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Applying for travel documents online

Heading overseas? Two members have alerted us to some slick operators trying to extract money from you before you even get off the ground.

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Michael Marsters needed a new UK passport.He went online, found downloadpassports.com, which told him he could easily renew online through its service. Just fill in the forms and pay the application fee. Michael says it all looked good: “Sure enough that was the easy way to do it, no queuing at the embassy door.”

But he says he should have read the small print more carefully. The website for downloadpassports.com states: “The PayPal fee is for the additional instructions provided in the pack and not for the government forms themselves.” This fee for additional instructions came to £25.99 or $63 in Kiwi money.

Michael later discovered the forms could be downloaded free, through NZ Post’s website. However, this has now changed and UK passports must now be renewed through a UK government website.

As Michael says, “fellow members need to be aware you don’t have to be held up at gunpoint to be robbed”.

Gerard Dunne was applying for a new ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) which is the visa requirement for entering the US when he came across two apparently “Kiwi” sites offering this service: esta.co.nz (actually it’s US based) and estavisas.co.nz (UK based).

He was most of the way through using the first site, and at the point of authorising payment, when he noticed the fee was US$79 or around NZ$100. (Of course, the fee is only found at the very bottom of the page.)

Fortunately, Gerard then found the official US government site and applied for his ESTA there. He paid just US$14 – that’s about $17.50 in our money. Otherwise, as far as he could see, he would have paid more than five times the fee for no additional service. But wait … there’s worse: the second non-official site would have emptied Gerard’s account of $140.

We say

  • Applying for travel documents online? Don’t click on the first site that pops up. And check carefully – these non-official sites use very misleading official-looking crests.
  • Always look for the official site. Otherwise, someone is going to help themselves to your money.

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