Recently I received a lot of questions from friends and netizens regarding the issue of renewal of British National Overseas (BNO) passports. The debate appears to have got a new lease of life following the mysterious disappearance of Lee Bo, owner of a publishing firm specializing in books on China “state secrets”.
In my opinion, unless you are a diehard Chinese nationalist or an outright anglophobe, it would be advisable to have a valid BNO passport at all times as a safety measure, because having a BNO is always better than having none. Here are the reasons why:
1. BNO holders can currently travel to 189 countries either visa-free or with visa on arrival, as compared to only 152 countries for HKSAR passport holders.
2. In case there is abrupt political change in Hong Kong, such as the sudden fall of government, or the abolition of “One Country Two Systems”, leading to the tightening of visa requirements for HKSAR passport holders by other countries, one can still use the BNO to travel freely.
Such extreme scenario might seem a bit far-fetched for now, but is not totally out of the realm in the days ahead, as political tensions continue to rise in Hong Kong and Beijing is taking an increasingly tough stance on our city.
Although BNO is only a travel document, it can still provide holders with the last “emergency exit’, given that the document is valid for life.
3. The British government has already asserted that BNO holders enjoy the same level of consular service in third countries (outside Britain and China) as other British nationals, and there have been numerous known cases where Hong Kong BNO holders successfully got help from British consulates in foreign countries. Therefore, traveling with a BNO may give you extra protection in case the Chinese consulate in the country where you are stranded is unable to help.
4. Even though the HKSAR passport has been in use for almost 19 years, there are still a considerable number of immigration officers around the globe, especially those from small and remote countries, who can’t tell the difference between a HKSAR passport and a Chinese passport. Given that the Chinese passport is considered one of the worst and most inconvenient passports to travel with in the world, using a BNO might spare you trouble and save you time.
5. Since Britain is a member of the European Union (EU), which has officially accepted the BNO as a valid travel document, BNO holders can enjoy visa-free stays of up to several months in some EU member countries. This can mean a world of difference for a person in times of crisis.
6. BNO holders can also vote in elections in Britain provided that they have stayed there for a stipulated period of time. To some extent this could allow the people of Hong Kong, who are yet to enjoy universal suffrage, to have a taste of true democracy.
If anything, the only drawbacks of having a BNO are that you have to pay a renewal charge of around HK$1,000. Also, you can’t run for Chief Executive in Hong Kong.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan. 7.
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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