In early December this year, my current British passport will expire. As the United Kingdom does not issue identity cards to its citizens, my passport is the only accepted form of ID that I have whilst living in continental Europe. In 2016, I will be travelling to the UK twice, as well as to Poland for the Eastern Archdeaconry Synod, not forgetting my now monthly trips to Dresden. All of this is before thinking about where Sybille and I might want to go on holiday together!
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office website states that I must allow four weeks from my application and supporting documentation, including my current passport, arriving at the Passport Office in the UK, before I can expect to receive my new passport. During that time, I will be unable to travel anywhere beyond the borders of the Czech Republic. As a consequence, these past few days I have been studying my diary, trying to work out when on earth there is a time-slot of at least four weeks, when I will not need to travel.
Recently, several people have said to me, ‘Surely you don’t need your passport just to travel to Dresden and back on the train?’ For them, and for any one else thinking along these lines, I will recount my rather ‘interesting’ experiences when travelling back to Prague today, having led and preached at the English-language Anglican Evening Prayer service at the Frauenkirche, Dresden, yesterday evening.
Having boarded my train at Dresden Hauptbahnhof, I found myself a seat in a compartment where the only other passenger was a young lady of Asian appearance. Soon after the train set off, two burly German Polizei walked along the corridor and outside our compartment, stopped two young German men walking in the opposite direction, and asked to see and check their respective IDs. Having done this, rather than walking on down the train as I expected, they instead entered our compartment and asked to see our passports.
I duly produced mine which was then subjected to a thorough examination. Herr Polizei held it up to the light to check for watermarks and the like. I think he was also a little dubious because, being nearly ten years old, it isn’t biometric. Noticing the stamp of the Czech Foreign Police granting me ‘Temporary residence’ that is ‘neomezený/unlimited’, he asked, in English, if I lived in Prague. I gave him quite a shock when I spoke back to him in German 🙂 My passport was returned to me 🙂
However, the young lady got a complete grilling. It didn’t help her cause that she appeared to neither speak German or English – or if she did, she was too shy to do so. And if I dare say so – because she wasn’t white Caucasian 🙁 Both Polizei didn’t think her passport photo looked like her. They insisted she took off the large scarf around her neck so they could compare her skin colour with that in the photograph. The also studiously studied the visa in her passport, (presumably a Schengen one), querying its validity.
There followed a phone call to headquarters, checking her details, with the whole business lasting around fifteen minutes, before she was finally given the all clear and her passport was returned. One funny side effect of all this was that neither of us ever got our tickets checked. The female ticket inspector came past twice, but because of the police presence, she left us in peace!
When the train arrived at the Czech border town of Decín, a tall blonde Czech young lady joined us in the compartment. Decín is also where the Deutsche Bahn train staff get off and are replaced by those of Ceské dráhy. Presumably both Polizei officers got off too.
However, shortly after the train left Decín, who should come along the corridor and open the compartment door – two Czech Policie! The Czech young lady flashed her Czech ID card out of her purse at the same time as flashing her mascaraed eyelids, and she was immediately told that all was fine 😉 The inspection of my passport and Czech residency document took a little longer but no query was raised. But the poor Asian young lady had her passport looked at, photograph and actual likeness compared, visa examined. It wasn’t quite the third degree of the German Polizei, but still lasted at least three minutes.
Therefore after today’s journey, I have no intention whatsoever, of travelling to Dresden and back, without a passport. The mind boggles what would have happened if I’d tried to do so today.
But not only do I have to find a minimum four week time slot when I can be without a passport, I also have to make a deep hole in my bank account to pay for the new one. A ten-year British passport now costs £83.00, together with a further £19.86 in courier delivery charges – £102.86 in total. And I have find a safe way, no doubt also expensive, of getting my application and associated documentation to the Passport Office in the UK to start the process 🙁
And to answer those who have said, ‘Can’t you get a temporary passport whilst your new one is being issued?’ Yes – it is possible to get an ‘Emergency Travel Document’, but – costing another £95.00!!!!