Passport Essentials you need to know

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What you need to know before you travel internationally

1. CARRY EXTRA COPIES OF YOUR PASSPORT

The U.S. Department of State recommends that travelers photocopy the bio page of their passports before leaving on international trips. When photocopying the information page of your passport, make sure all the details on the copy are legible. Alternatively, you can scan your passport in color with a desktop scanner, then email it to yourself. You will then have an electronic version handy. Do not store your passport and the photocopy together in case they get lost together. Also, the U.S. Department of State recommends that you keep two extra passport photos with you. Having the photos avoids that extra step if you need to replace your passport.

If you lose your passport after being admitted to your vacation destination or someone steals it, obtaining a replacement will be considerably more manageable if you have a photocopy with your passport number to prove your identity.

2.  THE SIX MONTH PASSPORT RULE

A valid passport is required for international travel. While the U.S. allows its citizens to use their passports up to the date inside the cover, many countries will deny travelers entry if the passport expires in less than six months from the day they return home. The reasoning is that if you remain in their country longer than planned, they want to ensure your passport remains valid for you to travel back to the United States eventually. Would you please not assume it won’t happen to you? Horror stories of people being turned away when checking in for their flights are everywhere on the internet. There is a handy list of passport validity requirements by country for you to refer to at The Bureau of Consular Affairs.

If you find that your passport expiration date is within these 6 months, you can apply for an emergency passport, but my suggestion is to make a note in your calendar to replace your passport nine months before it expires. It will save you a lot of anxiety and last-minute panic.

3.   YOU NEED BLANK PAGES 

According to the Bureau of Consular Affairs, two to four blank visa pages are needed in your passport. If your passport fails to meet these requirements, you may be denied boarding the plane, or even worse, you may be denied entry at your destination.

Some countries require at least one or two entirely blank visa pages to be allowed entry for the use of either an entry stamp or a visa. Several other countries require at least two blank pages to get a visa. Quite often, these pages need to be consecutive. 

Keep in mind when counting those blank pages that the last two pages of the U.S. passport are not qualifying visa pages. Make sure that your empty page has the word “visa” at the top. 

If you are a frequent traveler, you can order a 52-page passport at no extra charge and avoid the problem of running out of pages.

4 .  YOUR PASSPORT NEEDS TO BE INTACT AND IN GOOD SHAPE

People take their passport for granted until it is rejected, and when that happens, it can be a painful, frustrating nightmare for the traveler.  

According to the U.S. State Department:

If your passport has been significantly damaged, especially the book cover or the page displaying your personal data and photo, you will need to apply for a new passport. Damage that might require you to replace your passport includes water damage, a significant tear, unofficial markings on the data page, missing visa pages (torn out), a hole punch, or other injuries.”

Normal “wear and tear” of a U.S. passport is expected and likely does not count as “damage.” For instance, normal wear includes the bend of a passport after being carried in your back pocket or fanning of the visa pages after extensive opening and closing.”

What is considered mutilation is open to interpretation by immigration officers. Some pretty shabby-looking passports are accepted with no problem, and you may think your passport is acceptable to use the way it is, but an immigration official may disagree. ‘Damaged’ Passports and pleading passengers have been used as a cover for illegal entry and activity, which makes immigration officers extra wary. Since they have the final call, you can’t be too cautious in getting it replaced, especially if the damage involves the bio page, torn cover, or missing pages. 

Many airlines will not even allow you to board the plane if there is any concern about the state of your passport because when a passenger is denied entry into a country, airlines are fined an average of $3,500 per passenger. Then the Airline has to fly the traveler back to their country of origin at their own expense, potentially bumping a fare-paying passenger. Obviously, they are reluctant for this to happen, so they err on the side of caution.

It’s worse if you arrive at your destination and the immigration officer refuses your entry. You will not be able to enter the country nor access the U.S. embassy.  The immigration officials will most likely send you straight home, and you have to forgo your vacation yet still pay for it.

Always re-check the condition of your passport months before a trip and make sure it is acceptable.

 5. YOUR PASSPORT CAN BE INVALIDATED IF:

  • It’s not signed. Check to make sure it is before you head to the airport.
  • There are any unauthorized markings on your passport. Unauthorized stamps and visas in your passport, like the fancy ones you get at Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin, are nothing but souvenir stamps that may get your passport declared invalid. These unofficial stamps can have you denied entry in some countries; all it takes is a zealous border agent.

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