Today (4th October 2017) I applied for a new 10-year UK passport at the 'HM Passport Office' on Sukhumwit Soi 13 in Bangkok. Even though my current passport is valid for another year, I'm quickly running out of pages (sound familiar?) so it needs to be replaced.
As several readers have pointed out, it isn't actually an official HM Passport Office but outsourced to a company called VFS. However, this blog all about what you need to do to renew a UK passport so please indulge me if I call it a UK Passport office or something similar.
Applying for a new passport was actually a very straightforward procedure and I was in and out of the building within ten minutes. However, like many bureaucratic processes in Thailand, advance preparation is key. In terms of paperwork, it's all about getting your ducks in a row so that the actual application day goes as smoothly as possible.
There are a number of online blogs that outline the process involved but none of them really go into enough detail - and I'm a details man!
Before I start, let me just point out that I haven't picked up the new passport yet. Only when I have the new passport in my hand will it be a case of mission accomplished. So I'll keep this blog updated right to the end of the process (including transferring visa stamps from the old passport to the new passport at immigration)
But for now, we are just concerned with the passport renewal.
OK, here's an overview of what you need to take to the passport office. Don't worry, I'll go into detail for each one later.
1) A completed application form
2) Two passport-size photographs
3) Proof of address (in English)
4) A completed credit card payment form
5) Photocopies of your current passport (every single page)
6) Your appointment letter
The passport office, where you will make your application, is located on the 28th floor of The Trendy Building on Sukhumwit Soi 13. It's not a very busy office, at least it wasn't when I was there at nine in the morning.
Assuming you will go by sky-train, Sukhumwit soi 13 is about half-way between BTS Asoke and BTS Nana. The walk from BTS Asoke is far more pleasant - and if you're a little early for your appointment, there are a few decent coffee shops on the way.
Once you arrive at Soi 13, The Trendy Building is just a hundred metres or so up the soi, on the right-hand side. It's not a particularly pleasant or welcoming building. It's not a place where you'll want to linger and spend time.
Many of the businesses on the ground floor are geared towards providing services for visa applicants (photocopying, translation services, etc) Because a number of countries (including the UK) outsource their visa application services to offices in The Trendy Building, the lobby area can get a tad chaotic.
Important! Straight in front of you (when you enter the lobby area) you will see a dedicated VFS information desk, manned by an English-speaking and very helpful Thai lady. She will be an eventual point of contact and we'll be coming back to her later.
OK, let's get back to the six requirements mentioned in the overview and take each one in turn.
1) A completed application form
OK, let's get this form filled in! You can download and print off the application form (a four-page pdf file) at this link.
There are TEN sections to the application form and it can appear daunting at first glance, but don't get stressed out. A number of the sections you don't even need to bother with if it's a straightforward renewal for a UK adult passport.
Work your way through the application form (don't forget to use black biro ink ONLY)
A couple of important points to bear in mind
In section one of the form, you need to check the box if you want the sooper-dooper 48-page passport or just stick to the standard 32-page one.
The 32-page passport is £106.01
The 48-page passport is £114.01
Both prices include a courier fee (the cost of delivering your passport from the UK to Thailand)
In section 10 of the form, you have a decision to make - whether or not you need a counter-signatory. This is when someone - a friend, a doctor or a retired army colonel (if you're lucky enough to know one) signs the back of one of your passport photos with the following;
‘I certify that this is a true likeness of [title and full name of adult or child who is getting the passport].'
Then they sign and date the photograph.
The counter-signatory also needs to fill in section 10 of the application form for you.
You can get all the information about who qualifies as a counter-signatory at this link.
What's interesting - and I researched this - is if you do not feel that your appearance has changed much in the last ten years (when you got your current passport) then you are free to skip section ten completely and not bother with a counter-signature. That's certainly what it says on the official UK Government website.
Personally, I didn't want to take the risk. So I invited a good friend for lunch (a guy who has known me for well over five years) and got him to sign the photo and complete section 10.
2) Two passport-sized photographs
The photos must measure 45 millimetres high by 35 millimetres wide (the standard size used in photo booths in the UK)
As we covered in the previous point, one of your photos will be signed by a counter-signatory, the other will be blank.
I got my passport photos from the photography shop in The Emporium Shopping Mall (BTS Prompong) It's on the third floor (not 100% sure of that) but just a couple of doors away from Boots. They were very professional in there and knew exactly what I needed. It took five minutes.
