Before my husband and I recently headed out on a last-minute trip to Berlin, we did what any traveler would do - we checked the expiration dates on our passports. I recently renewed mine so I knew it was good for several more years. I was glad to see my husband's passport was good until the summer so we could still head out on our winter break getaway. But, little did we know that my husband came close to not being able to travel to Germany - even with a valid passport.
According to the agent who helped us at the Air Berlin check-in counter, you cannot travel to Germany if your passport expires within three months of your departure date. As somewhat frequent travelers, we were surprised to learn about this important nuance at this stage of the game. With more international travel plans coming up this year, we set out to get more details on when you may not be able to travel on a valid passport to certain countries.
Here are five important things we learned about passport expiration dates and a few other often overlooked travel requirements:
1. Passport renewal terms and timing
As most people know, adults (16 years and older) need to renew their passports every 10 years, and children need to renew their passports every five years.
The U.S. Department of State recommends you renew your passport nine months before it expires since some countries require your passport to be valid at least six months beyond the departure date of your trip. As we learned from the Air Berlin agent, airlines will turn you away at the check-in counter if you don't meet the respective country's requirement.
It's important to keep in mind that it can take up to six weeks to renew your passport - and even more during busier times like the summer travel season. Rush services are available, but it will cost you more to to expedite the processing time for your new passport.
You can track current passport renewal processing times online on the U.S. Department of State website.
2. Foreign entry and exit requirements
Some countries, like Germany, do not let you travel there if your passport is set to expire three to six months before your departure date. And, other countries may not let you travel there if your passport expires three to six months after your scheduled return date from that country.
If you're visiting more than one country on your trip, be sure to look at all of the entry and exit requirements for all of your destinations - especially your final destination. If you don't have the right documentation, you may not be allowed to board your connecting flight.
You can find the information on passport entry and visa requirements for individual countries on the U.S. Department of State website. Embassies and consulates in the U.S. can be another helpful source of information. You can find a list of embassies and consulates on the USEmbassy.gov website, which is run by the U.S. Department of State.
3. Passport blank pages requirements
Frequent travels take note: some countries require your passport to have two to four blank visa stamp pages. According to the U.S. Department of State, some airlines will not allow you to board if this requirement is not met.
You can find details on how to request more visa stamp pages on the U.S. Department of State website. Frequent travelers may also want to order a passport with 52 pages at the time of a renewal.
4. Visa requirements
American citizens planning to stay in one country for more than 90 days are usually required to provide additional paperwork, such as visas, proof of financial resources, and/or an outgoing ticket.
You can find details on individual country requirements on the U.S. Department of State website.
5. Smart Traveler Enrollment Program
Americans traveling abroad can enroll in the U.S. government's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (or STEP). The free service, available to U.S. citizens traveling to, or living in, a foreign country, allows you to enter information about an upcoming trip so the U.S. Department of State can better assist you in the event of an emergency.
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