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The Camouflaged Passport Advantage

How Getting a Fake Passport Just Might Save Your Life


Suppose you’re on a plane overseas that’s been hijacked by terrorists. They demand to see everyone’s passport.

You show them yours and they grab it. “Another from the Great Satan,” one yells. “U.S.”

The guy next to you displays his passport reading “Rhodesia.” The terrorists grunt and move on to the next passenger.

On the Beat

Aren’t you an American?” you whisper to your seatmate. “Of course,” he whispers back. “But they don’t know that the Rhodesian passport I’m holding is a fake. Rhodesia doesn’t exist anymore, at least by that name. It’s now the Republic of Zimbabwe. I have what’s called a camouflage passport. Lots of people carry them for just such an occasion.”

While I don’t know of any confirmed occasions when a fake ID actually saved someone from terrorists or hijackers, I do know that some cognoscenti among world travelers carry these fakeroos, obtained via the Internet. A few years ago a friend slyly showed me his “Rhodesian” passport. It looked good as the gold mined there.

There are more than a dozen former or renamed nations whose names are used by those who sell camouflage passports. Burma is now Myanmar ruled by an oppressive military dictatorship. Ceylon is Sri Lanka. The British West Indies have become all sorts of Caribbean island nations. South Vietnam is now part of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. How about USSR? It’s now Russia. British Honduras sounds legit, but these days it’s Belize.

Bob Hope and Bing Crosby had fun in the Road to Zanzibar movie, and for a price you can probably own a passport marked “Zanzibar.” It is not a sovereign state, however, just part of Tanzania.

You can buy these “passports” online, with a complete kit that includes an international driver’s license and other ID. Cost: $400 to $1,000.

But before you do, be aware that these innocent-looking “passports” can get you in a whale of trouble, far from home. Naturally you wouldn’t want to offer one when you enter a foreign land, but what if a snooping immigration officer discovers it in your luggage? You could soon be sitting in a jail cell while officials sort things out.

In some countries you have just committed a felony. At the very least you might find yourself viewed with unwelcome suspicion.

On the other hand, I know quite a few people with double nationalities. A former Santa Barbaran living in England has two passports, theirs and ours. A handful of people I know have dual citizenship with Panama. While they didn’t obtain two passports for hijack protection, what terrorist could have a grudge against little Panama? And, some of them have learned, if you lose or misplace one passport, you can use the other.

Right now there’s a mad rush on to apply for U.S. passports because of new restrictions requiring them for travel to Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean. That also means that it takes much longer to get one, as many travelers are finding out. It’s worthwhile to pay extra to expedite the process.

I know someone who let his passport expire. He didn’t expedite, and while waiting for a new one to arrive, he had to cancel a trip to Asia. Renewal plus the expediting fee amounts to $127, cheap if you’re planning a trip costing thousands and one you don’t want to miss.

And even if your passport hasn’t expired, some countries won’t let you enter if it has less than six months of life left.

Since most of my friends and family have long had passports, I was floored to learn while visiting Taiwan recently that only an estimated 20 to 30 percent of Americans have passports. In Santa Barbara, I’m sure it’s more like double that.

In the travel industry, we’re known as a town with wanderlust, people to cater to. For more information about obtaining or renewing a passport or replacing a lost or stolen one, go to the U.S. State Department’s website, www.travel.state.gov.

(Barney Brantingham can be reached at barney@independent.com or 805-965-5205. He writes online columns for the Independent on Tuesdays and Fridays and in the Thursday print edition.)

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