My long journey of confusion – Foreign Office provides conflicting information
Here’s a story about why it’s important to check passport expiry dates before you book travel. And why you can’t always trust the Foreign Office advice because it’s a mess!
A traveller wanted to surprise her husband with a holiday to Cape Verde. Their 10 year old son had kept it secret too, not telling his father until 6 months later when they were on the way to the airport. They went through check-in no problem, they bought stuff from the duty free shops and went through passport control. All of them were looking forward to their week away. Her story is on Trip Advisor
Imagine the disappointment when staff at the gate told them they couldn’t travel! Their son only had three weeks left on his passport. What is the issue? Well, the family were travelling with Thomas Cook. Thomas Cook’s documents advised them that they should follow the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) guidelines for travel to Cape Verde. The FCO website stated only that passports must last the duration of the stay.
Then The Complaining Cow realised she was in exactly the same situation! Yup! My family and I were due to travel to Cape Verde less than a couple of weeks’ later. My son’s passport also had fewer than 6 months left on his passport, so I began to panic a bit!
We couldn’t even get a FastTrack passport (at exorbitant cost) because for children you have to allow at least 7 days for processing. With the Easter bank holiday included it meant we simply didn’t have enough time. So, I set about trying to get some clarity. That was less straightforward than you would think! We were flying with TUI UK (formerly Thomson) so I started with them and asked if we were okay to fly…
|Organisation||Advice provided||Agree with Cape Verde Embassy?|
|TUI customer services ‘phone||Fine with them, if I can get letter from Passport Office to say acceptable.||Yes|
|TUI customer services email||Yes, you can travel.||Yes|
|TUI Twitter team||We recommend all passengers have at least six months remaining on their passport prior to travel as it covers all destinations we offer however, each destination has different requirements which can be found on the GOV UK website. As per the GOV.UK website, passports must be valid for a minimum of six months from the date of entry into Cape Verde.||No|
|Thomas Cook||Yes, you can travel for the remaining Summer flights (not ceased until Winter).||Yes|
|Passport Office||Do not do this, not their role, advised contacting the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.||Couldn’t give advice|
|FCO website||“The authorities in the country or territory you’re travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry.”
“Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date of entry into Cape Verde.”
|FCO on phone||Contact the Honorary Consul to Cabo Verde in London.||Don’t know|
|Consul to Cabo Verde in London||Incorrectly advised to contact him, contact the nearest Cape Verde Embassy in Rotterdam or Brussels.||Couldn’t give advice|
|FCO email||Our travel advice is updated whenever we become aware of new information. The authorities in the country you are travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry. Contact the Cape Verde Embassy in either Brussels or Rotterdam and seek their advice.||Yes but advice on website is contradictory|
|FCO Consular Contact Centre||The Travel Advice team updates their pages as soon as they have official confirmation of a change. Whilst we understand that this change does not allow much time for a potential passport application, the British Consulate cannot confirm entry to Cape Verde contrary to our own current travel advice.||Refers to website info which is Yes… and No|
|CV consulate in Brussels email||Passport for entry and exit from the territory, valid for a period superior to the authorized stay duration.||Yes|
|CV consulate Brussels website||Passport for entry and exit from the territory, valid for a period superior to the authorized stay duration.||Yes|
|International Air Transport Association||In general, airlines follow the regulations set by each country in terms of the requirements for entry into or transit through the appropriate country.||Yes|
|IATA website||Passports need to be valid for six months from arrival.||No|
Ridiculous. So, TUI customer services on the phone, the TUI social media team and customer services email teams all said something different. The FCO has shown itself to be utterly useless in providing basic information to travellers!
There seems to be no reason for any change in advice. According to Thomas Cook the FCO changed its advice in line with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) website Timaticweb (https://www.timaticweb.com). This states that passports need to be valid for six months from arrival in Cape Verde. There has been no change in the advice from authorities in the country being visited whatsoever. So, the FCO says “Our travel advice is updated whenever we become aware of new information.” But no-one can tell me what the new information was!!! Maybe it was the IATA. The IATA said to me:
“It is the responsibility of the air traveller to ensure that they have sufficient travel documents for their destination and any transit points. In general, airlines follow the regulations set by each country in terms of the requirements for entry into or transit through the appropriate country, however in certain circumstances airlines may make exceptions in the case where the immigration authorities do not or rarely enforce applicable regulations.”
But that contradicts what they appear to be saying to airlines.
A Thomas Cook spokesperson said:
“We recognise there is inconsistent information around entry requirements for Cape Verde and we appreciate the confusion this causes for our customers. The FCO has recently changed its advice to align with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) website Timatic, which states that passports need to be valid for six months from arrival in Cape Verde. Due to the conflicting information and change in advice, we have advised all our UK departure airports to allow customers to travel whose passports are valid for less than six months, but valid for the duration of their stay, for the remainder of this season. For the Winter 18/19 season, we will ensure all our customers are aware that their passports need to be valid for six months from arrival in Cape Verde.”
“The regulation that passports must be valid for a minimum of 6 months from the arrival date has been published in Timatic since December 2016. We have verified this several times since with both the immigration departments and airlines, and it has not changed since then.”
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said that it updates information when it becomes aware of it. Aside from the fact that it actually has contradictory information on its website, is it possible it only became aware of the IATA change 15 months later?!
Whatever way you look at it, the safest thing to do whether travelling to Cape Verde or anywhere else is to ensure that your passport has at least 6 months left to run!
For links to various articles about pre, during and after holiday advice about rights etc see All you need to know about booking/complaining about holidays/flights.
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