UK emergency travel document - any experiences?
May 6, 2014 1:56 AM   Subscribe

Asking for a friend: British national resident in Romania needs to shortly travel to Greece (for a week) but passport may not be renewed in time. He is looking into obtaining an emergency travel document ("emergency passport") however the information from the British and Greek embassies on whether this is possible varies wildly depending on who he speaks to. Does anybody have an experience of using a UK emergency travel document, particularly for travel within the EU (especially Greece)?

My friend (a British national) resides in Romania but needs to travel to Greece in a couple of week's time. His UK passport has expired and he is in the process of getting this renewed but it looks like this is going to take much longer than the advertised 4 week turnaround and it is not clear he will get the new passport in time to travel.

He is looking into getting an emergency travel document from the local British embassy however he is getting conflicting information on whether this will allow him to travel or not. Depending on who he speaks to at the British embassy, the guidance is "yes it will be ok" and "no it will probably not be ok". The Greek embassy seemed to indicate it would be OK, depending on the validity period of the document (but would they agree at the border?).

Has anybody got an experience of using an emergency travel document, particularly for travel within the EU (even better, Greece)?
posted by oclipa to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total)
I've just found the following UK travel advice for Greece, so it looks like you can't use an emergency travel document to get into Greece:

Which obviously answers my original question, however if anyone wants to chip in with some general comments about experiences using emergency travel documents, feel free...
posted by oclipa at 3:31 AM on May 6, 2014

No experience but my instinct is that emergency passports are only for return to home country. I presume they are distinct from regular passports and so are likely to receive scrutiny.

FWIW, back in the 80s I had a full 10 year passport issued on the spot by getting to a passport office before the doors opened thus being first in the queue and then explaining why I needed one at short notice, got mine (old style blue card, hand written) within 3 hours.
posted by epo at 3:31 AM on May 6, 2014

Your friend can also travel with a national ID card.

"...You must still show a valid ID card or passport when travelling to or from Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the United Kingdom..."
posted by mkdirusername at 4:56 AM on May 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

The UK doesn't issue ID cards.
posted by vacapinta at 4:58 AM on May 6, 2014

For what it's worth, Greece is notoriously strict on their visa/passport entrance requirements. Many (many) other countries show much greater flexibility on paper and in practice to non-standard/about to expire/"oops, just expired!" travel documents. But for some reason, not Greece.
posted by whitewall at 5:13 AM on May 6, 2014

I used to work in a British overseas passport office as a passport examiner (person who determines if the passport is issueable and checks documents and photos and everything). Please note that all opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the British government or Her Majesty's Passport Office.

I suspect the reason the turnaround time is high right now is that they have recently returned all operations to the UK; there used to be satellite offices in different cities around the world but those have closed and they will be processing everything in the UK itself. This means that the volume is much, MUCH higher and that office will be dealing with a greater number of complex cases.

British passport law is very complicated because there are so many different ways in which one can be entitled to a British passport and a number of different statuses, plus the laws changed but the law at the time of your birth or citizenship applies so it's a big challenge. For example, if you were born in the UK before 1983 (I think? It's been a while) you have automatic citizenship but if you were born there after 1983 you need to have at least one parent with either citizenship or a status called indefinite leave to remain. If you were born in a former British colony you may or may not be entitled to a passport. If you are a Hong Kong citizen with a certain status that means that you are entitled to a passport but it would be a "British National Overseas" passport, not a British Citizen passport. The office in which I worked processed passports dealt with North and South America and the Caribbean so we had many people with complicated statuses like British Overseas Territories Citizen, a designation which may or may not entitle you to a British Citizen passport. Most of the cases with which the UK office was dealing previously were much more straightforward so I suspect that right now they are coping with an enormous caseload (everyone in the entire world applying for a British passport) including many very complex cases and for that reason the turnaround time might be high.