3) Proof of address (in English)
For many applicants, this part is the real pain in the ass - and I'm no exception. For example, all the utility bills to our house are addressed to my wife and the address is always in Thai. In the end, I decided to submit three bank statements with my address clearly shown in English as part of my application, and the receiving officer was more than happy. Three bank statements was probably overkill though. I'm sure I would have got away with just one.
Other acceptable forms of ID could include a work permit, a driving licence, a utility bill or an employment letter but be aware that anything in Thai has to be translated into English, giving you yet another hoop to jump through.
There are numerous offices on the ground floor of The Trendy Building offering translation services and I noticed one them was quoting 150 baht a page on their window. But I have no idea how long it would take them. Personally, I wouldn't risk fannying around with getting translations done on your appointment day unless you have plenty of time to spare.
4) A credit card payment form
Cash is NOT accepted at the passport office. You will need to download and fill in the credit card payment form. It can either be your credit card or someone else's. I used my wife's card so she had to provide her signature on the form. It's pretty self-explanatory. Download the form here.
5) Photocopies of your current passport (every page)
Now this is where things start to get expensive. You need to photocopy - in colour - EVERY single page of your existing passport. For me that was a whopping 30 pages at 20 baht a copy.
600 baht. Ouch!
Once again, it's all about getting your ducks in a row. I had done my color photocopying a couple of weeks beforehand when I happened to be in the Sukhumwit area and I decided to use one of the photocopy shops in The Trendy Building. I figured at least these guys would know what they are doing. That said, perhaps you can find somewhere cheaper than 20 baht a page. Good luck!
6) Your appointment letter
You have to make an appointment with the passport office in advance. You can't just turn up uninvited. Here's how you do it.
Send a short e-mail to BangkokHMPO@vfshelpline.com and explain that you are looking to renew a UK adult passport. Then request THREE dates.
I requested either the 4th, 5th or 6th October and I cheekily asked for a morning slot if possible (if you don't ask, you don't get)
I got an e-mail reply within half an hour asking me to come on 4th October at 8.50 am. The service really is excellent!
The e-mail not only confirms your appointment but gives you a lot of background information that thanks to reading this blog, you will already know.
Print off your appointment e-mail letter!
Time things so you arrive at The Trendy Building about 15-20 minutes before your scheduled appointment. You've already got all your colour photocopies, application form, proof of address etc, etc arranged in a nice folder (you have, haven't you? Good)
Go and see the nice lady at the VFS information desk on the ground floor (remember her?) and she will be expecting you Mr Bond. She will tick your name off her appointment list anyway.
Take the elevator up to the 28th floor. Go through security. Take a queue number at the desk. Finally, file your application when your number is called.
The officer checks all your application documents and gives you a ‘collection document'
The officer told me that my new passport would arrive in three to four weeks, possibly even sooner. Plus of course he would give me a letter for Thai immigration to help facilitate any transfer of visa stamps.
To reiterate, the whole application process took me less than ten minutes and everything was handled courteously and professionally. I couldn't have been more impressed and many of my friends on social media echoed the same thoughts. How rare it is in Thailand to undertake a bureaucratic process and end up thinking ‘shit, what am I going to do with the rest of the day?'
Job done. Go and have a well-earned cup of coffee.
Finally, this is the actual UK Government website where you can click through the process and go over the information again.
Update - Monday 16th October
Received a very nice e-mail from the passport office this morning to say that my new UK passport is now ready for collection. So from the day of application, the process of getting a replacement passport has taken just 12 days. Wow! I'm impressed.
They also called my wife on her mobile phone (I always give out her number as my contact because I often don't answer my own phone or even hear it ringing. I hate phones!)
The e-mail says that there is no need to make an appointment for a collection. I can go anytime from Monday to Friday between 9.00 am and 3.00 pm.
I need to take the receipt (which was given to me on the day of application), a copy of the e-mail letter informing me the new passport has arrived and thirdly, my old passport (which presumably they want to cut up)
If you can't go in person, you can send a third party along to collect it on your behalf. They need to show 1) your old passport 2) their own form of ID and 3) an authority letter signed by you giving the third party authorization from you, stating his/her name and that you are permitting him/her to collect the passport on your behalf.
I plan to pick the passport up on Thursday 19th.