A few days ago I was thinking to myself how one potential benefit from the partial federal government shutdown would be the opportunity to fire everybody who works for the Passport Service. Sounds kind of radical — what’s got me started?
Well, my wife was talking to a girlfriend recently about a big overseas trip that her family had been planning forever. Mom and Dad, their grown children, everything meticulously planned down to the last detail, months of preparation and a large portion of the trip prepaid in advance for peace of mind.
Everybody showed up at the airport all excited. At the time of check-in the passports were inspected and things seemed to be A-OK until one of the officials behind the desk raised an eyebrow with an air of concern.
“What’s wrong?” a member of the party asked.
“This passport…It’s not valid. The expiration date.”
“What do you mean it’s not valid? It expires four months from now and we’re only taking a two-week trip.”
“You have to allow for six months. I regret to inform you that this passport is not valid and that the person carrying it will not be permitted to travel as planned.”
And so it was that the affected family member, a daughter, had to stay behind and missed out on the entire trip.
When I first heard this most frustrating tale my reaction was disbelief. Only the federal government’s bureaucracy would make it such that a passport actual expiration date predates what’s written on the document itself by six months.
But, as much as I hate admitting it, I must confess to having jumped to conclusions and should not and will not get to enjoy the dismissal of bureaucratic boneheads — at least not in this instance. According to the language of the U.S. Passport Service guide, “The passport expiration date is calculated from the date of issuance. However, the length of a passport’s validity can vary depending on whether the travel document was issued to a minor, an adult or in an emergency situation. Also a passport’s expiration date can affect the need for renewal since many destinations require a specific period of validity remaining in the passport before they will allow a visitor to enter.
So there it is in black and white and it thus turns out that the Passport Service does not post nonsensical expiration dates and that the terms of validity for up to six months before the posted expiration date are in many cases dictated by the points of destination.
This may not be common knowledge, though, and obviously people need to be aware. Remarkably, there are about 86 destinations in Africa, Asia, Oceania, South America and elsewhere that levy the six month rule, including Antigua, Barbuda, Saint Kitts, Saint Lucia, Nevis, Grenada, Honduras, Trinidad and Tobago in North America.
Eighty-six is a large number, and there many other countries that have a three month rule. So to those who want to go to Honduras on a mission trip or to explore the Mayan ruins, and others who might want to take a honeymoon to Saint Kitts or Saint Lucia, you better the check the expiration dates on your passports doubly carefully and expedite renewal ASAP if need be.
It’s probably best just to be generally aware of your passport’s expiration and not plan on travelling anywhere within six months of its expiration. Rules change all the time and this will help prevent the disastrous scenario of learning at exactly the wrong time that your good passport has suddenly gone bad.