The Passport Office crashed yesterday after millions were warned they risked a travel ban across EU countries after March 29 with less than 15 months until their documents expired.
Infuriated Brits racing to submit the applications were greeted with the disappointing message: "This service is not available. If you don’t want to wait you can apply a different way."
The "technical issue" is now fixed – but anxious travellers have little time left to meet today's final deadline.
"We’ll be signing off for the weekend from 5pm today so please contact us before then if you’d like any advice," the Passport Office tweeted.
Under a No Deal, any Brit travelling in the Schengen zone – including countries such as France, Spain, Italy and Germany – could be affected.
Visitors to Europe usually need at least six months left on their passport before expiry from the date they arrive in order to enter the EU.
In the event of a No Deal, the Government have warned that the time carried over won't count towards the requirement – meaning people with up to 15 months left on their passport could be affected.
Consumer experts Which? estimate that nearly 3.5million Brits could fail to meet this condition.
This Friday marks three weeks before the UK is due to leave the EU on March 29 – the same amount of time that it takes for new passports to arrive.
Why do I need 15 months left on my passport?
At the moment, Brits who renew their passport before it's expired can carry up to nine months over to their new passport.
So a new passport can have the maximum validity of 10 years and nine months.
In a No Deal Brexit scenario, Brits visiting Schengen Area countries, including Spain, France and Greece, will be governed by the same rules as visitors from non-EU countries.
This means that they will need at least six months left on their passport to enter the EU, and their passport must have been issued in the last ten years.
It creates a loophole that makes the extra nine months that were carried over invalid in the Schengen Area.
That's why Brits who carried over the full nine months when they last renewed would need at least 15 months left on the passport after Brexit – nine months to account for the now-invalid time carried over, plus six months for the required validity.
The Government has a free passport checker that you can use to check whether you need to renew your passport before you travel, which you can find here.
Rory Boland, the Editor of Which? Travel magazine, said: "Millions of people could find their holiday plans disrupted or, worse yet, find themselves stranded at the departure gate and prevented from travelling altogether if they fail to renew their passport before the cut-off date.
"Anyone who thinks they might be affected should look to renew their passport today or if you already have travel plans in the near future, consider using the fast-track passport renewal service."
The UK Foreign Office also voiced a warning, saying: "If the UK leaves the European Union with no deal, the passport validity rules for travel to most countries in Europe will change from 29 March 2019.
"Some passports with up to 15 months' validity remaining may not be valid for travel."
This is because when passports are renewed, up to nine months of validity from the old passports are carried over.
What are the Schengen Area countries?
There are 26 countries in the Schengen Area:
- Czech Republic
According to Which? Travel's figures obtained from the Home Office, approximately 3.5million British passports won't be valid in a No Deal situation – with 1.5million of those set to travel in the spring or summer.
Additional driving permits after Brexit may also be needed, according to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the event of a no-deal.
There are three types of International Driving Permits (IDP) which may be required, depending on the country.
A 1926 IDP is needed if driving through Liechtenstein, while a 1949 IDP is needed for Cyprus, Ireland, Iceland, Malta and Spain.
A 1986 IDP would be needed for all other EU countries.
The permits cost £5.50 each from a number of Post Office branches in the UK.
A new passport checking tool allows Brits to see if they need to purchase a new document before travelling after Brexit.
The checker analyses the dates of travel and how long is left on the passport before offering advice on whether it needs to be renewed.
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