Friday, February 27, 2009

New Passport

Because I travel across an international border by air, I require a passport. And there's a funny rule about passports. Countries sometimes require your passport to be valid for six months in order to admit you. And I don't mean that some countries do and some countries don't. I mean that the same country, i.e. the United States will sometimes admit you with a passport that is close to expiry, and sometimes not.

Some people say, "so why don't they just add six months to the expiry date, or subtract them, or something, so the date on the passport really matches when you can use it." The thing is that you can get back to your country, I assume, with one day left on your passport, but you can't get out. The country that is taking you doesn't want to risk you getting stuck there because you stayed past the expiry date on your passport and now your real country won't let you in.

That sounds kind of unlikely to me. "I'm sorry, you were a Canadian yesterday, but now you're not, so you can't come back." Canadian citizenship doesn't expire. You can't even renounce it. The government does not recognize renunciation of citizenship if you, say, burn your passport in a public act of protest or become a citizen of a country that requires you to swear revokation of all other citizenships. You're a Canadian for life. So I suspect that if I were to turn up at a port of entry with an expired pasport, so long as it looked like me and hadn't been reported lost or stolen, that they would let me in. They might make a few phonecalls to verify my identity and possibly fine me. But I don't think they would leave me to wander statelessly forever in the airport.

But I'm not going to test that theory out. My last entry into the US was on a passport that had only four months left on it. It's time to renew. I would have done it earlier, but I needed it. To get a new Canadian passport I have to surrender the old one. And wait. I looked into doing it online.

They call it epass Canada. It claims to not support my browser. I look into that. They officially support Firefox 1.0.6, so I'm betting it will work fine in 3.0.5. There's the usual online service stuff: Choose a userID not already in use. Provide the answers to some terrible user security questions, such as "the name of an important person to you" and "an important date." In the end, after all that, it's not so much an online application as an online form. I have to print it out and bring or mail it in the normal way. Mail will take too long. It won't be done before I have to go back to work.

Taking it in and waiting six weeks for normal processing will take too long, too. But for an extra eighty dollars I can get the renewal process accelerated to two business days, so I opt for that. I get my photo taken and notarized by a photography store. You're not allowed to take your own photo anymore. It has to be a commercial photographer. I stand in two different lines, and pay my extra fee, which was reduced thanks to some calculation by the agent. I overhear a guy who has lost his medical card and had his driving licence taken away ask how he can get a passport. They seemed to have a procedure for him. There's a uniformed guy in a corridor who appears to have been hired expressly for the purpose of telling people nicely that they're in the wrong place. See, there's a preline and then there's the real line. Despite the labyrinth of frustrating procedures, everyone, including the guy who does nothing all day but tell people they're in the wrong place, is very friendly and polite. If you know someone who works on the front line providing passports to Canadians, please tell them "good job!" If you know someone involved in the back office bureaucracy providing passports to Canadians, tell them "Good job on staff training! Now please do something about the procedures!"

Application process done, I leave. When I come back in two days the passport is all ready for me. My photo looks distinctly green, not just my hair, but my skin. Everyone is, for some reason. There's even a piece of paper that comes with the passport explaining that that's normal. I suggest, as I'm signing on the little square where you have to sign but you're not allowed to go outside the lines, that it's too bad you can't apply for a new passport but keep the old one, then just come in to make the exchange once the new one is ready. THe reply is that "It's against the law to have more than one valid passport at a time." Sure, I understand that. But I'm not asking to have more than one at a time. I just want them to get mine ready for me before I have to surrender the one I'm using. This won't get fixed, because Canadian government officials, who would have to be affected in order for them to believe this was a problem, probably get their passports express updated as an internal service.

But I have a new passport. And my photo is really very green. I'm good for another four and a half years, as long as I don't run it through the laundry.


Splendor said...

On the subject of expired passports, once upon a time, pre 2001, I flew from France to Canada on a passport that was 2 weeks expired. No one noticed - or if they did they didn't seem to think it was abnormal.

I wonder if it would work the same way today? I doubt it.


Anonymous said...

