I renewed my passport and didn’t queue at Home Affairs once

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If there’s one thing all South Africans can agree on it’s that we find the idea of standing in line for hours at Home Affairs about as appealing as having diarrhea.

Funnily enough, we’ll wait ages in a queue to buy a Starbucks, but when it comes to renewing or applying for identity documents, we’d rather visit the dentist. Perhaps it’s because we know that with Starbucks and the dentist, we won’t be told that we’ve brought the wrong paperwork and to come back at a later date so we can repeat the process.

But what if I told you that you could pick up a passport or an ID document without ever having to queue? What if the whole process involved two quick visits and you were told by Home Affairs exactly where to be and at what time? And what if the whole process took around five working days?

Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Believe me, I thought it was. I also thought the last things I’d ever do would be to praise the services of a bank. But here we are; it’s been a weird couple of weeks.

Before I continue, let me get something out the way: I’m neither being paid to write this by, nor am I particular fan of, First National Bank. I bank at FNB because after I returned from a 15-year stint in the UK, it was the only bank that would give me an account – and that took the better part of an hour-and-a-half to organise.

But we at htxt are always on the look out for life-hacks and if I can impart some useful information to save our readers some time at Home Affairs, I don’t mind if FNB comes out of it looking good as a result – and neither should you. Well, unless you enjoy watching people queue at Home Affairs and I’m eating into your hobby. But then, you’re a weirdo.

So here’s how you renew your passport in just two weeks while saving yourself a boatload of time while you do.

Step 1: Register online

First off, head over to the Home Affairs website and sign up for an account. You’ll need a South African ID to register and a mobile phone so that Home Affairs can send you notifications about the progress of your application. You’ll also need an address, but then, you wouldn’t be able to apply for documentation without one.

Once you’ve filled out your registry information, the site will send you a One Time Pin (OTP), so keep your phone handy. The site also times out if you leave it idle for too long.

Next, select the documentation you’d like to apply for – a new ID or passport – and the site will take you through five easy steps. I applied for a passport so that’s the example I’ll be using here.

Step 2: Selection, forms, documents, payment and appointment

From here, the site offers users a simple process to follow.

First, select the type of document you want. You can also apply for passport’s for a minor, if you happen to be their legal guardian.

Second, there’s a form to fill out. It’s basically the same form you’d be filling out while standing in line at the Home Affairs office, but because you’re using a computer, rather than a pen, everything looks a lot neater. The site will tally the information it has on file with you and notify you if something is missing. In my case for example, I had to declare that while being a South African citizen, I am also a British Subject.

Third, the site will notify you if you need to upload any documentation, such as birth certificates, visas and the like. Personally, I didn’t need any so I could skip this step. The site requires documents to be scanned – if you don’t have a scanner, head over to your local PostNet.

Then comes the issue of payment. I’m not sure how much an ID document costs to process, but I can report that a passport is R800. You can pay by electronic transfer – just remember to release the transaction from your bank account or Home Affairs will send you an email notification every day until you do.

The last step involves making an appointment. Here’s where being an FNB customer pays off. In order to process your application, Home Affairs needs to take biometrics – two thumbprints and a picture. Now, if you’re not an FNB account holder, you have to got to Home Affairs – and I can’t report on how quick that process will be. However, if you have an FNB account, you can set up an appointment with one of two branches: one in Sandton and one in town.

At the time I applied, Sandton seemed to be booked up until the end of time, but the branch in town – which is on Pixley Ka Isaka Seme Street opposite Luthuli House – had appointments the very next day.

Step 2: The easy bit, part 1

Once you’ve booked your appointment, you’ll be sent a confirmation text. Then the only concern you will have is making it to the branch at your allotted time slot.

Wander into the branch and head up to the desk marked Home Affairs. Give yourself a 10 minute window if you leave early. My appointment was at midday and I arrived at 11:45; the nice ladies behind the desk couldn’t help me until 11:50 just in case their 11:30 application pitched up.

From there it’s a matter of giving two thumbprints and having your picture taken. The Home Affairs officials will check your ID, make you sign off on your application and that’s it. The whole process doesn’t take more than five minutes.

Step 3: The easy bit, part 2

I can’t report how long an ID takes to process, but a passport (I was told) takes 10-15 days maximum. I received notification my passport was ready for collection in 8 days.

You’ll receive both an email and an SMS that your documentation is ready for collection at the branch where your biometrics were taken. Simply head over to that branch and collect it. Remember to keep both the SMS and the email for your records – you will be asked on what day you received them, just so the officials can find your documentation quicker.

Step 4: There is no step 4

And that’s it. No, really, that is it. Ten minutes spent online, no queues, eight day’s wait and a grand total of 10 minutes spent in an FNB branch. The lion’s share of the time that involved renewing my passport was eaten up by driving to and from town.

I’m hoping this initiative with FNB takes off and other banks get involved. I’ve never had a better experience applying for government documentation – renewing a British passport takes four weeks – and it would be wonderful if this process could be rolled out to other government departments. Is it too late to get the DMV involved?