Having lived abroad for nigh on ten years, the time has come for me to renew that most precious of all expat documents...the passport.
Being adverse to form filling I approached the paperwork with some trepidation but was pleasantly surprised to find the process simple and straightforward (there's nothing particularly unusual about my background so I could skip most of the questions). The trouble began, though, when I tried to find out what I needed to do with the completed form.
Firstly, the form itself makes it clear that I needed to send it somewhere, but it doesn't state where. Nor does it explicitly state where I can find that information. Being an experienced Googler though (as most of us are these days) it wasn't hard to track down details of my nearest consulate.
Here I encountered the next problem. Some pages on the consulate's site stated that I could take the document to any consulate, others that this was no longer possible and I needed to send it to the one in Paris which now issues passports to all British expats in the Benelux region. To confuse matter further, I'd also read a forum posting suggesting that Paris was indeed the correct place to send my form to but that consulates in the Netherlands had not yet officially adopted that practice.
So far, so confusing but here's what really gets my goat. If you have any questions about the process (and it seems as though a lot of thought has been put into making sure this is almost certainly the case) there's a phone number you can call. This number belongs to what I can only assume is a private company and the cost, per minute, is around 1.50 GBP. Let me repeat that, if I need help ensuring that my most important national document is securely processed I don't speak to my government, I instead need to pay an extortionate rate to a private company.
Is there nothing left in our society which hasn't been rationalised, downsized or exploited for profit? Now, it may well be that there are sound economic reasons for these changes - the government is, of course, obliged to spend taxpayers' money wisely - but for some things being treated like a customer rather than a citizen seems to be the wrong choice.
I'm off to the consulate tomorrow to see what they say...