blank with no stamps, remarks, vignettes, smudges or scribbles on it.
Check #5: How old is your visa photo?
One of the constant annoyances of applying for visas is having to re-do passport photos each time. It’s expensive and can be a real pain having to go somewhere else just to get a photo taken when you already have a stack of unused photos from previous visa or passport applications.
However, the Schengen visa rules require you to submit a photo that is less than six months old.
And how do they know this?
Well let’s say you got a new passport last year and you’ve got several unused passport photos lying around at home that you want to use for your Schengen visa application. They’re fully compliant with the standards, so you include two of these spare photos with your Schengen visa application.
Great idea, but bad move.
Because you’ve used the same photo for your new passport last year and your latest visa application, the government caseworker assessing your visa application knows that your visa photos aren’t less than six months old as exactly the same photo is used on your passport.
The same goes for re-using photos taken for other visas.
If a government caseworker sees you’ve submitted identical photos to those used on a different visa application more than six months ago, they know instantly your visa photos are too old.
Until European governments stop asking us to submit photos with visa applications, the only way around this is to suck it up and take new photos every time you apply for a visa.
So there you have it, 5 crucial passport checks to do before you travel to Europe, including 3 showstopper requirements even if you don’t need a visa.
And even if you have a British passport, you’ll need to be aware of these changes from 1 January 2021 as they’ll apply to you as well!
If you’d like more tips on how to properly prepare a visa application, you can download Your Ultimate 5-step Guide to Applying for a Visa. This 58-page guide goes through the visa application process in an incredible amount of detail so you can avoid common mistakes and make a success of your visa application.
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