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What’s behind the long wait to renew Swedish passports?

In many parts of Sweden, it's now impossible to renew your passport until September, forcing many people to grumpily put off long-awaited breaks in places like Thailand. What's going on and what can you do about it?

A Swedish passport is held in front of an automatic check-in machine at Stockholm's Arlanda Airport.
A Swedish passport is held in front of an automatic check-in machine at Stockholm's Arlanda Airport. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

How do you get and renew a Swedish passport? 

In Sweden, you apply for and renew your passport at a passport centre run by the your local police.

To get a Swedish passport, you need to be a Swedish citizen, and bring along your national ID card, driving license, or an identity card for those who are resident in Sweden. In normal times, it’s a very quick and convenient system, with a machine in place to take your passport photo and also, to the alarm of privacy advocates, to scan your fingerprints.

How long is the current wait to renew passports in Sweden? 

Extremely long. According to the Swedish police, in the worst affected regions, it is now impossible to book a time slot to renew a passport before September. 

Here’s how long you will have to wait depending on where you live: 

  • September: Halland, Västra Götaland
  • August: Blekinge, Jönköping, Kronoberg, Skåne, Östergötland 
  • June/July: Kalmar, Stockholm, Värmland 
  • June: Södermanland, Dalarna
  • May/June: Gävleborg, Västernorrland
  • May: Gotland 
  • April: Jämtland
  • March/April: Norrbotten, Västernorrland

Source: Police/SvD

What’s the reason for the delays? 

With pandemic restrictions severely limiting travel through much of 2020 and 2021, particularly to locations outside the Schengen area, a lot of people did not bother to renew their passports as they expired.

As a result, local police passport centres are now having to handle a large backlog of applications, at the same time as the usual applications from people whose passports are expiring this year. 

“Partly it’s because we’re about to go into high season, and partly it’s because people have not renewed their passports during the pandemic, but have waited until restrictions have been lifted,” Linda Ahlén, chief of the unit which handles passports in the Swedish police, told the TT newswire in February. 

Torben Pedersen, passport officer at the police in Helsingborg, told state broadcaster SVT that police estimated that about half a million people had put off renewing their passport during the pandemic. 

The booking system in Helsingborg is so overloaded, he said, that it crashes whenever the police try to add new times in the morning, meaning they have to trickle in new appointment times in the afternoon. 

What could be done? 

In the short-term, not much.

Those who are really desperate to renew their passports and are willing to travel can theoretically book a time in one of the regions with shorter waiting times. They can then choose to have the passport sent to a passport office back in their home region, where they can pick it up without having to make an appointment. 

A second-hand market has also sprung up, with people selling time slots for as much as 500 kronor. According to the police, this is not illegal, although they say people should not book times they do not need.  

In the longer term, the system could be reformed. Perhaps Sweden should set up a new passport authority separate from the police? Or perhaps, Sweden could make its passports valid for ten years rather than five years, bringing the country in line with US, the UK, France, and most other countries. 

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TRAVEL NEWS

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”

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