Over the years UK citizens have enjoyed easy and widespread travel to a huge number of countries.
These days there are very few countries which are closed to British visitors, with many countries also offering entry without the visa required from many other nationalities.
In short, British passports can open up an exciting and hassle-free world of international travel or expat living.
One perfect example of just a destination is the USA, long a popular destination among Brits. Around 3.8 million Brits visit the United States each year for both business and pleasure.
Florida has long been one of the most popular expat retirement destinations thanks to its almost year-round warmth and sunshine. The strong culture and lack of a language barrier are seen as particular benefits of visiting the USA.
Fortunately, even after 9/11 travel to and from the USA was relatively trouble-free for Brits. However increasing concerns about terrorist activity in the United States looks likely to cause misery for many British holiday makers in the next few years.
The US government is currently seeking increased powers to monitor its borders. One strategy it is keen to use make better use of is biometric data and record-keeping of the countries visited by entrants. The hope is that the immigration services will more efficiently be able to identify those individuals who are at risk of being a terrorist threat based on their recent travel patterns.
It may be, for example, that individuals arriving from worldwide hotspots known to harbour, train or radicalize terrorists will receive far more attention in the near future.
Sadly, the planned tool to accomplish this task is the use of passports containing microchips which store travel and biometric information. In the absence of such a passport the US government is proposing that a visa application system will be necessary. Not only does such a process increase the cost of visiting such a country, but of course there are also practical measures to consider too.
Anyone without such a passport will therefore find themselves unable to benefit from the current arrangement, whereby Brits entering the USA can stay for up to 90 days at a time without the need for a visa. This is not the case for all nationalities.
Now, to be fair, an awful lot of Brits do already have these microchipped passports, in which case they should have no problems whatsoever. However it has been estimated that roughly five million Brits still hold the older passport type – without the microchip.
For these individuals there will be two possible options when visiting the USA. The first of these is to apply for a visa as per many other nationalities. The alternative, which may prove a more efficient use of your time (and money!) is to renew your passport early so as to be armed with the new biometric version. The downside of this, of course, is that it will be necessary to pay the not inconsiderable renewal fee in order to receive your new passport.
The message here is that anyone planning to visit the USA in 2016 and beyond should carefully assess whether or not they have one of the latest microchipped passports, as possessing such an item might just become very important indeed.
If not, keep an eye on this developing story so that you can ensure hassle-free travel to the States – and aim to plan early if you need to renew your passport because there could well be a last minute “rush” if the plans are brought into place, especially as the main holiday season kicks off in the spring.