Your Passport May Expire Before The Expiry Date

February 18, 2011 at 2:00 am 7 comments

By Kyle Kurpinski

Expiration dates are funny things. For instance, if I take a swig from a jug of milk that expires next week, I expect to get a mouthful of milk, not sour gym socks. Unfortunately, expiration dates are occasionally imperfect, and the gym sock thing tends to happen from time to time. But when it comes to something non-perishable, like a coupon booklet or an driver’s license, these dates should be a little more concrete. Or so you would think, anyway.

My cousin was recently on her way to Malaysia when she encountered a bit of a snafu at the airport. For travel to Malaysia, it’s not enough to simply have a “valid” passport (i.e. one that has not yet expired). Rather, US citizens must have at least six months remaining before the printed expiration date. My cousin only had five. She actually made it all the way through security before the airport authorities realized their mistake and stopped her from boarding. Trouble is, she had already flown from Portland to San Francisco with her sorta-valid passport, and now she had no choice but to turn around and go back. Even if her trip to Malaysia was only going to last one day, travel regulations would still have forbade the journey without the six-month buffer. I’m sure there are plenty of logical reasons for such a requirement (contingency for an unexpectedly prolonged trip, prevention of illegal immigration or fraud, etc. etc.), but my cousin’s experience still seems like the travel equivalent of buying your milk in May only to discover that it already soured last Christmas.

To make things even more complicated, each country has its own unique rules regarding passport validity. Most countries simply abide by the given date, but some – such as Malaysia, Brazil, and India – require a six-month window, while others – such as Switzerland, Greece, and Denmark – require only three months. When exactly does this window start or end? That’s different for every country too. In some cases it’s calculated from the date of entry into the foreign territory, while in others it’s based on the return date. If you’re planning to travel abroad, you can find the specific rules for each country on the State Department’s website.

Keep in mind that passport renewals typically take about six weeks, so it’s always best to plan ahead when making your travel arrangements. If you’re just learning of these rules before an impending trip, you can apply for an expedited renewal, which takes only two weeks, but also costs an additional $60. If you’re already at the airport (like my cousin was) please have a safe trip back to your house.

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Photo: Amy Barker (cc)

Sources: Wikipedia , Joel Widzer, and The U.S. Department of State

Entry filed under: Travel. Tags: , , , .

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7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. SeriousOpinion  |  February 19, 2011 at 6:48 pm

    This happend to me on my canadian passport. I was going to travel to Thailand but then at the airport they told me my passport will expire before i come back … I totally didn’t count that in. Felt like an idiot, but now i have it.

    Reply
  • 2. Kyle  |  February 20, 2011 at 4:24 pm

    I didn’t take the time to investigate the rules for non-US passports, but I assumed they would be similar. Thanks for sharing your experience with Canadian documentation. My suggestion to non-US residents would be to check with your own passport-issuing agency before making any international travel plans, especially if your expiry date is approaching.

    Reply
  • 3. Daniel  |  February 21, 2011 at 2:59 am

    Interesting, because here in South Africa all the travel agents always warn you before the time that you need at least 6 months before it officially expires. I thought it was actually common practice everywhere. They also warn you that you need a certain amount of open pages open with no stamps on them.

    Reply
    • 4. Kyle  |  February 21, 2011 at 10:52 am

      I imagine that travel agents everywhere are aware of these rules, but for many individuals, online ticket purchasing has essentially cut out the middle man. This is an inherent tradeoff when bypassing the professionals who are paid to know these things in order to save a few bucks (or lots of bucks).

      Reply
  • 5. Victoria  |  February 28, 2011 at 8:07 am

    My boyfriend is Dutch and has TWO passports. One has to have 6 months free on it (for the reasons you mention) and the other is FULL of stamps because of all the business travel he does. It must be annoying to get stopped because you don’t have the right amount of months validity left but people should do their homework before they book their flights!

    Reply
  • 6. Ed Makan  |  July 22, 2012 at 9:12 pm

    I have been aware of this fact for many years in my travels around the world.. Different rules depending on the countries. Much of this is bureaucratic paper shuffles. Dealing with visas can be a pain also. Impeding or hindering human movement over imaginary lines called “borders’ across the globe.

    Reply
  • 7. Chris  |  December 10, 2013 at 8:26 pm

    it is the same for entry to the states you need 6 months validity

    Reply

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