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I have a Vietnamese passport and currently reside in Singapore. I'm planning a trip to Japan on the 28th of October and currently applying for a tourist visa through the Japan e-Visa system.

However the e-Visa system cannot read my passport. It always gives this error "An error occurred in the upload process".

The problem seems to be with my passport's machine-readable zone (MRZ) section. Usually MRZ sections should start with:

P<VNM<SURNAME

But in my case it starts with:

P>VNM<SURNAME (note the wrong arrow on the second character!).

I came to that conclusion after trying out many things (including uploading my wife's passport, reading the ICAO passport specificiations lol, and using Photoshop to "modify" the passport and test uploading it again). Funny thing is, I have been using this passport to travel to many countries and have been wondering why I could never use automated clearance gates!

So I called the e-Visa hotline; they advised that I try to apply in person at the Japan embassy in Singapore. I checked the embassy's appointment system and there is no slot either for this month or next month (my flight is end of next month). Called the embassy and they said that they will only release more slots at the end of this month and I should keep checking the system.

It seems I'm down to 2 options now:

  1. Wait and check every day for new slots at the embassy. If I'm lucky, I'll get a slot at the beginning of next month. I'll also need to count on my luck to be able to get the visa in 2-3 weeks; otherwise I will need to cancel my flight tickets.

  2. Photoshop the damn arrow on my passport and proceed to upload it through the e-Visa system. Neither the e-Visa staff or the embassy staff could advise me on whether this is allowed. The risk is that when I enter Japan, immigration will flag it out because it doesn't entirely match my passport image. I feel the chance of this happening is very low because in my experience so far, all immigration officers would try to scan my passport, then shrug and give up and key in the details manually.

What do you think is my best option?

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    Have you tried contacting the Vietnamese embassy to perhaps get your passport fixed? — I don't know about the Japanese embassy in Singapore in particular, but usually it's possible to walk up to the embassy at any time in an emergency to try to get help; though you should expect to possibly wait all day.
    – deceze
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 3:00
  • @deceze thank you for you comment. Yes, that is a good option. I think most likely I will have to apply for a new passport. The VN embassy here is a joke though. Perhaps a trip back to Vietnam will sort this out for me.
    – Ryan Phung
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 3:26
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    I'd try talking to the consular services (not the generic visa hotline) and explain your predicament.
    – deceze
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 4:37
  • @deceze good idea, would definitely try that tomorrow! appreciate your advice
    – Ryan Phung
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 9:16
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    How badly do you need to go to Japan on that date? Consider traveling elsewhere in October and going to Japan later.
    – JonathanReez
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 19:43

4 Answers 4

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I'm apparently in the minority here, but I think changing any aspect of the data in a passport is an extremely bad idea.

As @user 2357112 correctly points out, a deliberate alternation of a passport to change the information in the passport is indeed a crime. Doing this could get you in trouble with either or both the country that issued the passport or the country whose immigration officer discovered the change.

I confess to being risk-averse. I wouldn't make this change, and would accept that I was now stuck getting a new passport, and perhaps having to cancel my flight tickets.

Your risk tolerance may be higher than mine. Report back and let us know how you fare.

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    I too was astonished at the suggestion to essentially commit fraud by faking the photo of the passport in the application, so I guess I'm similarly risk-averse in this situation. I would follow my country's procedures to get an expedited or emergency passport issued from the local embassy because mine is defective and therefore invalid. Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 18:02
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    @BenVoigt I'm an engineer not a lawyer, but it sounds both. You're committing fraud by presenting a forgery in an official application. Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 20:10
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    @MichaelLorton I don't see counterfeiting actually defined in that document. In other areas, counterfeiting generally requires intent to deceive, which the OP does not show here. Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 20:38
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    DavidRecallsMonica: what about materiality? The change is immaterial to any decision. One of the US Supreme Court justices recently suggested that it isn't possible have one's naturalization revoked for lying about one's weight. @MichaelLorton the passport isn't invalid; it's noncompliant with the ICAO spec because of a technicality.
    – phoog
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 6:42
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    @DavidRecallsMonica thank you for the very sensible answer. I'm quite risk-adverse too, and the potential damage of uploading a photoshopped passport seems to be quite high as you rightly pointed out. I'm currently proceeding with the option of getting my passport replaced - I've calculated, the timing will work out if nothing goes wrong!
    – Ryan Phung
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 10:24
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As far as I can tell from a cursory read of the MRZ specs, the > character is not allowed at all, meaning that your passport is defective.

