As someone professionally involved in the travel industry, I should have known better than anyone to check the expiration date on my daughter’s passport before our Christmas trip to the Caribbean last year. It didn’t dawn on me until much too late that a child’s passport—which would include any minor under the age of 16—is only good for five years, unlike an adult passport which is good for 10.
On a normal day, this might not have been a problem; it’s possible that my wife, daughter and I could have gone to the consulate and gotten her a new passport, since minors under age 16 cannot simply renew a passport, and still have made our flight. But on a weekend, a holiday weekend at that, it would be days before the local consulate would be open.
Instead, we were forced to scramble and come up with a domestic holiday location resulting in over $2,000 in rebooking fees and a disappointed wife and daughter.
Preventing Passport Disasters
After the initial disappointment wore off, my family and I had a great Christmas and we now have a funny story to tell—but it still hurts to realize how easily preventable this mistake was. If you’re planning a trip abroad with your children, all you have to do is check their passport a week or two before you leave. If you see that they have reached that five-year mark and their passport is expired or will expire during the dates of your trip, you can take care of it in plenty of time. This is especially important if you’re divorced; according to the U.S. State Department, both parents must consent to a child’s passport if the child is under 16—which means your ex must have time to review the paperwork and sign it before a new passport can be issued.
Don’t Assume You Can Get in Under the Wire
Even if your child’s passport doesn’t expire until a month after your trip is over, you may still need to renew it before leaving. A 2006 article on MSN.com tells the story of a man flying from Atlanta to Tel Aviv whose passport wasn’t set to expire for another five months. Unfortunately, Israel would not permit travelers to fly in unless their passport was good for another six months after the date they were booked to exit the country.
There are several countries that have similar requirements for passports to remain valid at least three to six months after an individual leaves their country. Some of these include popular destinations such as Switzerland, Brazil and Denmark. This makes it a good idea to check the foreign entry requirements for the country you plan to visit and renew your passport early, if necessary.
Travel Insurance May Not Cover the Gaffe
Most travelers understand the value of travel and health insurance, especially in light of all that can go wrong before and during a trip abroad. But travel and health insurance generally won’t cover any rebooking expenses due to your personal oversight.
Passport Nightmares – They’re Not Just Happening to You
As I mentioned in the introduction, it’s especially ironic that I should suffer such an oversight; but I’m not alone with my passport problem and neither are you. According to the U.K. publication Mail Online, 30 percent of Britons had experienced passport-related travel problem in 2003. The article goes on to state that 22 percent weren’t even certain when their passport expired.
It’s unfortunate that passport nightmares are so common among world travelers, but it’s fortunate that they can be so easily prevented. The best way to avoid passport-related travel problems is to put two urgent tasks on your calendar after booking your trip abroad. First, choose a date two to four weeks before you’re supposed to leave and create a reminder to check the expiration date on your passport and the passports of all other family members who are joining you. Then put a reminder on your calendar the day before you leave to pack your passport in your purse or carry-on bag. When these reminders pop-up on your Smartphone, e-mail inbox, tablet or other calendar system, don’t ignore them or put them off to later; attend to them immediately or risk losing thousands of dollars and missing out on an amazing trip abroad.