31st May 2009

Several months ago I wrote about the problems other people had experienced in renewing their British passports. What I didn't realise was that, even if it's not yet due for renewal, there are still complications to be overcome. We plan to travel to the US in a few months' time and thought that, as British citizens, we would simply be covered by the usual 'visa-waiver' programme - but that's when our troubles began. One friend told us we need to get our irises scanned; another told us that, as residents of France, we are no longer eligible and need a visa. The US embassy has issued the most complicated instructions imaginable - mostly based on the exact date your passport was issued:
If issued on or after 26 Oct 06, the passport must be a biometric one.
If issued on or after 26 Oct 05 but before 26 Oct 06, the passport must be machine readable with a digital photo.
If issued before 26 Oct 05, the passport just needs to be machine-readable.
If you don't qualify for any of the above, then you're not eligible for 'visa-waiver' and must obtain a visa + biometric scans. And how to do that if you live in a tiny village a million miles from Paris or London??
Also, everyone needs to complete a pre-departure on-line authorization form called ESTA - you know the sort: where was your grandmother born? etc. etc. (The fact my grandmother was actually called Esther is neither here nor there). And what do people do who are not computer literate? Oh, and if you bought your ticket online, you will be refused entry if you haven't brought with you a print-out of your complete itinerary.
It's all become so much hassle, I'm surprised anyone bothers to travel at all!

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