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Swiss get set for new passport

The new passport (right) alongside a new "provisional" one-year passport - available at short notice


Switzerland's new high-tech passport - which is available from January 1 - will cost families more.

After more than 40 years of tradition, the Swiss are scrapping their current passport - a slightly ungainly document - for a smaller, sleeker model that can be read by a computer.

While the new passport has been welcomed as a step forward - especially by police and airport authorities - there are concerns that it will cost families more.

Children will no longer be able to travel on their parents' passports, and will be required to carry their own documents.

A special "children's passport" will be introduced, at a cost of SFr55 ($39) each.

For children under 15, the passport will be valid for five years.

The Swiss cabinet considered waiving the cost of children's passports, but decided to impose a charge.

For adults, the new passport will cost an average of SFr113 - depending on the person's home canton. Prices will range from SFr60 to SFr160.

Régine Chatagny, a consumer advocate from western Switzerland, expressed disappointment that cabinet had not followed pricing recommendations from a parliamentary watchdog.

It said passports should cost the same as Swiss identity cards (SFr65 for adults, and SFr30 for under-18s).

Protecting children

Léopold Bersier, responsible for a pilot project in canton Fribourg which has been issuing the new documents in recent weeks, admits the new passport is a big investment for families.

However, Bersier says the new system will protect children by taken them off their parents' passports. He cites the example of children who are kidnapped by one parent in custody disputes.

Without their own documents, children would not be able to travel. "Individual documents provide better protection for children," says Bersier.

Giving children their own passports also simplifies travel to countries such as Canada and Russia, which insist on one document per individual.

Smaller and more secure

The authorities have been preparing for a wave of applications for the new passport.

Existing documents will remain valid until their expiry date or until the end of 2007.

The new booklet is slightly smaller than its predecessor - roughly the same size at its European Union counterparts.

Passport photos will also be scanned into an electronic database.

The Swiss foreign ministry says it could take up to 30 days to receive the new passport and urges people to apply two months before any journey.


Key facts

The new Swiss passport is available from January 1, 2003, and is valid for ten years.
Its cost ranges from SFr80 to SFr160 (SFr113 on average)
Children's passports will be valid for five years and cost SFr55.
Existing passports will remain valid until their expiry date or the end of 2007.

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