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Passport guidelines

1. Travelling to the USA
New passport rules came into force for those travelling to the US. Under the 'visa waiver' scheme, which applies to British travellers, everyone - including children - must now have their own 'machine readable' passport.

This is the kind that has two lines of coded data at the bottom of the photo page, which is on a white strip on older passports and on the pink page of newer passports. If you don't have a machine-readable passport you'll now have to apply for a visa, a time-consuming and costly business.

A potential stumbling block for families is that children can still be listed on parents' passports. However, they are now required to have their own passport. So if you're planning to take the family to the States this summer, double-check well in advance that your passports conform to the new requirements.

2. Will there be any more changes to US regulations on passports this year?
Yes - further requirements will come into force in the autumn. British visitors who have passports issued on or after October 26 will have to have a digital photograph. However, if your passport is valid from a date up to and including October 25 (with a machine-readable strip but no digital photograph), it will still be accepted for travel to the United States after October 26 and for the duration of its validity period. For more information visit www.usembassy.org.uk.

3. If I can't produce a passport, does that mean I can't travel?
The advice on the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) website (www.fco.gov.uk) is that you must hold a full 10-year passport. However, a spokesman said that, legally, there's no requirement for anyone leaving the country to have one.

Embarkation controls at airport and ferry terminals were scrapped in the 1990s and it's left to the carriers - the airlines, ferries and trains - to check passengers have the documents for entry into the country to which they're travelling. Most airlines look at these during the check-in process, but BA says that passengers are 'ultimately responsible for checking they are carrying the correct documentation'.

However, if you did turn up at check-in without a passport, you'd be unlikely to travel. easyJet says it will not allow passengers to board without passports, while BA says it would allow boarding only if permitted to do so by the authorities in the final destination. Heavy fines can be levied on airliens if they bring passengers in without correct papers - and they would also be responsible for taking you home again.

4. What should I do if I can't find my passport?
To obtain a replacement or simply to report a loss, you have to fill in an LS01 form, available from the UK Passport Service (UKPS) advice line (0870 521 0410), police stations, post offices, Worldchoice travel agents and immigration officers at ports of entry. You also need to produce an application form, certified photographs, a cheque for £42 and, sometimes, supporting documentation such as a birth certificate.

Replacements are usually issued within three weeks, or two weeks if you use the Post Office's Check & Send service (there's a £7 handling charge for this).

5. What if I need a replacement more quickly?
Use the one-week, fast track service, which costs £70. The downside is that you'll have to book an appointment at a regional passport office (there are offices in Belfast, Durham, Glasgow, Liverpool, London, Newport and Peterborough) by calling the UKPS advice line (0870 521 0410). You will need two passport photos, a completed form and proof of identity, such as a birth certificate or driving licence.

6. What if I turn up at the airport and find my passport is out of date?
The UKPS offers a premium, same-day service for travellers who find their passport has expired. It costs £89 and appointments (if available) must be before 16:00 in London, 13:00 in Liverpool and midday elsewhere. On Saturdays, this service is available for appointments before 11:00.

The waiting time for the document to be processed is four hours. However, you may run into problems if you are travelling as a family and one or more of your children is listed on your out-of-date passport. Each child will need a new passport and this will take longer to process.

7. Does it matter that my passport has become battered?
It might do. If the identification details or security features are damaged the airline could refuse to allow you to board.

8. If I can't travel because of a problem with my passport, can I claim on my travel insurance?
A good policy will provide cancellation cover. Under the standard policy issued by the travel insurance specialist Direct Travel you would be covered for up to £3,000 if you have to cancel your holiday after losing your passport in the departure lounge (as long as no other 'reasonable' alternative travel arrangements could be made).

9. What if I lose my passport while I'm abroad?
You should contact the local police for a report documenting the loss or theft, and take it to your nearest British Consulate, Embassy or High Commission (addresses abroad are listed on the FCO website). Currently, the price for replacing an adult passport is £56.50 (payable in the relevant currency).

If you can produce a photocopied page of your passport with personal details and number, the replacement - which can take a few days - may be speeded up. The consul will also need proof of identity such as credit cards, airline tickets, traveller's cheques or driving licence with photograph.

Can I get my travel insurance to pay for replacing a passport?
Many travel insurance policies cover the cost of replacing a passport as well as accommodation and travel expenses. The American Express Classic annual policy offers up to £300 to pay for reasonable travel and accommodation expenses that are incurred while exit papers are sorted out. But it will only apply if the passport is lost or stolen directly from your person (in a pocket or in hand-held bags) or from a locked safety deposit box in a hotel room.


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