Every Picture Tells a Story

by Nancy Bestor

IMG_3357I love my passport. It’s great fun to look at the stamps inside, reminisce, and in some cases try to decipher where they’re from (as they’re not always legible).  I love taking a look at my expired passports too. I’ve managed to hold on to my last three, and it’s fun to see how I’ve aged my passport photo has changed over the years.  Fortunately, when you renew, you can get your old passport back, to take a walk down memory lane.

Beginning in 2016, US citizens will no longer be able to add extra pages to their passports. No matter what your expiration date is, if you run out of room for stamps you’ll have to apply for a new one. The US State Department says they’ve done away with adding extra pages “for security reasons.” Regular passports are 28 pages, but beginning in 2016, you can apply for a super-sized, 52-page passport.

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Here are a few other little known rules and facts about US Passports:

  • Some countries require two to four blank visa/stamp pages in a passport, South Africa for example. You can check any country’s passport requirements on the US State Department’s country information page.
  • Your passport expiration date must be at least six months away when traveling to most countries. Again, you can check the State Department’s information page for those countries requiring the six months, but a better idea is to just renew your passport eight months before it expires.
  • Certain citizens can be approved to have two passports. I find this ruling awesome. If you are a frequent traveler to countries that require visas, the State Department may see fit to issue you a second passport. This is because you have to send your passport away to a country’s embassy to obtain a visa, and if you’re a frequent international traveler, you may need a passport to travel somewhere else while your first passport is getting the visa. You may also be issued a second passport if a country you’ve visited is on unfriendly terms with a country you plan to visit. Having a stamp from a country at war with a country in which you’d like to travel may prove a bit problematic, so this rule makes a good deal of sense to me. In both instances you’ll have to pay full price for your second passport. Sorry, no quantity discounts.
  • You cannot smile in your passport photo. It’s true, the rules state that in passport photos, citizens must have a “neutral” expression. Both eyes must be open, and the mouth closed. A smile with a closed jaw is allowed, but not preferred. This apparently helps with facial recognition.
  • If your passport has been significantly damaged, especially the cover or the page displaying your personal data and photo, you will need to apply for a new passport. Conditions that may constitute damage requiring replacement include water damage, a significant tear, unofficial markings on the data page, missing visa pages (torn out), a hole punch, or other injuries.

When an Expiration Date is not Really an Expiration Date

by Nancy Bestor

passportUS passports for adults are good for 10 years. I got mine in December of 2007 which means it will expire in December, 2017. But if I want to travel to say, Ecuador, my passport really will expire on June 1, 2017. Huh? It is somewhat confusing, but a growing number of countries (currently more than 50) require US Citizens to have at least six months remaining on their passport upon entry into their country. The reason for this is a little vague to me. One thing I’ve heard is that the US started requiring foreign citizens to have at least six months on their passports when visiting the US, so other countries are just returning the favor. Other things I’ve read says it keeps tourists from staying over their allotted number of days on a visa, which for many of these countries is good for six months. Whatever the reason, many travelers have realized too late that their passport expiration date is not good enough when traveling to a pretty good sized list of countries around the world.

The best advice I can give regarding passport expiration is that you should renew your passport about nine months before it is set to expire. Write it down on your calendar, or set your Smartphone calendar app to give you a message at the nine month mark. This way you’ll have plenty of time to send your passport in for renewal, and you won’t have to worry about your passport “expiring” if a last minute trip to Thailand or Trinidad & Tobago comes up. Oh to be so fortunate.

And since countries always seem to be altering their entry requirements, you can get the most up to date information for any country at the US State Department’s website. Just type in the country you are interested in to find out exactly what you’ll need to visit. I’m gonna look up French Polynesia and hope that a last minute trip magically appears in my near future.