Is it legal to have a second British passport, and how can I get one?

Five years ago HM Passport Office had a good reputation for swiftly dealing with passport applications. In February 2018 the then-immigration minister, Caroline Nokes, told Parliament: “We currently process 99.9 per cent of straightforward applications within three weeks.

“On average, customers making a non-priority application can expect their passport to be issued seven working days after the application is made.”

Today, HM Passport Office still issues most passports within three weeks – but the number which are not processed in this time has risen 30-fold since 2018; three per cent are not issued within this time.

The authority, part of the Home Office, insists: “Allow up to 10 weeks to receive your passport.”

Yet many people, particularly if they are regular business travellers, will find it difficult to identify a spell of 10 weeks when they can guarantee not to be travelling abroad.

The government says people should use one of the premium services for a renewal in a week or less. But for travellers who qualify, a second British passport could be the answer.

Is it legal to have two passports?

Yes. British travellers who hold a passport issued by a different country, such as Ireland, are in a strong position. They are able to use either document – a substantial advantage when travelling to the European Union or to countries that impose high visa fees for UK passport holders.

But many of us lack the fortune to have Irish ancestors and qualify only for British passport. You can have as many as the authorities deem necessary – though getting three is a stretch, and even for two you will need to provide some proof that you meet the requirements.

What are the conditions?

The official stance is that HM Passport Office does not usually allow more than one passport per person. But if the traveller can prove a genuine need for one then it can be issued fairly routinely.

There are three broad concessions:

  • Frequent travel abroad, usually for work (eg airline staff), business or study.
  • Visa procurement: some nations hang on to a passport for weeks, potentially preventing visits elsewhere while the application is processed.
  • Travelling to incompatible countries – where evidence of a visit to Israel, for example, can prevent you from travelling to a different nation.

How do I prove it?

The frequent travel justification is generally the easiest. You will need supporting documentation, which could be as simple as a letter from your employer explaining (for example) that you are often required to travel abroad at short notice and therefore cannot possibly send off your passport for 10 weeks.

It could include an account of recent or impending journeys for work – and, if it is relevant, any holiday plan you might reasonably have. For example, someone with a holiday booked at the start of July 2023 whose current passport is running out would not be able to plan any overseas trips from mid-April onwards because of the HM Passport Office 10-week stipulation.

To qualify under the visa procurement heading, you would need a similar letter explaining your need to travel to a tricky country – such as to one that does not have a diplomatic presence in the UK and therefore requires the passport to be sent to Paris or Brussels.

For the incompatible countries option, you would need rather different evidence: typically showing evidence of a visit to Israel and a requirement to visit one of these countries: Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria or Yemen.

Note that although Israel does not generally stamp passports, stamps from certain border posts in Egypt and Jordan can provide proof to “hostile” nations that you have been there.

Other possible concerns include evidence of a visit to Kosovo if you are seeking to go to Serbia, and of travel to Libya if you are hoping to go to Saudi Arabia.

How do I apply?

There is no need to apply in person, nor any special form. The easiest way is online, in the normal way for renewing a passport. This costs £82.50.

The point at which your application parts company with the “normal” renewal is after you are asked to send in your passport. Instead, post a covering letter explaining you want an “additional passport” (the term used officially) and attaching the supporting documentation. In addition, send a colour photocopy of the personal details pages in your current passport.

Even when this has arrived, you may still get text messages saying you need to send in your passport. A conversation with the Passport Adviceline (0300 222 0000, 8am-8pm Monday to Friday, 9am-5.30pm at weekends) should get you past this hurdle.

The delivery may take a few extra days because of the need for your case to be considered, but The Independent has evidence of applications being completed in two or three weeks.

If you are in a hurry you could use the one-week Fast Track service or the quicker Online Premium service for your additional passport. Both of these require attendance at an interview at one of the HM Passport Office locations around the UK. In addition to your travel costs, you pay an extra £101 for Online Premium and £62.50 for the one-week Fast Track – showing the value of a second passport. Needless to say you should take all the supporting evidence.

On what grounds might I be turned down?

If you have had a passport stolen recently, your situation is likely to come in for close attention – because in the past some travellers have sold their passports and then reported them as lost.

Your supporting evidence might also be regarded as too flimsy, which is why you should provide as much as you can – and provide numbers for HM Passport Office examiners to call for verification.

If my application is rejected, do I get my money back?

No. HM Passport Office makes it clear that the payment is for the application, regardless of the outcome, and no refunds are made.

Can I get a second passport under a different name?

No, unless there are special reasons to do with travel to “incompatible countries”. HM Passport Office says: “We must issue all additional passports in the same name.”

Can I get three British passports?

Yes, if you have a “genuine need”. But it will be a lot more closely examined than a second passport. HM Passport Office says: “If a customer asks for three or more valid passports and has a genuine need for them, a Higher Executive Officer (HEO) or someone senior must authorise it.”

Once I get a second passport, can I renew it routinely?

What HM Passport Office says and what actually happens appear at variance.

The service says: “Customers do not have the right to automatically renew their additional passport. When a customer applies to renew an additional passport, they must tell us why they need it [and] provide us with evidence to show they still need it.

“We will review applications for additional passports on a case by case basis, considering the customer’s need, the amount of validity they need on their additional passport and whether they would benefit from a 50 page frequent traveller passport instead.”

However, anecdotal evidence suggests that second passports can be renewed online without an inquisition.

What is the official line on additional passports?

A HM Passport Office spokesperson told me: “For security reasons the vast majority of people will not be eligible to hold two British passports at any one time.

“If anyone needs their passport back sooner than 10 weeks, they should apply using an urgent passport service.”

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