"You're a Canadian for life"
This is so that you can pay Canadian taxes for life, and in true Canadian fashion and efficiency, even after you are dead. :(

Jim said...

I did a bunch of research into this for reasons which I cannot recall and probably makes no sense anyway.

Canada cannot refuse entry to a Canadian citizen. One of our rights is to always be admitted into our own country. There may be a big kerfuffle about proving that you really are a Canadian citizen when it is late at night in some remote border crossing or airport.... but once established that you are indeed a citizen then you cannot be refused.

I believe that most countries won't let you in with a password within 6 months of expiry because you can stay up to 6 months... in which case you're in their country without a valid passport, something which gets bureaucrats very nervous. And while Canada will let Canadians come home even without a valid passport, I could imagine that if you were in some country where you had to transit through a few countries to get home, then someone somewhere is going to be stuck with you.... and so they insure themselves.

What I do find intereating is that the USA, with all their rah-rah on border security and looking for terrorists under every bed, gives out 10 year passports. Canada's passports have a 5 year expiry.

The Flying Pinto said...

I get frustrated with renewing my passport, and we only have to do it every 10 years in the US! We traveled to Canada, for a wedding when my daughter was only 3 weeks old...she needed a can imagine the fun we had getting that! We couldn't start the process until she was born so we had to pay to have it expedited. Her passport is good for five years, very funny when at 2, she looks nothing like the picture of us holding her head up for the photo: )

Anonymous said...

The United States has to allow a US citizen back into the US regardless of valid/invalid passport or no id at all. They must of course prove they are a US citizen, but they can't keep you out.

Anonymous said...

Re: countries not allowing citizens back in ...

I'm picturing an airline terminal somewhere where all the passengers get sent who have no country to go to... all stuck forever in a bureaucratic morass of red tape and mumbo jumbo, they shuffle, blank-eyed from line up to line up looking for a country to take them... "Is this why they call it the TERMINAL building?" (badda boom).

Ward said...

You don't have to turn in the old one if it's expired, and luckily I have two passports (dual citizen). I can let one expire and use the other one while waiting for the replacement for the first one.

BUT the above doesn't work with Nexus cards - you can't use a Nexus card if the passport that's linked to it is expired. I'm not sure what happens if you turn in your about-to-expire passport to get a new one and then use the Nexus card in the meantime.

The fastest way to get a replacement is to lose your passport when you're out of the country. My wife had her purse snatched in Paris on our first trip abroad and I got my replacement US passport in a day w/ no extra hassle.

Anonymous said...


Government officials traveling on official business indeed get their passports by an internal process. These passports are distinct from those issued to us mundanes and have either green or maroon cover depending on the purpose of official travel.

@Jim Mantle:

On paper, article 6 of the Charter of rights and freedoms guarantees the right of Canadians to enter and leave the country as they see fit. In practice, article 6 is more of a suggestion to the government than an ironclad guarantee to citizens.

For example, the security bureaucracy has used every measure at its disposal to prevent Canadian citizen Abousfian Abdelrazik from returning to the country. Abdelrazik has been denied entry because the Americans don't want him on the continent: in practice, the wishes of the US DHS overrule our constitutional rights.

In addition to the Abdelrazik case, there are at least two other incidents where the federal government has asserted the right to deny a passport to any Canadian citizen deemed a security threat. Essentially, the government has claimed a right to ignore article 6 by ministerial order. At least one case regarding this claim is currently before the courts and no resolution is likely until the Supreme Court rules on the issue.

The bottom line is that Canadians have no absolute right to travel or enter the country regardless of what the letter of the Charter says.

@Anonymous of Fri Feb 27, 02:56:00 AM UTC:

Under State Department rules, US citizens who arrive at a border crossing without adequate documentation will be deported. Re-entry into the United States is predicated on the ability to present suitable documentation.

Anonymous said...

I once entered Canada by land from the US without showing a single document (or even my face).
This despite declaring myself a citizen of neither country.

Presumably times have changed.

Dave Starr said...

