With the welcome return of international travel on the horizon, it's not only time to haul out and dust off your passport but to check its expiry date.
The reason? If your current passport expires towards the end of this year, you could find yourself unable to take that long-awaited overseas trip – including the first wave of 'travel bubbles'.
Most countries require that a visitor's passport has between three and six months of validity beyond their planned stay, or you can end up being denied entry upon arrival or even refused check-in at the airport ahead of your flight.
New Zealand, which is expected to reopen to most Australians from late April, is less restrictive in this regard.
For Australian passport holders, "your passport must be valid for enough time to allow you to travel to New Zealand," states Immigration New Zealand. "The passport must be valid on the date you are entering/leaving New Zealand."
(However, that won't be of much use if your passport has already expired, as we hear several people are now discovering as they rush to book their 'bubble' flights.)
But as other countries in Asia-Pacific region join the COVID-safe bubbles, your passport will need to have a longer use-by date.
Australians visiting Fiji need to carry a passport that's valid for at least three months after the date of their return flight; for New Caledonia, that stretches to six months.
Singapore also requires a passport with at least six months remaining after your return date to Australia.
So, step one: check your passport's renewal date now, to determine how far ahead you need to plan.
For example, if your current passport expires on December 31 2021, then should an Australia-Singapore travel bubble open in the coming months, you won't be able to visit Singapore if your return flight leaves after June 31.
Fast-tracking your passport renewal
The Australian Passport Office now allows what it calls "streamlined renewal", which even covers an expired passport: the only requirements are that your passport
- was issued when you were aged 16 or older
- has a validity, when it was issued, of more than two years
- was issued in your current name, date of birth, place of birth and gender
- is still current, or expired less than three years ago
- and hasn't been reported lost or stolen, or been cancelled for any other reason
If you can tick all of those five boxes, then you need only lodge an application form (available online), two passport photos and your most recent passport, at either an Australian Passport Office or a participating post office.
It costs $301 to have a new passport issued, although that's valid for ten years.
Streamlined passport renewals will take three weeks to have that new passport back in your hands: if you need your sooner, an additional $220 for priority processing trims the turnaround time to a handful of days.
Unfortunately, all Australian passports are now a slim 34 pages since the government axed the 66-page Frequent Traveller passport in December 2017.
(Note that if your original passport includes travel visas for selected countries, you'll also need to pack that passport for each trip.)
For more information, visit the Passports.gov.au website.