Is Your Passport Valid?

Once, my coaching buddy raced around Athens between basketball games to find an American Embassy when he realized his passport expired and he would be stuck in Greece. I would never let my passport lapse especially in our present political climate. I have feared my French husband will be denied entry into the United States, but I never dreamed that I wouldn’t be allowed out of the country.

On January 10, the ticket control attendant at the gate stopped me from boarding my flight to Amsterdam at the St.Paul/Minneapolis airport.[tagline_box backgroundcolor=”” shadow=”no” shadowopacity=”0.1″ border=”1px” bordercolor=”” highlightposition=”none” content_alignment=”left” link=”” linktarget=”_self” button_size=”small” button_shape=”square” button_type=”flat” buttoncolor=”” button=”” title=”” description=”« A problem? Me? I am American, » I said pointing to my husband. « He’s the foreigner. » « He can go, » the airline attendant barked. « You must stay. Your passport is expiring April 3. » « I know. I will go to the American consulate when I get back to Switzerland. » « M’am I’m sorry, you are not authorized to leave the country. » « But I don’t live here. » « You cannot fly internationally on an US passport if it is within 90 days of expiration. »” animation_type=”0″ animation_direction=”down” animation_speed=”0.1″ class=”” id=””][/tagline_box] The hostess called her supervisor, who called his manager, who called the next higher up in the chain of command. They reiterated the rule and stared at the computer screen.

«But I live in Switzerland,» I pleaded showing my residency permit. More mumbling, more phone calls, more computer gazing.

With a last warning, they finally let me board the plane.

I am a well-seasoned traveler, but rules can change quickly especially these days with heightened security. After having lived in 4 different countries, I fear losing my identity papers because I know the rigors involved in establishing legality as an alien. How could I be unaware of this 3-month stipulation?

To avoid making the same mistake, here are some tips concerning your passport. (For more information go to this page.)

International travel is denied if you passport is within 3 months before expiration. Other countries may deny entry if your passport expires within 6 months. Entry into any of the 26 European countries in the Schengen area requires a minimum of 3 months

US passport photographs are very specific – expats would find it easier and cheaper to take passport photos while in the states at the local DMV or Walgreens than overseas.

Beware, you cannot wear glasses in the photo and you must not smile. Please don’t argue with the photographer (like the lady in front of me at Walgreens did) and demand a retake because you don’t like the way you look. This isn’t a Glamour cover shoot; it’s a passport. Forget vanity. Think safety. Face recognition software works better identifying non-smiling, glasses free photographs.

An adult US passport costs – $140 (or $110 for renewal) but it is valid for 10 years. It packs a lot of punch for your dollar. That little blue book allows Americans free access to over 100 different countries as compared to passports for many Middle Eastern and African countries whose citizens can only enter 30 some countries without visas.

Once back home safely, I filled in the paperwork online, then went to consulate in Geneva and filed for a new passport, which arrived by mail two weeks later. As I admired my new blue book, I marveled at my fortune being born in Illinois instead of Uzbekistan.

All in all it was surprisingly simple especially compared to renewing my American driver’s license, which entailed procuring my French marriage license, finding a valid translator, and five trips to the DMV, but that is another story. Stay tuned.

For more information on traveling, working, and living abroad check this official site.


Comments

  1. Kathleen Pooler

    What a nightmare to be denied boarding,Pat,but so glad they finally let you on the plane the last minute. This is very helpful information for international travelers. I never heard of that 90-day rule. It reinforces the importance of reading the fine print, especially since the rules keep changing. Happy you are safely home and have a new passport for your next trip.

    1. Pat McKinzie

      Ah yes the fine print. What makes it even more complicated is that each country has their own rules, but the Schengen Agreement does make it easier to circulate between European countries.

  2. Lynne Spreen

    Wow, thanks for this, Pat. But thank God the US authorities were on to you, Illinois-born resident of Switzerland trying to go home to Europe, because otherwise it would have been a YUGE threat to American security.
    Sharing this everywhere.

  3. Tina Quick

    Too funny. I just checked my passport this morning after flying back from Canada to the U.S. yesterday. I am acutely aware of the 6 month rule and will stick to it since my consultancy has me flying all over the world. Ah! And visas are another thing. I always forget to check if I will need one. I think I feel a bit privileged to have a U.S. passport that does allow unfettered entry into so many countries. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Pat McKinzie

      I was also thinking how lucky I am to be able to travel to so many places without visa. I don’t know how you and Jono keep track of all the rules with all the international traveling that you do.

  4. Debbie (Irwin) DeCarli

    Thank you for a heads up! We are getting ready to get a passport for our young son, but had decided we could wait until next year to renew ours. You may have just saved us a big headache.
    Should I let you know when we’re planning our visit to Switzerland? 😉

  5. Rachael Jefferson-Buchanan

    Wow, glad you boarded that plane eventually! I was aware of that rule as a nomad, but having to check three passports and their expiry dates becomes a bit of a headache for us as a family, since these are all different and the girls have only five year passports as young people. Those five years pass quickly! My funniest situation travelling to Australia for the first time was arriving at Heathrow and being asked where my visa was. What? I’m British? Why would I need a visa to an ex-colonial country? Well that was a lesson learned in national assumptions. Fortunately, Heathrow had a visa booth for me to buy one, otherwise that plane would have taken off without my sister, the girls and me! ✈️

    1. Pat McKinzie

      Too funny Rach. Now that makes a great story. How did you manage to get 3 passports? Do they have Swiss ones for being born in Switzerland?

  6. Helene Cohen Bludman

    Thank you for the reminder, and I’m glad you were not detained for too long. I had to get a visa to travel to Brazil in 2015 — I think it was the most red tape I’ve ever had to go through.

    1. Pat McKinzie

      Oh dear, that makes me reluctant to travel anywhere that I might need a visa. For right now just jumping across the pond is enough of a leap.

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