Currently in Chiang Mai, Thailand (06/12/2013) - 31200km cycled

8 Oct 2013

Passport Problems

Posted by Will

Unfortunately, travel isn’t all sandy beaches, spontaneous penthouse invitations, on-the-road romances and dancing ’til dawn. I must also satisfy the officials. That means long office visits, form-filling, arbitrary rules and possibly the tearing apart of plans so certain only days previously. For me, a long-standing problem has come to a head. I sit, biting my nails in a hostel in Chengdu, over 1000km away from my passport – a passport which has only a single unstamped page remaining.


The first, less serious problem, is that the passport is 1000km away. I left it in an office in Xi’an to process a 30 day visa extension. The procedure should have taken 5 working days, in which case I would have stayed and waited, but a combination of the weekend falling at the wrong time and a week-long public holiday have lengthened my wait, unbelievably, to 15 days. I had no choice but to push onto to Chengdu. I have to keep pushing on towards a land border if I’m going to make it out of China in time, even with an extra 30 days. In the next few hours I will check out of the hostel, leave my bike here and start hitch-hiking down the motorway, back the way I came. I’ll pick up my passport and then immediately hitch all the way back again. Annoying … yet this is only a minor inconvenience compared to the trouble the second, more serious problem could cause me.

The single free page left in my passport means I can enter one more country/territory before I’m well and truly stuck. There are only two realistic options: Vietnam or Hong Kong. The former is on my planned route and where I want to go, but the visa for Vietnam is limited. Once I enter I’m only allowed 30 days after which I’m forced to leave the country. That could be very tricky without a passport page available for an ongoing visa. The latter is far away, a very challenging cycling distance for the number of days left on my Chinese visa, and I don’t really want to go there. It is a safe haven though. Once I’m there I can take as much time as I like sorting out a new passport.

p1060516-800I sent off an application for a new passport in Beijing, several weeks ago, although to my eye I look very short on time. The British government website states a new passport takes AT LEAST four weeks to process not including time spent in the post (which could be very slow in China). I opted to have my new passport sent to Kunming, a city in China near the Vietnamese border and my next planned destination. If the four week processing time holds true, postage takes less than 10 days there and back and my application forms and photos are in order, the new passport should be waiting for me in Kunming when I arrive. If anything goes wrong, I’m in trouble. I would have only days to get out of China and no time to get to Hong Kong. I would have to enter Vietnam and a countdown would start. I would have only 30 days to get a new passport there otherwise I really don’t know what might happen.

I could play it safe and try to make it to Hong Kong by bike as soon as possible. It’s almost unrealistically far though at approximately 140km a day for two weeks. My back luggage rack is falling apart again, the road is mountainous and I don’t feel up to it. It would also completely break the continuity of moving north to south and gradually east to west. I’m enjoying the changes as I move in a natural course through the country, seeing the village diet evolve from wheat to rice and the weather from European to tropical.

There is a third option too, one which I can’t rely on but hope to use as a get-out-of-jail-free card. That is a second Chinese visa extension of 30 days. Officially the visa offices no longer issue these (rules changed July 2013 – very irritating) but bureaucracies can be slow to change. I’m hoping an office in a smaller city might answer my plea for breathing space. Of course, that would eat my last passport page and would put me at the mercy of a new passport’s arrival within 30 days.

As if this isn’t enough to think about, the matter is further complicated by numerous other pedantic rules and regulations. Some Vietnamese consulates don’t issue visas to passports with only one page remaining. The same goes for some Chinese visa extension offices. Would a Vietnamese visa, if issued, even be valid in what would technically become my ‘old’ passport? Information answering these questions is either non-existent or hidden deep in the official website of some bureaucratic entity not operating in the English language.

I’ve thought about it all over and over again and reasoned that by now this mess is out of my control. In a way, it’s a comforting conclusion. So, I’m going to press on, reach Kunming and visit the post office. I’ll cross my fingers and hope. After all, travel requires a good deal of that.

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10 Comments already on “Passport Problems”
  1. 3:48 ampermalink
    08 Oct 2013

    Steve and Kat

    Hi Will, we feel your pain – we are in Tashkent stuck trying to get Iranian and Turkmenistan visas sorted before our Usbek visa runs out. It will all work itself out, you will eventually run out of different options and once you know what needs to be done it will be quite liberating. SE Asia is on your doorstep – trust us, good times are a comin’ All the best with your adventure. Steve and Kat

  2. 6:01 ampermalink
    08 Oct 2013


    Won’t be long before this is a problem from the past. We have everything crossed for you xx

  3. 9:45 ampermalink
    08 Oct 2013


    This is why I have two nationalities and two passports :P
    It’s all about choice my friend.

  4. 10:12 pmpermalink
    08 Oct 2013


    Good luck Will! Look forward to the hitch-hiking stories.

  5. 7:00 ampermalink
    09 Oct 2013

    Max Voloshin

    Hi Will! I can tell as a lawyer that its not your fault that ordinary passports are not made for unordinary travellers. As long as you hae some money for living you can wait for your new passport. Jfficials wont get you to jail for some overstaying for your respectable reason. In a few days I plan going to Thailand and its pity you wont be there. You can also use your last page to return to my guest house and stay as much as you like waiting for bigger version of UK citizen passport.

  6. 7:16 ampermalink
    09 Oct 2013


    All part of the adventure I suppose…..but one you would sure rather not have. As everyone says, the way forward will emerge. I am sure you are right to plough on and you will vanquish all the dragons and doorkeepers! Much love, Marion

  7. Will

    6:06 ampermalink
    11 Oct 2013


    Just got back from the 1000 mile passport pick-up trip. A bit of good news: the visa extension gives me 4 days more than I expected. That could … COULD … make the difference.

    @Steve and Kat: congrats on moving even further, fingers crossed for your visas too. Good job getting Uzbek visa in the first place – isn’t always a given.
    @Stef: hitch-hiking post coming soon .. complete with police help/interference stories
    @Max: hope all’s well in Kras. Guest house sounds TOO tempting. Have a great time in Thailand
    @Andrew: send me your spare passport then. in china, we all look the same to them.
    @family: xxx

  8. 12:00 pmpermalink
    13 Oct 2013


    I’ve every faith you can make HK in that time mate. Give your track record some credit! Godspeed, Young William x

  9. 6:28 pmpermalink
    19 Nov 2013


    will, did you sent your old passport back with the application or kept it ? i have only one space left.

    • Will

      11:31 ampermalink
      20 Nov 2013


      Hi Mac,

      I kept my old passport (ie. I did not sent it with my application). That was on recommendation of the British foreign office website. They said that because I was travelling in China, and in China there is a requirement that foreigners (lao-wai!) should always carry their passports, that I should not send my old passport to them. I suppose it depends which country you are travelling in at the time your passport needs renewing.

      I hope this helps,