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A child puts her digital signature - here still with the old system (© FPS Foreign Affairs).
Applying for a passport. On the face of it, this is a small administrative formality that does not require too much energy. With a valid ID photo, you simply go to your local government office to register your application. One week later, or less in an emergency, your passport is available and you can travel to the end of the earth!
Now imagine that you live permanently at the end of the earth. How do our Belgians who live there get their passports?
Biometrics complicated their lives
If you live abroad, the consulate is your local government.
Belgian consulates have been issuing biometric passports with fingerprints to registered citizens for the past ten years. Fingerprints mean that you have to apply for your passport in person.
While in Belgium people rarely live more than 15 km away from their local administration, it is not uncommon for the distance to the consulate abroad to be hundreds or even thousands of kilometres. The ‘small administrative formality’ can therefore quickly become an expensive nightmare.
There is nothing pleasant about having to travel from Guadeloupe to Paris or cross Germany or Canada just to apply for a passport, and it can be very expensive when the whole family has to renew their documents!
A consular employee is ready to receive Belgians in Ecuador. Here with the old equipment: a computer, a fingerprint scanner, a camera, a tablet to register the signature and a printer (© FPS Foreign Affairs).
And the consul came to them
The FPS Foreign Affairs very soon set up a series of alternatives to facilitate the procedures for Belgians living abroad, knowing that for most of them, having a valid Belgian passport is mandatory if they are to stay in the country legally. One of these alternatives is called the ‘mobile kit’.
The mobile kit originally consisted of a suitcase containing all the equipment needed to register a passport application: computer, fingerprint reader, camera, tablet for signature registration and printer. Thanks to technological advances, it is now a simple tablet capable of performing all the operations in a very short time.
Around 40 of our consulates have them and periodically make visits to regions in their jurisdiction that are a long way from the post and where a large number of Belgians reside.
The principle is simple, in that the consulate announces the cities and dates in which the mobile kit will visit well in advance. People who need a passport or ID card, which now also contain fingerprints, make an appointment to register their application, at no extra cost compared to an application at the consulate.
These ‘mobile kit missions’ are a real local service and are always welcomed with great enthusiasm. They also allow our consuls to get to know registered citizens better, and are sometimes also combined with other consular or diplomatic activities in the region.
Today, the mobile kit has been reduced to a tablet (© FPS Foreign Affairs).
Alternatives for all situations
Other options are also available to Belgians living abroad in addition to the mobile kit missions. Since the start of biometrics, they can, for example, go to the Belgian representation that suits them best to apply for a passport, either at another consular post or at a local administration in Belgium, for example during a holiday.
To make the most of the life of their passport, they can also pre-register their biometric data free of charge, up to one year before ordering their new passport. If, for some reason, they go to a city where we have a consular post and their passport is still valid for a few months, there is no longer a dilemma between taking advantage of their visit there and applying for a new passport or using their passport until the end of its validity and coming back later. One pre-registration and a year gained!
Applying for a passport when living abroad is often a significant inconvenience. Thanks to the alternatives put in place, the FPS Foreign Affairs is demonstrating that the Belgian administration is capable of being creative while caring about the quality of the services it offers. Spread the word!