Australian passports and COVID-19: Should I renew my passport? Will the expiry be extended?

Got an expired passport that you won't be renewing for the time being? You're not alone.

According to figures from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's Passport Office, hundreds of thousands of Australians are not renewing their expired passports in 2020. Why would they? Until it's safe and we're allowed to travel overseas, why pay for something you can't use?

How big is the fall?

In the year 2019-20 the Australian Passport Office issued 1.75 million passports, or just over 7000 each day. That's 372,000 fewer than in 2018-19, and all of that decline happened in the first six months of 2020, concentrated in the April-June quarter when the pandemic was declared and new laws clamped down on our international travel.

Based on the number of passports issued in 2018-19, the passport office could have expected to issue around 552,000 passports in the period between April and June, yet 372,000 fewer passports represents a 67 per cent reduction, and a drop in $111 million in revenue to the Australian government.

Anyone with an expired passport and who had a trip planned for the second half of this year or even the first half of 2021 would probably be waiting to renew it until there's some certainty around overseas travel. Figures for the number of Australians travelling overseas show just how the demand for passports has shrunk. In August 2020 just 14,300 citizens departed Australia. In the same month in 2019 the figure was 828,000.

At a bare minimum, it's likely that DFAT will issue 1.2 million fewer passports in 2020 than in the previous year. Australia's passports are among the world's most expensive. A 10-year Australian passport for anyone over 16 costs $298. That would mean the government will earn at least $355 million less from issuing passports in 2020 than in 2019.

How do our passports compare for cost?

As against the price tag of $298 for a 10-year Australian passport, a 10-year 34-page UK passport costs £75.50, about $135 at today's exchange rate. The 10-year New Zealand passport costs NZ$191. The United States charges its citizens US$145 for a first-time adult passport and US$110 for renewals.

Two years ago, a 10-year Australian passport cost $282 – a $10 increase on the previous year. From 1 January 2019 the price went up to $293 and in January 2020 came another hike, to $298. By itself, that $5 increase would have earned the Australian government over $11 million if the number of passport applications had not been axed due to the pandemic. For the government, it's a gift that keeps on giving.

How many of us have passports?

According to the latest figures from DFAT there are 14.6 million current Australian passports, which represents 57 per cent of Australia's population. That's significantly fewer than the number of New Zealanders with passports, currently around 70 per cent of the country's population.

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For the USA, the figure is slightly over 42 per cent according to the US Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs. The figure for Canada is 60 per cent. In China, less than 10 per cent of the population has a passport, which suggests the growth potential in tourist numbers from China is truly phenomenal.

In the UK, back in 2011 when the last census took place, 76 per cent of the population had a passport. That figure is likely over 80 per cent today given the ease and popularity of travel to continental Europe. Many of those Brits who live in Europe have recently applied for dual nationality, since a European passport will safeguard their residency once Brexit comes into full force.

Since I can't travel, is my passport expiry date extended?

Nice try but no. DFAT confirms that there will be no change to passport fees.

See also: World's most powerful passports named as US plummets in rankings

See also: The countries open to Australian tourists (but we're not allowed to go)

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