Preventing Passport Paranoia.

passport-37547093I’ve been finishing up some details of a European trip scheduled for mid-July—checking train schedules, deciding how long I would stay and where, and selecting hotels. Today I double-checked my passport.
When I travel outside the U.S, I’m paranoid about protecting my passport. I keep it on my person at all times, tucked in a hidden zippered pocket. I have a color photocopy in my suitcase, and a third copy is back home in the care of my wife.
I check my passport very carefully before every trip out of the country … specifically to confirm the expiration date. There are horror stories about people beginning an extensive foreign trip, much of it prepaid and non-refundable, only to be denied boarding for their flight at the airport because they had simply overlooked one small detail: one of their passports was out of date.
In fact, a number of countries will deny entry if a passport’s expiration date is less than three months away. Imagine that! Your passport is perfectly valid but—too bad!—the Swiss won’t let you in.
There are two other common mistakes people make. First, adult passports are good for ten years, but those issued to children expire in five years. Get the picture? The family arrives at the airport for their three-week vacation in Europe and discover that Mom and Dad are fine, but the nine-year-old can’t go because his passport has expired.
Another common error is thinking that Americans don’t need a passport to visit Canada or Mexico. Big mistake! That was true for years, but ever since 9/11, Americans go through Customs and Immigration checks at those borders with the same amount of scrutiny you would find when entering a European country. Even more when you’re coming back.
Remember, too, that some countries require a visa in addition to a valid passport. Make sure you check out the specific requirements for every country you’ll be visiting and allow plenty of time to get the visas you need. Do it even if you’re just passing through. Several years ago, I took a train from Berlin to Moscow and discovered I needed a transit visa for Belarus because the train passed through that country in the middle of the night. Who knew? Railbookers, that’s who.
It’s rare, but it’s also an unfortunate fact that you can have everything perfectly in order and border officials will still give you a very bad time for no reason at all. Why? Because they can.