Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Renewing a British passport from Cyprus

My current passport expires in the middle of November. I have been aware of this for some months, but knew that travelling in April would be fine - as there was more than six months left. However, I realised that I needed to have it renewed before our planned trip to the UK in the middle of October. In April, I did briefly check whether I could get it renewed while we were in the UK, but the cost seemed high for 'quick' options, and there did not seem to be any guarantee that the 'regular' option would return the passport to me in time for my return trip to Cyprus. Moreover, it seemed like a waste to lose the last six months of validity.

A pity I did not investigate further, since apparently up to nine months of remaining validity can now be added to new passports.

Moreover, it is even more complicated than it used to be to get a passport renewed while in Cyprus.

Previously, such as when renewing Daniel and Richard's passports over five years ago, we went to the British High Commission in Nicosia, with photos, passports, and filled-out forms. Someone would then glance over the paperwork, ensure that the photos were good enough and satisfactorily endorsed, and then send it all away. Typically it would take less than two weeks, after which time we could call to check whether it was ready, and return to Nicosia to collect it.

So, during May and June I didn't think about it too much. During July I forgot about it entirely, with Tim visiting. August is typically holiday month in August with many businesses and organisations closed down, so I assumed we would renew my passport early in September.

Yesterday I thought I'd check the High Commission website to see the opening hours and costs of passport renewal.

To my surprise - and horror - I saw that passports can no longer be renewed in Cyprus. Instead, they have to be sent to a regional processing office in Spain. It can take around four weeks from the time when the fee is processed, it costs considerably more than I had expected, and they warn people not to book flights until their new passports arrive.

Oh dear.

When Richard arrived home, I told him about this, and he said that it's not even legal for courier companies to carry passports over international borders.

What to do??

It turns out that many couriers do in fact transport passports even if it isn't legal, including the better-known ones. It also turns out that there is an application form which can be downloaded and printed, and filled in to send with the passport. I was in panic-mode, which tends to make me freeze up, incapable of anything, so Richard did this, and even filled the form in, tellling me exactly where to initial and sign.

This morning we went out to get photos taken. There are no passport booths in Larnaka, as far as I know, but we've previously used a good photographer who didn't charge much. Unfortunately, when we arrived at the place where his shop used to be, it was no longer there. So we went a little further, and found a photographer shop.. but it was closed. Perhaps still on August break.

Thankfully we did manage to find yet another shop - Photo Jimmy - where we were told that yes, they did passport photos. It was a lovely Cypriot small shop, with a child wandering about, several adults engaged in different activities, and seats for us to sit on.

We had to wait a while until the photographer was ready, then she took about five or six different shots before getting one that she was happy with. Conscious of the instructions about British passport photos I had to stay serious; not a hint of a smile is permitted. I was a bit puzzled that the photo was taken with a green background, but that was soon changed by the young woman sitting at the computer.

We had to wait a while longer while the printing machine was cleaned - by the photographer and the guy whom we assumed to be the owner - and were then asked if we wanted four or nine photos. Since I only needed two, we asked for four. They printed some, then came to check the dimensions. Richard had printed out the full, detailed instructions about passport photos including 'good' and 'unacceptable' variations, so they double-checked, ,and then printed some slightly smaller versions. When done, we measured them and they were exactly correct.

We were charged 7 euros for the photos, which seemed like good value to me, given the amount of time spent by so many people - and the owner even gave us the slightly-too-large versions free as they were obviously of no use to him. So we gave him the printed instructions, which were no longer of use to us, but which could be helpful for producing passport photos for people who don't know the rules.

This afternoon Richard is asking a banker friend to endorse one of my photos, and he will then take the envelope with documentation, passport, payment instructions and photos to one of the courier companies to take to Madrid. I just hope it arrives back more quickly than expected, so that we can book flights to the UK for the middle of October.

In all it's going to cost over 200 euros for my passport to be renewed, which is rather a shock to the system, but if we think of it as 20 euros per year, it's not so bad.

What did give me pause for thought, however, was realising that the next time I need my passport renewed, I will be 61...


Anvilcloud said...

Our passports needed to be renewed about 3 years ago, but I keep forgetting. We pretty well need it to cross into the USA. Obviously, we haven't felt the need to do so for quite some time.

DaisyCrazy said...

Perhaps this is a silly question, but since the passport doesn't expire till the middle of November why can't you travel in the middle of October, a whole month before expiration date?

Sue said...

I would be able to travel to the UK on a nearly-expired passport. But one is supposed to have six months of validity before going anywhere else, so I would not be able to return to Cyprus at the start of November.. and the cost of getting it done 'urgently' while in the UK, requiring an appointment at a fairly inconvenient passport centre, would not make it any cheaper than going through the process here.

Lynda said...

We had a similar 'panic' on our last trip back to UK as both Andy and I had to renew not because they were approaching expiry date, but because we were running out of pages. Visas for many African countries take a whole page. Our new ones have the extra pages, which should keep us going a bit longer, and I'm really glad to have a new picture, despite the serious look!