Georgia Toffolo: Can a damaged passport ruin your holiday?

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Georgia ToffoloImage source, PA Media

Millions of Brits enjoy holidays abroad, but a damaged passport can overshadow or even destroy a foreign getaway.

TV star Georgia Toffolo was stopped on Sunday by officials at Malé airport in the Maldives after they spotted some of the pages of her passport were missing.

In tearful updates posted to her Instagram account, she begged followers to help her and said she feared being kept in a "centre" for four days until she could fly home to the UK.

In one video said: "I've been crying for hours and hours. This is a really horrible situation to be in, where you can't go but I also can't leave the airport."

She was later allowed to leave the airport and continue to her holiday destination - but continues to be supported by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).

But can a damaged passport really ruin a foreign holiday and what are the pitfalls to avoid?

View this post on Instagram

I am typing this having just been released from immigration detention! I can’t quite beleive it. I was genuinely trying to come to terms with spending the next... however long... in an immigration detention centre. Thank you so much to everyone who helped me. If I hadn’t posted online I would 100% still be stuck without my passport! This scares me because it is such a privilege to have a following on social media - people can hear me. What if I didn’t have a social media following? I can’t bear to think of another girl in the situation I found myself in where no one can hear you. Extremely grateful that the British government worked with Maldivian representatives. Pushed by the UK press too (so epic thank you!) Also thank you to Maldivian immigration for letting me in to your beautiful country! In spite of me crying for 9 hours and scaring everyone at the airport, I made some lovely friends (the group of 7 airport guys that didn’t leave me while I was wailing) on reflection they couldn’t leave me, because I was being detained. But still they were kind. They ran me through the best bits of the potential prison I was almost spending Christmas in, every cloud etc! I even had a laugh with the immigration officers in the end. Oddly excited for the reunion when I leave. Please everyone check your passports I didn’t realise that 2 pages had fallen out of the centre. SO SO traumatised but grateful thank you thank you thank you. Toff’s Christmas is back on. On that note wonder what I would have got on Christmas Day in the detention centre? Trying to make light of it but it was a really horrible experience.

A post shared by Georgia Toffolo (@tofftalks) on

Toff's travel trouble stemmed from her passport being classed as damaged, because two of its pages were missing.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

Not everyone's passport is going to be in pristine condition, but when is it too damaged to use for travel?

A damaged passport is one "which isn't in a condition to be accepted as proof of identity", according to HM Passport Office's guidance for examiners, and must be replaced.

But passports that have reasonable "wear and tear" can be accepted.

Travellers whose passports contain multiple visas and stamps - indicating "heavy use" are more likely to have a problem, the guidance adds.

Possible issues could include:

  • Details cannot be deciphered
  • The laminate of the personal details page has lifted enough to allow the possibility of photo substitution
  • Discolouration to the bio-data page
  • Chemical or ink spillage on any page
  • Missing or detached pages
  • The chip or antenna shows through the end paper on the back cover for the new style e-passports
  • The chip has been identified as damaged after investigation

Why is a damaged passport a big deal?

Travel expert Simon Calder says: "The main problem that travellers encounter with frontier officials is if there is damage to the photo page in the passport.

"That is because, historically, it was easy for fraudsters to doctor the details and replace the photograph.

"If there is any obvious flaw in the lamination, that is enough to get you barred from a country.

"Missing pages from within the passport are, generally, harder to spot - and in many cases overlooked or ignored."

The International Civil Aviation Organization, which is the global body responsible for passport standards, warns of a range of fraudulent "attacks" on passports.

These include "construction of a fraudulent document, or parts thereof, using materials from legitimate documents"; the "removal and substitution of entire page(s) or visas"; and the deletion of entries on visa pages and the observations page.

Mr Calder adds that airlines are "very sensitive to damaged passports because they are fined if they transport a passenger to a country where the document is ruled inadmissible".

"I am horrified when I see fellow travellers shoving their passport into a back pocket, rather than treating it as a fragile document that is all that stands between you and deportation on the next homebound flight."

'We couldn't take our flight to Venice'

Julie Haydon, a director of a Bristol-based charity, said her partner was not allowed to travel to Venice because of "small damage" to his passport.

In a tweet posted in March, she says she was "gutted" the pair couldn't travel to the Italian city, because a page of his passport was "slightly coming away at the spine".

'Dog ate my passport'

Image source, Matt Shepherd
Image caption,
'Mr Boots' (pictured right, next to Honey) is in the dog house

A dog chewing up your passport can also be classed as damage, as rugby player Matt Shepherd found ahead of an overseas tour.

Mr Shepherd had been due to travel to Spain for an England Counties tour back in 2017.

But less than two weeks before he was meant to fly, he was forced to make an eight-hour round trip to to the Newport Passport Office in south Wales.

He had to replace his passport because his seven-month-old cocker spaniel had chewed it.

Speaking at the time, the Plymouth Albion player said he had got his passport out to check the expiry date ahead of the trip, then left it on the table while he went out.

"When I got back I saw pieces of paper on the floor and didn't know what it was. Then I saw him on the bed with the passport in his mouth," he said.

Thankfully, he said the authorities were able to "speed things up" as he was representing his country.

However not everyone has had the same experience.

'My passport got drenched - but I had no problem'

Julian Hemsi, 55, from Kingston, in Devon, says he and his old blue passport got "absolutely drenched" whilst he was riding a motorbike in Bali, Indonesia in 1990.

He says: "The cover, including my name, disintegrated. The inner pages were equally illegible.

"I went on from Bali to Java, and then via Java to Australia, New Caledonia and New Zealand with the same passport, and when I returned to the UK I was questioned about it."

While you're checking your passport for any damage, you might want to check these other things...

Valid date

Some countries require your passport to be valid for at least six months after the date you travel.

Not every country has the same rules, so people should check the FCO's individual country pages before you travel.

Lost or stolen passport

If your passport is lost or stolen, you can cancel it immediately by reporting it online .

If you're in the UK, you can apply for a replacement passport, and you may need to attend an interview.

If you're abroad, you can apply online for an emergency travel document (ETD).

...And make sure you have the right passport

If you are travelling with other people, make sure you have the right passport.

Earlier this year, Allan Poole, 43, travelled from the Czech Republic to Newcastle on the wrong passport after accidentally taking his friend's and leaving him stranded.