Picture this. Excitement building for a trip to the motherland, just 3 weeks away. Not just any trip – but a surprise trip for your brother’s 18th birthday. 18 months without seeing, hugging, or hanging out with your family. Excitement building, growing, hard to control. Suddenly, excitement crushed upon the realisation that your passport is nowhere to be found. Not in the knickers drawer, where is usually resides, not thrown on a bench out of laziness, not dropped under the bed. Panic grows, panic heightens, meltdown begins.
Losing a passport is a traveller’s nightmare. I’m one of those people who is overly conscious of the whereabouts of my passport – checking mid flight about 20 times just to make sure that it hasn’t grown legs and wandered off on its own accord. Which was why this was so surprising. I, of all people, had lost my passport. And not only my passport, but 9 years of travel history in the form of stamps. I remember talking it up – claiming to all my friends that I would fill my passport fully in the next year before it expired.
Worst yet, in my (now lost) passport was my UK visa, allowing me re-entry in the country. Idiot!
Let me put it this way – losing a passport is a pain. Embassies are not accommodating and understanding, like my dad had always promised they would be. “Call the Australian Embassy if anything ever goes wrong,” he’d tell me. Well Dad – did you know that you can actually only contact them between the hours of 9am – 12pm, and you are actually speaking to someone in Australia, not London. Not overly helpful…and god help you if you need to also replace a visa, as the UK Home Office is even more difficult to get a hold of. Be prepared to spend full days googling numbers to ring, being re-directed, spending hours on hold, and eventually hanging up the phone with no concrete answers.
...so, what do you do if your passport has been lost, ruined, water damaged, stolen...or all of the above
1. Cancel any immediate travel
If luck is not on your side, as it wasn’t on mine, you’ll have a trip to glorious, sunny Marbella booked – flying 3 days after the shattering discovery of the missing passport. Call the flight carrier, and pay the fee to postpone the flights. I would always suggest using booking.com to book hotels, as they almost always guarantee a ‘no cancellation fee’ within 72 hours of your first night. Cancel the hotel, postpone your flights, and let that one go…
2. Call your Embassy
The number one thing to do is to call the embassy and book in the appointment for the replacement passport. I think the Australian Embassy must be one of the worst – I couldn’t get an appointment until 2 weeks later (keep in mind, this would now leave me just 1 week to receive the passport, and less time to organise the replacement visa). Stress levels were certainly high at this point. No matter how much pleading, or how many tears were shed, the Australian Embassy did not see my case as an emergency. Keep in mind though, I’ve heard that the American Embassy does a walk in service – be prepared to wait all day - but you’ll have a replacement passport in your hot little hands by the end of a long day. Much better than what my country was offering…
If I can offer any advice about how to tackle an embassy, it is to just keep on harassing them. I would say that over the next 3 days, I called (between the hours of 9am and 12pm), at least 5 times, each speaking to someone new and pleading my case for needing a fast track appointment. Eventually, my efforts paid off, and a lovely woman fast tracked my appointment in London to the following afternoon. Part 1 success, at last!
3. Pay the fee for fast track
The one good thing about getting a replacement passport is that for just £61 extra, your brand new passport is guaranteed to be delivered within 2 working days. So, with just 2 weeks to go until take off to Australia, I had a sexy new Australian passport in my hot little hands.
Total Cost: £251 (or, a summer worth of flights around Europe...)
...so, how do I replace my UK visa?
This part is a lot trickier, and a lot more stressful. You can’t actually go for the visa appointment until you have your new passport, so it’s important to get that part sorted first. Everyone will tell you that you need to go through a lawyer – you don’t! Save yourself the £600+ in fees, and just follow my steps below.
1. a) If you’re in a rush, book the appointment online ASAP
The good news is, you can secure your appointment without having your new passport number yet. In the section that asks for your passport number, just put ‘to be confirmed’ (it worked for me, I swear!). By this stage, I had only 2 weeks to get myself a replacement visa, so I made the decision that I’d pay the extra fee to ‘fast track’ the process (such is life…). To do this, you attend a Premium Service Centre where they check all your documents on the spot and give you a decision that day. Mind you, it still takes 7-10 days for the visa to get posted, but it’s much faster (although much costlier) to do is this way. Get in quick, because the only centre in London is in Croydon, and books about a month in advance…as such, I had to go to Sheffield (north of London and close to Manchester) for my appointment. Add 7 hour return trip at £70 to the cost of the visa, and off I went…!
The alternative option is to fill out the form below and post it in. It will take up to 8 weeks to return your documents (including passport) and visa if you pick this option.
2. Download the TOC form
If you already had a valid UK visa, you need to log onto the website below and fill out the TOC (transfer of conditions) form. Be sure to use BLOCK LETTERS and a black pen!
3. Attend the appointment and be prepared to WAIT!
Give yourself plenty of time to get to the service centre. Make sure you have ALL your documentation with you:
They will take all your documents really quickly, but be prepared to wait over 2 hours for your decision. In this time, they will take your biometrics (fingerprints and face scan).
4. Wait for visa to be send to you
Total Cost: £583 (or, an off season flight to Melbourne…)
Expensive lesson learnt...
A peek into the life of me