Traveling can be a rewarding experience – when you are prepared. It can be devastating when you are not. No one told the founders of Depart Smart about the Passport Validity Rule when their sixteen-year-old son Tyler traveled to Japan on a student trip. They thought they would be able to get to him if something happened because their passport was valid for 5 ½ months after his return. Tyler became severely dehydrated from severe vomiting and was placed on life support at the Japanese Red Cross hospital in grave condition.
At the airport, preparing to board a hurriedly-booked flight to get to his side in Tokyo, the airline check-in agent was about to deny his mother access to the flight because her passport was set to expire in a few months. Fortunately, she was able to rally her congressman to vouch and help her renew her passport so she could board the plane to get to her son.
In a heartbeat, a traumatic situation could have gotten worse – and often does when U.S. citizens are not adequately prepared for international travel or an emergency of a loved one abroad. No one wants to be detained or denied when they are traveling internationally, especially in dire circumstances.
Top Ten Passport and Visa Tips for Safe Travel
1. Determine Country Rules and Entry Requirements
The US Department of State publishes country-specific entry requirements at travel.state.gov. Enter your destination and scroll down until you see the passport validity requirements listed. You may need two to four blank pages in your passport in some countries, passport validity may require six months upon arrival, and tourist visas may be required. Meeting these requirements will help your arrival and departure go smoothly. A passport certifies your identity and citizenship. A visa gives you temporary permission to enter your destination country. Visa requirements are listed with each country’s passport validity requirements.
2. The Passport Validity Rule
The passport validity rule is made by a country to prevent tourists from overstaying. It’s a good idea to renew your passport well in advance of a six-month expiration to avoid being denied entry or delayed.
The Schengen Rule is designed to allow freedom among borders of twenty-six European countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. In the Schengen area your passport must have at least two free pages and three months validity. You can stay for up to ninety days in the Schengen area. If you need to stay beyond ninety days a visa is required.
3. How to Apply for a Passport or Visa
You can go download the forms you need from the state department and submit them yourselves with supporting documentation and work to get a compliant photo. You can also rely on Depart Smart and our partner G3 Passports to help you acquire your passports and visas quickly and conveniently. It’s our mission to lead the world in lifesaving travel safety preparedness.
4. Passport Photo Requirements
The number one complaint travelers tell us is that their passport photos don’t meet the U.S. State Department’s requirements and so are sent back for a redo. Photo requirements are: “No smiles. No glasses. No colored background – white backgrounds only. Face forward. And, a size of 2 x 2 inches (51 x 51 mm) where the head must be between 1 -1 3/8 inches (25 – 35 mm) from the bottom of the chin to the top of the head.” You can see how getting it just right can be a challenge.
There are phone apps you can use to help take your photos available on the Google Play and Apple stores. Additionally, Passport Photo Creator is an Apple and Google Play app integrated with Walgreens passport photo services so you can take your own photo and have it printed at a store near you.
5. Passport and Visa Supporting Documents and Fees
The U.S. State Department requires proof of citizenship. Primary proof of citizenship usually comes in the form of an authentic U.S. birth certificate (not a copy) or perhaps an undamaged passport (the passport can be expired). If you can’t provide primary proof of citizenship with an additional form you can provide secondary proof such as a baptism certificate, a hospital birth certificate – the one with your baby footprints, a U.S. census record, early school records, and even post-natal care reports from your pediatrician. If you need a copy of your original birth certificate, go to the official website of your state and search for “birth certificates” or “vital records.” There is typically a small fee for duplicate copies sent to you.
Passport fees average $110-145 without expedite charges. If you want a passport or visa quickly and conveniently, Depart Smart can help you apply for an expedited passport or visa.
6. Passport Real ID Requirements
Traveling domestically within the United States now requires government issued identification that complies with the Real ID Act of 2018. By October, 2020 everyone will need identification that meets TSA approval. A passport card is one option. A state issued Real ID driver’s license is another.
Verify that your personal information on your passport and visa is accurate and complete.
Your name, date of birth, photo, country, place of birth, gender, and other fields should all be complete and accurate. A passport issued with a data error (e.g., name, gender, place of birth) or printing error (e.g., data is missing on the biographical page, discoloration, crooked printing, etc.) can be corrected at no charge if the passport is still valid. You’ll need to submit a passport correction form to the U.S. Department of State with a regulation color photo even if the photo on the passport is correct.
It is very important that how you identify your sex correlates with your passport. If you have changed your sex identity you need to upgrade your passport per U.S. State Department Change of Sex Marker rules. You will need regulation ID and a passport photo of your current appearance, possibly medical certification of any male or female transitions, or proof that you are in the process, and a proof of a legal name change if applicable.
7. Passport Storage and Care Tips
Make an electronic copy and color print copies of your passport
Using the Depart Smart passport and visa services you can pay for digital filing so you can easily retrieve it in case it is lost or stolen. Sending copies of your passport to yourself and your emergency contacts can make replacing a lost or stolen passport at a U.S. Embassy faster and easier. If your hotel requires your passport, you can leave a print copy. You should always keep your passport with you, or in a hotel safe.
Label the cover of your passport and visa
Putting a label or even a piece of masking tape on the cover of your passport makes it easily identifiable without opening it to the identification page. If you’re traveling with multiple people you won’t have to flip through the pages to identify whose passport it is.
Keep your passport on you in a safe place
Your passport is your pass through a port. It is your only identification that will allow this passage. Keep it out of the hands of others who can sell them on the black market. Keep your passport in a safe spot that is less obvious to pick pocketing, perhaps in a money belt or neck wallet.
Sign your passport!
Your signature needs to match your name as it is printed on the passport. If you make a mistake, just scratch it out with one straight line and re-sign it above the crossed-out signature. One of the biggest mistakes travelers make is not signing their passport. Protect your identity! Your U.S. passport is not valid if it is not signed on page 3.
8. Ask the customs agent to stamp using fresh ink
Stamps from older ink will fade easier. Ensure the stamp stays legible and easily read with fresh ink.
9. Travel insurance may cover lost or stolen passports
Travel insurance could really be your saving grace in getting a missing passport replaced. Many travel insurance policies offer lost or stolen passport coverage for $50-$100. Moreover, they have a 24-7 hotline to assist you. AIG Travel, a travel insurance provider, offers such a service. (AIG Travel is a strategic sponsor of Depart Smart’s Travel HEROES Safety Preparedness).
10. Drop your and your hotel’s business cards inside your passport
Having your hotel’s business card in your passport helps a passport finder locate you and return it to you if it is accidentally left in a taxi, train, or bus. Having your misplaced passport returned to you can save you a world of headache!
The etymology of the word travel is travail, to toil and unravel. Traveling is stressful. With education and good planning, you can minimize stress and enjoy safer journeys with adequate preparations – like learning the laws of the land, and preparing a personal emergency plan with Depart Smart’s Travel HEROES Online Safety Training. Traveling doesn’t need to be painful – you can ensure that you don’t end up with headaches on your travel adventures. Using these tips, you’ll avoid passport and visa challenges and make your trip safer and more enjoyable.
For quick and easy passports and visas, use Depart Smart for your passport and visa needs today!