Sunday, 15 February 2009

What to do if your passport goes through the washing machine

These things happen. I turned up in Singapore after an 11 hour bus journey, too air-conditioned and far too bumpy. Off came my clothes, in they went to a wash, and out came my thoroughly soaked and machine dried passport. Precisely at the point that Alex was sitting on a plane, coming to meet me in Singapore, planning to fly to Bali two days later. From the benefit of my experience, conversations with friends and much panicked internet searching, here's what to do if you ever find yourself in this situation.

1. Don't panic, don't beat yourself up. Not only do things like this happen, they happen a lot. All the time in fact. Assess the damage first of all. Things to look out for are the leather cover coming away from the paper, entry and exit stamps running through the pages and the laminated section separating from the face page. In my experience the first two are not necessarily killers, and from hearsay neither is the last one. From a common sense point of view, if the laminated section is coming away, you're far more likely to have trouble. It makes it look like someone's been tampering with it. My passport's front cover was completely separated from the paper, but the back cover was ok. The stamps were a mess, several running several pages either side. Luckily my Singaporean entry stamp was legible.

2. Apply for a new passport - if you can. In the UK you can get express passports in less than 48 hours. This is the obvious step, but it's not always convenient. If you're flying soon, you may not have time - in Singapore it takes 10 working days. You need the signature of a British subject with a respectable job (think qualifications, office building or the like), who has known you for some time - i think over three years. It's worth bearing in mind that you can apply for a replacement passport and hold on to your old one until two working days before you collect it, which is what I did.

3. Apply for an emergency passport. If you're in a foreign city and need to get home, you can get an emergency one-way passport which will get you home without any problems.

4. Risk it! If there's one thing I've found out this week, it's that people travel on damaged passports the whole time. The passport office and consulate won't advise this - they can't - and there's a degree of risk. The first is that at check-in someone will be concerned and stop you flying, the second is that immigration officials will be unable to read the stamps in your passport, or suspect you of tampering with it, and detain you at immigration - hardly ideal. How high this risk is, it's hard to say. At check-in the girl behind the desk joked that my passport looked like it had gone through a river, then laughed and loaded up my bags. At immigration in Bali, the official asked what happened to my passport and stamped me through. No trouble at all!

So far I've heard of people travelling without issue on passports soaked through with vodka, sent through a washing machine twice, and cut up and stuck back together again. Some people have problems, but they seem to be the exception. I even read about a pilot who travelled for five years on a machine washed passport!

I'm definitely glad I took the risk. I could have been stuck in Singapore, a tiny country where the number one tourist attraction is the zoo and number two is a cookery class, but instead I spent the day in Bali snorkelling and visiting a monkey temple!


previously.bitten said...

That not only helps to ease a fear of this happening, but it also will make me more acutely aware of what is in my pockets, before I toss them in the machine.

Though lack of sleep, and long travels, may make me forget now and then. but in that case, i'll just look back to point one.

Will said...

Yeah well said previously.bitten, got to agree with your heartfelt sentiments

Rajasthan Tours Operator said...

i will go and make a new passport

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