In addition, the four week turnaround time is based on the time from which the passport office has a completed application including payment, usable photographs, and any required documents. If your friend sent pictures that are unusable for some reason (teeth showing is a big one, but it could also be problems with glasses or photo quality) or requires additional documentation (for example, if he or she looks very different from previous photos they might need to see additional forms of identification or something) then it will take longer. There is, I believe, a phone number you can call to get more information on the status of your passport but there is a charge. That said, it might be worth checking. In my experience the people on the other end are pretty helpful (I used to be the person on the other end! I did my best to be helpful!).

In terms of Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs), those are generally provided by the consulates and have nothing really to do with the regular passport office (although, again, this might have changed). They are for specific trips (they used to issue temporary passports but people just stuck with those and never renewed their regular passport so things are different now) and are non-renewable and you can only get a certain number (I want to say three?) within a fairly long period of time because they really are not intended to be replacements for passports.

Unfortunately, I know absolutely nothing about Greek immigration law so I can't tell you whether an ETD will work for your friend's situation, but I hope this information is helpful in understanding the possible causes of the delay and steps that can be taken to figure out the status of your passport. Good luck!
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 7:20 AM on May 6, 2014

Confirm with the Greek consulate if they'd accept a valid Romanian residence permit (in case they've got one) or a driving license as national IDs.
posted by sukeban at 7:27 AM on May 6, 2014

I don't know about UK rules, but here, you can get your passport expiry prolonged in this type of situation. We recently got it for my daughter, because I had misread the date on her passport.
Everywhere we went, it took longer time, and bosses were called to the counter. But we got to South Africa and back, so it worked.
posted by mumimor at 11:20 AM on May 6, 2014

UK ETDs are valid for a specific itinerary which is printed on the document. A couple of years ago I had to travel unexpectedly (a funeral) and my passport had expired. One of the things needed for issuing the document was a valid airline reservation, which in my case was a return trip, and the ETD specified that it was valid for both legs (I have no idea whether the US would have actually accepted it upon reentry — I strongly doubt it). The UK border people tried to keep it on entry, but gave it back to me when I pointed out that it was still valid — it was surrendered when I renewed my passport.

Also, if you haven’t tried dealing with a consulate lately, you should be aware that they are no longer particularly welcoming or helpful, or even easy to get in touch with.

A decade or so ago it used to be that in the US you could get a passport quickly (one day processing plus transit time each way) from the embassy; if you had more urgent needs then the consulate would help. When the embassy temporarily mislaid my passport during renewal, the nice people at the consulate let me in at lunchtime and took care of everything then and there (they even gave me a cup of tea!) and issued an emergency passport, which in those days was a fancy single piece of paper. All very nice and helpful, but now sadly ancient history.

Nowadays all passport renewals take the slow boat round trip to the UK. Plus even trying to talk to someone at the consulate is close to impossible — you have to make an appointment in advance, which they try to get you to do via the web, where ETDs were not listed as a reason for an appointment. If you try to call there isn’t anybody there to talk to, and you end up in phone tree hell. After several calls that ended in dead ends or which just dropped the call, I finally worked round the phone tree enough to get to a place where I could leave a message and eventually I got a call back. The rather harassed person who called back was actually quite nice (she had worked there since the old, more friendly days), but the process was horrible. When I went to the appointment (not on the same day, emergency or no) I was corralled alone in a little cell-like chamber with an armored-glass window on one side where someone briefly appeared to gather my money and my documents, returning 20 mins later with a little white ETD booklet, now just like a white passport — photo, machine readable and all. A really unpleasant and fraught experience.

As Mrs. Pterodactyl rightly says, “the people on the other end are pretty helpful.” The fly in that particular ointment is that it is often not possible to talk to a person, and you may well have to pay for the privilege if you eventually do so (like they aren’t already charging you quite a lot for the basic service already).
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 1:32 PM on May 6, 2014

I'm a US citizen and I got an emergency same-day passport at the US Embassy in London a few years ago. It only took an hour or so. I asked about it here.
posted by triggerfinger at 2:20 PM on May 6, 2014

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