I was once offered a plum overseas story assignment — but couldn’t go because my passport was set to expire in a few months.
Many countries around the world require visitors to have at least six months validity in order to enter, a rule often overlooked by travelers. Not understanding this fine print can ruin travel plans, particularly for those who are fond of last-minute globetrotting.
Not only will the visiting country not let you enter, some airlines will not let you board a plane if this requirement is not met, according to the U.S. State Department.
Why the six-month validity rule exists
It may seem like a silly requirement, but countries have the six-month rule in place for a reason, said Gabe Saglie, senior editor at Travelzoo.
“They do this to account for the rare case where a traveler might get sick or have the need to extend their visit beyond their original travel dates,” he said.
The six-month buffer on a passport ensures that if should anything happen, you’re able to remain on foreign soil legally.
Another important thing you may want to consider is travel insurance, which can protect the financial cost of your trip if something goes wrong. Learn more here.
What travelers can do to prepare
Since many people store away their passports for months or even years in between international trips, it’s a good idea to be aware of your passport expiration date, said Saglie.
“Plan on renewing nine months before it expires to allow for the renewal process to finish well ahead of a planned trip abroad,” he said. “If you're cutting it close, make sure you opt in for the expedited passport renewal service, which often means a turnaround of a few weeks but will require extra fee.”
Expediting your passport will typically cost an additional $60 on top of other passport fees, plus the cost of overnight shipping to and from the passport office, according to the U.S. State Department.
Do your passport research
Just like you would check the immunization requirements of a foreign country prior to visiting, it’s important to research passport and visa requirements, said Alexis Tiacoh, spokeswoman at Expedia.
You should do this for both countries you are traveling to and countries you are traveling through, she said. You can learn more about specific requirements on the U.S. Department of State’s website.
In addition to checking the passport’s expiration date, you may want to check if you need available pages in the passport or if you need a visa, said Saglie.
Traveling out of the country? Check out these travel tips.
Setting up a passport routine
Establish some sort of routine around checking your passport, said Saglie. He suggests creating a calendar invite on your phone to remind yourself to fill out the renewal form and mail it in.
Another option is using an app like TripIt, which keeps track of your travel related information and documents, including your passport’s expiration date, TSA PreCheck memberships and more, said Kelly Soderlund, communications manager at Hipmunk.
You could also make it a habit of checking your passport as each birthday rolls around.
“We’re a family of five. We have developed a habit of checking all passports whenever one of us is celebrating a birthday — that's five checks a year, just to be sure that all of us are up to date,” said Saglie.
If a last-minute trip pops up, you’ll be completely ready and up to date on your passport. It’s best not to learn the hard way.
Looking for travel ideas? Here are the best places to travel this summer.
Image: Jeremy Dorrough