Remember the days when the very thought of renewing your Malaysian passport put dread in your heart and a sigh in your lungs? When it meant taking a whole day off work, only to still rise at the crack of dawn just to be sure to get a queue number?
A time when you spent RM10 for your non-digital passport photos from your neighbourhood kedai foto only to be arbitrarily told that they don’t make the grade and you have to join a different long queue for the photo booth conveniently located by the passport application counters, but suspiciously manned by dudes who could be immigration staff except these looked too alert as they pocketed your cash.
Well I’m happy to inform that those good old days are well and truly over. A few weeks ago, I went on www.imi.gov.my to find out how to renew my passport and discovered I could do it online, provided my current passport was a biometric one. It took a few tries before I managed to upload and crop my digital photo—just like you do on Facebook—but after that it was a breeze to complete the credit card payment and print out the receipt. You can collect your passport a day later at the immigration department of your choice.
One glitch I should warn you of, before you get too excited and expect some hoopla when you pick up your passport, is that at the end of the process, the message at the bottom of the screen announced that I was “Pemohon Nombor 1” for the online service at Jabatan Imigresen Kuala Lumpur.
Judging from the detailed responses I got from the officer who handed me my passport: “tahun lepas” and “banyak jugak”, I’m definitely not the first and only user of this service. Plus there were no popping flashbulbs, bush-jacketed officials, handshakes or hampers during my 20-minute visit.
Finally, for the nostalgic amongst you, there remain glorious reminders of days past. While the gaudy plastic flowers, framed family pictures and Amway catalogues have vanished from the counters, you can assure yourself that you are in a Malaysian government department because:
• despite the fancy biometrics, scanners and computers, you sign for delivery of your passport in a lined notebook, where someone has handwritten, in columns drawn by pen and ruler, your details, very much like when your mum signed the roti-man’s 555 book at the end of every week
• there are styrofoam cut-outs and handwritten cardboard signs pasted on the walls—like the ones you used to make for school plays and now see at KLIA
• the same female computerised voice from the 1990s is still calling out the queue numbers
• and best of all, like some mini UMNO convention, there are pop-up stalls in the foyer selling baju raya.