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Everything you need to know about travelling with a damaged passport

How a damaged passport can damage your travel plans

Dec 23rd · 2 min read

After reality TV star Georgia Toffolo was detained in the Maldives because of missing pages in her travel document, these are the key points to follow.

A passport is supposed to last 10 years. Surely they should make an allowance for fair wear and tear?

Yes, but there are limits. The UK government says: “When deciding whether a passport falls under wear and tear, examiners should look at the travel history of the document – multiple visas and stamps would indicate heavy use. Wear and tear is therefore more likely.”

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The International Civil Aviation Organization, which is the global body responsible for passport standards, warns of a range of fraudulent “attacks” on travel documents.

These include “construction of a fraudulent document, or parts thereof, using materials from legitimate documents”; the “removal and substitution of entire page(s) or visas”; and the deletion of entries on visa pages and the observations page.

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The main problem that travellers encounter with frontier officials is if there is damage to the photo page in the passport. That is because, historically, it was easy for fraudsters to doctor the details and replace the photograph.

So if there is any obvious flaw in the lamination, that is enough to get you barred from a country.

The UK government has a definition of a damaged passport which includes “the laminate has lifted enough to allow the possibility of photo substitution”, “discolouration to the bio-data page”, “chemical or ink spillage on any page: and “missing or detached pages”

Why should missing pages be a concern?

Without suggesting there was anything other than a simple oversight in Ms Toffolo’s case, there are plenty of reasons why a traveller might want to remove pages from their passport: notably evidence of a visit to Israel, if they want to go to a number of Arab countries.

Evidence of a visit to Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Syria or Yemen will make you ineligible for admission to the US under the Esta visa-waiver scheme.

And many countries have awkward rules on vaccinations if you travel from somewhere perceived as a health risk – for example India says if you travel from countries including Israel, Kenya and Nigeria, “you may be required to hold a valid polio vaccination certificate”.

If pages are taken from the middle (pages 15-18 inclusive in a standard British passport) the omission is hard to spot – and in many cases overlooked or ignored.

In Ms Toffolo’s case it may be that the authorities were acting according to the clause in the Maldives Immigration Act that bans “Persons who may be considered to pose a threat to the safety and security of the nation”.

One mistaken assumption might be that the pages were removed deliberately to conceal evidence of a visit to one or more countries that are regarded as posing a danger to the Maldives.

I’ve heard of people being denied boarding by airlines because of the conditions their passport. Why?

Airlines are very sensitive to damaged passports, because they are fined if they transport a passenger to a country where the document is ruled inadmissible.

In the past easyJet has actually incentivised airport check-in staff by paying them £5 every time they identified a damaged passport.

What’s your one-line advice?

I am horrified when I see fellow travellers shoving their passport into a back pocket, rather than treating it as fragile document that is all that stands between you and deportation on the next homebound flight.

last updated: 2019-12-23@18:12