Don't let your passport expire

JOHN ANTHONY
Last updated 07:00 27/07/2014

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The importance of a valid passport isn't truly realised until you find yourself without one.

I discovered this last year while preparing for a spontaneous five-day jaunt to Australia.

The destination was Boomerang Beach, three hours drive north of Sydney. With my bags packed, itinerary set and accommodation paid, I was feeling surprisingly organised - something of a rarity for me.

But the night before departing from Auckland, my heart sank when I realised my passport had expired.

It was my first overseas trip for about 18 months and when a passport has been hiding in the sock drawer for that length of time, expiry dates can easily be forgotten.

With less than 12 hours before my flight, I phoned the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) and was told my only option was to get an after-hours emergency passport, by appointment, for $651.

This required an on-call staff member to meet me at the Auckland immigration office and issue a new passport there and then - provided I had the correct paperwork and passport photos.

I paid the fee, was handed my new passport and enjoyed my time at Boomerang Beach.

But why do New Zealand passports expire after five years and how can you avoid being caught out?

New Zealand moved from 10-year to five-year passports in 2005, which the DIA says brought us in line with more than 140 countries. However United States, British, French, German and Australian passports all last 10 years.

The DIA says New Zealand passports changed mainly for security and convenience.

"Ten years is a long time in technology evolution," it says.

According to the DIA, five-year passports reduce the risk of identity fraud, and fees are higher with 10-year passports due to overhead costs being spread over much lower volume.

An adult New Zealand passport costs $140 where as Australian passports cost $260, British passports $112 and US passports $188. I don't know about you but it seems to me Kiwis are getting a raw deal.

Perhaps that's why in May a parliamentary committee called on the government to review the five-year validity period.

I asked the DIA when an announcement was expected on this but got no response.

In the meantime, before your next adventure, make sure your passport is fit for travel.

This means, if your passport is well used, it needs to have at least one empty visa page with space for visas.

Also check it's not water damaged, ripped, or in bad condition otherwise you may be refused entry to a country.

And finally, check that it's valid for at least six months because many countries will not grant you entry if it's not.

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To make sure you don't get caught out with an invalid passport, put a reminder in your calendar for when it reaches four years old. It could save you hundreds of dollars and a lot of stress.

- Sunday Star Times

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