Saturday, 13 September 2014

Renewing a UK Passport from Penang

I recently had to apply for a passport renewal from Penang and thought I'd provide some information that might prevent so much running around for anyone looking to do the same in future.  In fact, save for the actual passport application itself, the related services could be used for any passport application.

Firstly, as of this year the UK centralised the issue of passports, closing a number regional offices that were previously responsible fro processing applications if you applied from overseas.  Aside from the well publicised problems over the massive backlog faced by Her Majesty's Passport Office (HMPO) from around April onwards (caused by a variety of reasons) I actually think it's a better system from the application point of view but falls way short on service standards once you have applied.  For a simple renewal you can apply and pay online here then it's merely a case of printing out and signing your declaration and sending that together with your old passport, any other documents your application may require and two recent passport photos (which do not need to be countersigned if you can still be recognised from your previous picture).  I used the services of three excellent Penang based companies to facilitate my application.

These can be surprisingly difficult to get in Penang as they need to meet the strict HMPO guidelines.  I used HK Photo on the first floor at Midland One-Stop shopping mall, Burma Road who did the photos while I waited for RM 20.  The photos were accepted without problem by HMPO.  Further details about HK Photo can be found here.

One of the things I decided not to do here in Penang was buy a printer.  I don't do anywhere near enough printing to justify the costs which can be considerable given that inkjet colour printer cartridges dry up VERY quickly if you don't use them, such that at times you can get to use just 10% of the ink they are loaded with, and that laser printers are very expensive unless buying black and white only.  Given that I sometimes need to get documents in colour, these days I opt to use local printers.

I have already written about a very good print shop in Jalan Fettes, Tanjung Tokong here but as part of my running round took me to the Pulau Tikus area (see 'Courier' below) I was delighted to find this excellent print shop just to the left of Pulau Tikus Police Station on Jalan Burma.  Parking can be a bit tricky unless you're on a bike (but then isn't it everywhere?) but their service is very good and prices very cheap.  You merely go into the shop, take a seat at one of the numerous computers (I always use the two near the door), plug in your USB drive (if you use a Mac make sure your drive is formatted for 'FAT 32' and NOT 'Mac OS X Extended') and select the documents you wish to print.  You may need to delve into 'Printer Settings' if you want to print double sided or if you want to change to a colour printer but the staff will assist you if you are not computer minded.  I think I printed out about 20 pages while I was there (I had a few non-urgent documents saved up) and think I paid around RM 5-6!!

If you are using a car which you plan to park near to DHL to use the courier service after you get your printing done (see below) the print shop is only about a 5 minute walk from DHL.  This will be much easier than trying to park on or near Jalan Burma.

Not only did I want my documents to arrive quickly, given that my old passport with the live MM2H visa was in the package, I wanted as much guarantee as possible that they WOULD indeed get there.  I opted to use DHL whose Penang office is just round the corner (before)  the print shop in Jalan Cantonement, on the left before your reach Jalan Kelawai.

I'd put all of my documents into an envelope already and if you do the same DON'T seal it as the DHL staff will wish to take a photocopy of your passport details page as confirmation of its enclosure.  After that it's merely a case of filling out your details on the sales form and then double checking the recipient details they give you on the printed out receipt and confirmation of postage.  By default it seems they will suggest a fee of RM 250 which would guarantee my documents would arrive on the Friday (I was posting on the Wednesday) but I opted for the RM 150 option which guaranteed delivery by Monday, for me, the the few days extra wait (given that two were the weekend) didn't warrant the extra RM 100 cost.

I have to say I found the DHL service to be very good and by the Friday, just two days after posting, I had an SMS from DHL in the UK to say my package had been delivered to HMPO and even gave the name of the person signing.  It's worth mentioning that if driving to DHL you are best turning left into the small service road that skirts round the shop frontages, the entrance to which is on the left BEFORE you reach the traffic signals to turn left from Jalan Burma to Jalan Cantonement.

So that's it.  A fairly painless process made even more palatable by the fact that HMPO has now cut the costs of overseas applications considerably to £110 for a 48 page passport.  That said, that assessment applies JUST to completing the application, the service levels offered by HMPO are a different matter and, despite Government intervention to sort out the shambles, remain terrible when compared to the service you get could from UK Embassies a mere few years ago. Five, six, seven and eight weeks are still being quoted on internet forums as the turn round times for overseas applicants from this 'new and improved' HMPO centralisation with supporting documents (including old passports with 'live' visas in) arriving a week or even more after the new passport.  Fat lot of use it is receiving the new passport if you can't use it because you need the residence visa in your old passport!  What absolutely beggars belief though is that with documents as vital as passports (old and new) and despite the fact that you PAY for courier services, HMPO does not provide overseas applicants with ANY tracking numbers for either the new passport or the old one!  As such you have no idea where they are once sent and how are people supposed to know if either of the documents has gone missing if you cannot establish when they should have arrived?  Quite why HMPO does not provide such BASIC but vital information to overseas applicants is totally beyond me and, apart from the excessive 'wait' times, is the biggest failing IMO of the new system and demonstrative of the abysmal level of service still being offered despite HMPO making a profit of £70m last financial year!

Hopefully the above information will be of some help in short-circuiting some of the running round and research you otherwise might need to do when you come to renew a non-Malaysian passport from Penang.


  1. I haven't commented for nearly 3 years (gosh!) but just wanted to say thanks for another excellent post. I managed to stay in Penang for a month last year and loved it, and found your previous posts helpful during my visit. Btw, have you abandoned Pick of Phuket?

    1. Hi!! Thanks for the comments.

      Not so much abandoned but no time to start despite a tone of material ready for it. I HOPE later this month or early next. Been CRAZY busy of late.

  2. Oh good, now I can look forward to reading both your blogs!

    1. Thank you so much. It's been a crazy busy time. Watch this space. Back to normal soon.


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