(Scroll down for latest updates)
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 is all about what you need to do to renew a UK passport in Bangkok 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 picking up the new passport and transferring visa stamps from the old passport to the new passport at Thai 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 Trendy Building's 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. There are always lots of visa agents milling around, providing a relatively inexpensive service to those Thais who are too busy to apply for foreign visas themselves. But none of those people concern us.
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 one of my passport photos and complete section 10 of the application form.
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 really 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.
Chris, an ajarn reader from Bangkok, also went through this UK passport renewal process a few months ago and he says "just want to point out that you can also pay by debit card (even one for a Thai bank account) if you don't have, or don't want to use a credit card" Thanks Chris.
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 that does colour photocopying 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 the appointment e-mail because you will need to take that with you on your application day.
Time things so you arrive at The Trendy Building about 15-20 minutes before your scheduled appointment (there's really no point arriving any earlier)
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 and direct you towards the elevator.
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' (we could even refer to this as a 'receipt')
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 to tell her that her husband's new passport was ready for collection (I always give out my wife's mobile 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.
Update - Thursday 19th October (picking up the new UK passport)
I went along to the UK passport office at around midday and collecting the passport was a very simple 10-minute procedure.
I was served by the same kind and helpful young man who took care of my original application. He cut a corner off the old passport in that time-honored fashion and also gave me a request letter to show to Thai immigration in order to facilitate the transfer of my visa extension and re-entry permit from my old passport to the new one.
Initially I was quite surprised (and a tad disappointed perhaps) at how unofficial-looking and plain the request letter was, but on further inspection it does have a proper signature and an embossed stamp as well as the British Embassy crest. The actual body text of the letter contains blank spaces that you have to fill in yourself.
So the next stop is Thai immigration, which I plan to do on Tuesday the 31st October. Surprisingly, there is very little information on-line about transferring visas, etc from one passport to another. There are the usual expat forum threads which quickly descend into argument and disagreement (I really don't know why I bother) but there is virtually nothing written on the topic within the last three years. But as I often say, the best way to find out is to go through it yourself.
So let's see how easy or how difficult Thai immigration can make this. Fingers crossed.
Update - Tuesday 31st October (transferring extension of stay stamp and re-entry permit from old passport to new passport)
Well, that was about as easy as it gets when you make a trip to Thai immigration.
I needed to transfer two things from my old UK passport to the new one - firstly, a one-year extension of stay stamp and secondly, a multiple-entry re-entry permit.
Both of these things were issued to me in July 2017 so both were only a few months old.
The whole process once I had handed over my two UK passports (and a few photocopies) was LESS than fifteen minutes. You can't grumble at that. Plus there was NO charge for this service. I have read on several forum threads of people being charged a 500 baht service fee but that wasn't the case for me today. It was freemans. Whether that applies to all Thai immigration offices, I couldn't tell you.
There is very little information on-line (until now) about transferring Thai stamps from one UK passport to another and it took me a good while to find the official form to download. I eventually found one on a blog belonging to an American guy in Chiang Mai. The blog was written over three years ago but here is the downloadable form and I can now assure you that the form hasn't changed at all. It's still the same fairly basic form.
OK, here's a checklist of what you need to take to immigration.
1) The official form mentioned above (filled in of course)
2) The official letter that was given to you by VFS / UK Passport office when you picked up your new passport (filled in)
3) A copy of your TM6 departure card
4) A copy of the photo page from your OLD passport
5) A copy of the photo page from your NEW passport
6) A copy of the page or pages showing your extension of stay stamp, re-entry permit, etc - in other words, the stuff that you want transferred to the new passport
7) A copy of your last entry stamp into Thailand
On a final note - and again this is only stuff that I've got from various expat discussion forums - you ONLY need to go to immigration if you want an extension of stay stamp transferred to a new passport (as in my case)
If you are here in Thailand on an actual visa that you obtained from a Thai embassy or consulate abroad - perhaps a tourist visa or a single entry non-immigrant B, etc - you do NOT need to go to immigration to transfer the visa to your new passport. Thai immigration can't do that anyway.
You can simply show BOTH of your passports to the immigration officer when you exit Thailand. Your old passport will have your visa in it (and it's still valid despite the passport being cancelled) and your new passport is your identification.
Please don't shoot the messenger. That final bit of info is only what I gleaned from expat forums and as we know, they are not always the most reliable source of info. As I tell everyone - if in doubt, go and speak to your local immigration office.
A pat on the back for VFS
Most or at least many of the foreign embassies in Bangkok now outsource their visa and passport services to the VFS company and VFS probably have several locations in the city.
Last year (2017) when my wife applied for a UK visa, she had to go to the VFS office at The Trendy Building in Sukhumwit 13 (the office we've been talking about above) Just a few weeks ago, she needed to apply for a Schengen visa to visit Austria. This time we needed to go to the VFS office in Silom Complex on Silom Road. It's here where they handle visa applications for Austria, Spain, Italy and probably one or two more.
Going back to the VFS Silom office brought back painful memories. About six years ago, my wife applied for a Schengen visa to visit Spain. The VFS system was a mess! No one had to make an appointment. You just turned up. The reception area was chaos as dozens of visa applicants and visa agents frantically waved bits of paper at a young girl on the front desk who looked like she was about to burst into tears.
It took us an unbelievable EIGHT hours to apply for a visa that day! We returned home physically and mentally exhausted.
But thankfully those days are long gone. VFS has become a very professional, well-run and well-oiled machine. No one gets over the threshold unless they have an appointment and this of course means VFS controls the number of people in the office at any one time, making for an infinitely better experience.
Staff are always polite, e-mails are answered in a timely manner, and the whole system works well. My wife received her Schengen visa for Austria in less than a week!
I realise I've gone off on a bit of a tangent in this last section, but I wanted to heap some praise on VFS for running their operation so professionally. Well done!
Update 21st February 2018
Terry, a reader from Pattaya, said that he very recently went through this UK passport renewal process. When VFS sent him an e-mail to collect the new passport, he had to give them a specific time and collection date. That was not my experience at all. VFS said I could come any time. Terry also went on to say that on his application day, he waited for an hour before he was called in to file his application. I waited about five to ten minutes.
This of course is the problem with blogs of this nature. They are merely snapshots in time. They are one man's experience of what happened on a specific day. On another day with different dynamics, the experience might be vastly different. And of course rules and requirements can change.