In my personal experience of visa services at the Japanese embassy at Singapore (N=1, during COVID), they are very "by the book" and you will not even be allowed inside without an appointment.

So, because the defect in your passport is clearly immaterial and the alternative is not feasible, in your shoes I would Photoshop the passport to fix the error and apply for the e-Visa.

I would also reach out to the Vietnamese embassy to complain and get the passport replaced, but this will likely take some time, so I'd probably do this after the trip -- otherwise you run the risk of the current passport being invalidated and not having a visa ready in time in the new one.

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    Thank you, this makes a lot of sense. I wouldn't count on the Vietnamese embassy to replace my passport due to the defect. Most likely they would just ask me to go through the usual renewal process. I will still consider that, but only if I can get an agent that can guarantee quick turn-around time. Just a follow-up question, in your experience, how "by the book" are Japanese immigration officers? I'm trying to assess the risk that at immigration they flag out the discrepancy between the arrow in the passport I uploaded to the system and the passport they have on hand.
    – Ryan Phung
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 4:28
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    What happens if the difference between the photoshopped MRZ and the actual MRZ is spotted when clearing Immigration on arrival in Japan? Is there a risk the OP could be denied entry?
    – Traveller
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 5:49
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    @Traveller I presume the e-Visa application system is just OCR'ing the passport image to extract the data, and because the data itself is identical, OP should be fine. (Both > and < are only filler characters.). It's extremely unlikely they would compare the images by hand, much less that they would notice one angle bracket is rotated. Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 7:56
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    @lambshaanxy yes, I tend to think like that as well. The only scenario I could think of is that an immigration officer tries to scan my passport, then find out that it doesn't work, then spend time to figure out what is wrong and found out the >, then wonder to himself how the heck did the e-Visa system accept my passport, then figure out the < and > difference. It takes some diligence to do this. That, and some unforseen circumstances outside of my knowledge. In any case, it seems unlikely. However the consequence could be bad? (denied entry? black listed?)
    – Ryan Phung
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 9:09
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    @lambshaanxy just to add, some immigration officers in Singapore spotted the wrong > before and told me about it (but I didn't pay much attention back then), so I assume that at least some immigration officers are trained to spot this.
    – Ryan Phung
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 9:12
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Thanks for all your useful advice.

Just an update on how it went. I am pretty risk averse as well, so I decided to book a flight back to my country to get the passport replaced. There are services that can help me get my passport replaced in 3-4 days.

Timeline of events — might be a useful reference for others in my shoes:

  • September 26th: received new passport.

  • September 27th: submitted eVisa application.

  • October 10th: eVisa status changed to “examining documents”.

  • October 13th (Friday): eVisa status changed to “preparing for issuance”. Made payment.

  • October 16th: eVisa issued.

That’s it! Japan here we go!!!!

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I would second the Photoshop option (it popped on my mind right off the bat), but mostly because I have extensive experience with Japanese immigration at NRT and HND. While Japanese people in general, and civil servants in particular, can be anally retentive when it comes to procedure, they are often at a loss with things non-Japanese.

Once, an older officer mistook my temporary French passport for an official one - true, the French temporary passport is green instead of reddish brown, has only 16 pages, was in my case issued by the Consulate in HK. But it also has TEMPORARY written on it...

My full name, way too long, doesn't encode fully. When they compare the readout to the ID page, they're not identical. Almost every time I see them lip-synching my name letter by letter until they reach the end of the shorter version. They shrug, and move on.

If your passport is biometric they'll get your data from the chip anyway.

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    "If your passport is biometric they'll get your data from the chip anyway." >> Provided the chip is not as faulty as the machine-readable text. I wouldn't risk it, getting a new passport in two months sounds doable. Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 9:24
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    To access the chip in a passport, the reader need to first get data from the MRZ to build an access key. If that software also stumbles over the mis-printed MRZ (which is very likely), it will also not be able to access the NFC chip. Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 10:13
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    I don't know what the laws are in Singapore, Vietnam, or Japan, but submitting an edited image of your passport sounds like it would be a crime. Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 11:45
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    @user2357112 Submitting false information would likely indeed be a crime, but the OP is not altering any actual data in their passport, just the formatting. Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 19:51
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    @Tor-EinarJarnbjo "If that software also stumbles over the mis-printed MRZ," which I agree is likely, it will prompt the officer to enter the data manually, at which point it will be able to read the chip.
    – phoog
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 6:53

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