Rebewing the US passport is not much different than your expereince, except the keepers of the line are not so civil and we only have to do it every 10 years ... unless you live abroad as I do ... imagine calling the local emabssay, they send a courier to pick up the old pasport, application, pics and fee and then deliver the old and new back to your home in a week. Only charge beyond the standard renewal fee was $5.10 for the sourier company.

Regarding the old one ... for sure applicable to everyone. You should always get your old passport back with sole holes opunched thru it, and international sign of cancellation. Do Not Part With It!. In fact, carry it on trips, becuase in some countries they want to see your old passport(s) and painstakingly thumb through them to make sure you haven't visited a country they don't approve of in the past. Or, for permanent residents (Green Carders) that there is eveidnce that the very first time you entered the country was leagal. Your old, "Hol(e)y" passport may be very important some day in the future.

As US and Canadians, we really have it easy compared with many of the world's countries.

Anonymous said...

I've travelled with my parents all over Europe and in many cases just waving with the passports behind the car window was enough to be let through. Going to East-European countries was somewhat different.

I recently made a side-trip to Mexico from the US. Getting into Mexico was just a matter of passing two turnstiles; getting back into the US needed a passport check; but no fingerprints were taken.

Anonymous said...

BTW, the passport process in the Netherlands is such that you hand in your old passport ((or get it holed) when you pickup your new one.

(Blame the double post on jetlag.)

Anonymous said...

I had to renew my passport a couple of years ago (UK).. if you do it by post, it can take potentially several weeks, but if you go to the passport office they can do an expedited service (exta cost, of course). They check the application & photos (pay-for photo booths available in case you got that wrong) & post you (yes, I *did* say POST!) your new passport to you... mine only took a couple of days. The old one was also sent back, about a week later.

Jim said...

CYOW+CYVR: We're in partial agreement. Canada is not under an obligation to issue a citizen a passport - the fact that they cannot travel as a result is a result of policies of the receiving country, since Canada does not require you to show your passport to leave the country (the airline wants to see i, but that is because they are stuck with returning you to the origin if you cannot enter the destination country.

As for entering Canada - if you can get yourself to the border and you can prove citizenship, they have no choice.

The way that Canada's government has shown a wishbone, rather than a backbone, to the counter-terrorism complex has indeed become disgusting.

Anonymous said...

What I loved in renewing my Canadian passport in Edmonton was I had to pay extra to pick up my passbook and not have the passport office mail it to me.

Anonymous said...

That's interesting. In Sweden you're allowed up to eight simultaneous passports if you provably need it for work. In my case, sometimes a passport's away for a little while while applying for some visa and I need another one for work during that time. I myself have three passports and make sure I use them in different categories of countries. For instance, I keep my "Russian one" and "American one" (both being Swedish, natch) well separated... I usually bring two when I'm working but hide one of them. Am always scared Russia's gonna snatch one away, but then I'll have another one, ha!

Aviatrix said...

Linn, eight, wow! I didn't know there were that many categories of countries that hated each other that much!

I can see how you'd need a separate one for Israel from the rest of the region, but since apartheid ended I didn't know there were any other countries of mutual passport exclusion.

Anonymous said...

I vent through the renew-your-passport routine here in Sweden yesterday. The process was surprisingly simple. Show a current ID, pay the fee (400kr = 55$), have my picture taken and sign my name on a digital pad. The whole process took about 2 minutes. And I even got to see a digital picture of what the data-page in the passport will look like. The new passport will be ready for pickup on Thursday.

There is also an expedited process available at the major airports (and some other locations) where you can get a temporary passport while you wait.

Regarding baby pictures, it used to be optional to have a picture of babies in their passports. But they did recommend you to have one since some other countries could make a fuss. But I think this has changed now when the passport rules are being harmonized with the rest of the EU.

Anonymous said...

> We traveled to Canada, for a wedding when my daughter was only 3 weeks old...she needed a passport.

Seems silly but ... In the dim dark days, young children could travel "covered" by their parents passport. After problems where parents died (while travelling) leaving the child alone, most if not all countries insist that children now travel with their own passport.

(This according to my travel agent better half :)