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Passport rules punish Brits in Latin America


A bag snatched from your shoulder, a locker door broken at a hostel, a document folder misplaced: these are just a few of the occasions which can result in the loss of a Passport while travelling abroad. This loss can lead to further difficulties when planning your onward journey, making hotel reservations or receiving money via Western Union.

Given the severity of these problems, British passport holders should be aware of recent changes to rules and regulations regarding the issuance of replacement documents when travelling in South America.

From October 2009, British embassies in all South American countries now no longer issue full 10 year replacement passport – instead they will provide only a one page document valid for one immediate return journey to the UK.

While this is not such a significant issue for travelers on a one country trip, it presents serious difficulties for those planning to visit two or more countries.

To obtain a full replacement passport it is now necessary to send the relevant forms (a LS01 form to report the loss and a standard passport application form) to a central American passport issuing authority based in Washington DC, USA.

This has the effect of considerably increasing the time taken to receive the new documents. Previously it was possible to appear in person at the embassy and receive a replacement passport in around five days. Now the documents need to be processed in Washington (currently around 10 days) as well as allowing for anything up to two to three weeks each way for the post to reach its destination.

The change also means that you have to provide a signed photo from a known and responsible acquaintance to confirm your identity. When it was possible to arrive in person at the embassy, the official there would approve the necessary photos. Since the process is now entirely via post, the third party confirmation is definitely now required.

Should the traveler wish to follow up the application, however, it is not possible to speak directly to the Washington staff handling the application – to confirm for instance that the form has the correct details or the photos meet the required standard. Instead telephone enquiries can only be made via a premium rate line to a UK agency, Careline, responsible for dealing with any queries. They can, however, only pass on details from any notes updated onto the system in Washington.

These arrangements clearly represent a greatly increased inconvenience for the unfortunate British traveler stranded without documentation in South America, all presumably in the name of cost cutting and efficiencies.

To minimize the difficulties encountered should a passport be lost, the advice below will prove to be of assistance.

Always, always, always have a photocopy or easily accessible scanned copy of a passport. A copy signed as true by a solicitor in the UK is especially likely to impress an over-bureaucratic local official (solicitors charge only around £5 for this service). Though not the original document this should be sufficient for making internal travel arrangements, giving ID to the local police, securing hotel bookings and approving payments by credit card. This may not, however, be sufficient in all cases for car rentals or Western Union receipts.

Have any documents forwarded to Washington via registered post. This at least allows you to track the information you have sent using the postal service´s online systems. You will then know for certain when it has arrived at the relevant agency – though be prepared for some unbelievable delays in local sorting offices.

Have some standard passport photos taken prior to departure, since local photo agencies may not provide the necessary format.

Have someone sign these photos and a re-application form prior to departure. The form requires the signatory to have known you for two years and not be a family member. Since this effectively rules out the most likely travelling companions, there will be no one to hand who fulfils these requirements unless you can find a willing accomplice on your travels. If you are concerned about carrying this information with you, maybe the person in the UK can keep the forms and only send them on in the event that they are needed.

These few simple steps will not prevent all the problems associated with the loss of the passport, but will hopefully minimize most of the serious ones and allow the trip to continue in a way that can still be enjoyed.

All forms for re-application and reporting a lost or stolen passport, as well as full details on the application process, the necessary supporting documents, the requirements for photos and relevant addresses and telephone numbers can be found on the Foreign Office website – http://ukinusa.fco.gov.uk/en/passports/applying-for-passport-usa/

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