In January, a new regulation was put into place stating that your passport must be valid for six months AFTER your return from Italy. This had already been in place for other countries (Spain for example), but this a change in policy for travel to Italy and I suspect it is becoming the norm for travel anywhere. Would you know that? Would a travel agent?
My friend Georgia showed up at JFK with her family for a trip to Spain a couple of years ago. Two family members were allowed to get on the flight. Two weren’t thanks to passports that were to expire three months after their return from their trip. Daughter and husband went on to Spain while she and her son booked a hotel in New York, went to the passport agency and walked their passports through the renewal process. Two days after they were supposed to arrive in Spain, they caught up with the others. Not exactly the way they expected their trip to begin. The cost, the lost days, the frustration.
All of this could have been avoided if the travel agent had been informed of the latest policies for travel to Spain. Sure, usually you have no problem. A passport is good for 10 years so there is a good chance that you are well within that window with years to spare. But how often do you return home from a trip, throw the passport, (along with leftover foreign coins and the business card of that slightly drunk Midwesterner who sat next to you for 10 hours) in a “safe place” (read: your junk drawer in the kitchen without a second glance as to the expiration or thoughts of possible need for renewal before your next trip.
Here are some tips to make sure that your next trip abroad does not include an unexpected detour to the passport agency. Please note: lots of personal experience here folks, so you can either roll your eyes and convince yourselves that I am somewhat of a bonehead or you can admit that you may be just a little bit like me and take this friendly advice to heart. Your choice.
Check the regulations for all the countries you are visiting.
Even if you only have a layover (better safe than sorry).
Have a designated place for your passports.
Scene: 4pm one afternoon before leaving on a business trip to Italy. Packing my bags and I go to the “place”. Three passports. None of which are mine. My stomach drops and I begin ripping the house apart, wracking my brain back to three months prior when I last returned. Who am I kidding?? I put milk back in the cereal cabinet that same morning. Did I really think that I had the mental capacity to remember where I left my passport?!? More frantic searching. A 40 minute drive to my office where I tore apart every drawer and cabinet to no avail. Return home at 11pm in a cold sweat wondering how I was going to tell my boss about this and in one last ditch effort, I searched the pockets of every coat in the coat closet and then I felt it, in the winter coat I wore to Italy because it was January the last time I went and the passport was shoved into the pocket as I raced to grab my suitcase and make the shuttle to the remote parking lot (travel is sooo glamorous!). Lesson: upon return from an international trip, the first thing to be put away is thepassport. In the same place. Everytime. Just make sure the place isn’t TOO safe so that you never remember where it is.
The name game.
Make sure the name you use when booking your tickets matches that which is on your passport. If you use your middle name on your plane ticket, that name MUST appear on your passport as well. When in doubt, leave it out and just use your first and last names. Also, if you ever have the occasion to change your name (marriage, divorce, unparalleled fame, witness protection) make sure you change your passport at the same time you are changing your license, social security card, etc. I was married In September and was traveling to Italy in March. I was so excited about my new name and my new life that when I booked the flight in November, I did so proudly with my married name. Then, two weeks before my trip, it occurred to me that my passport was still lonely single girl. Shit. ANOTHER trip to the Passport Agency to walk the process through. Don’t be like lonely single girl. Change your passport as soon as you change your name for any reason.
Make note of when your passport expires.
I know this sounds basic but believe me, you think you will remember but you lose track of time and you won’t know if it is one year or five years from expiration. If you only have a year on your passport and you are planning a trip in the coming year, you may need to consider renewing sooner rather than later.
Your one and only resource for passport regulations and forms should be the US Department of State Travel site. There are many other “agencies” that look very official and offer services to obtain or renew your passport but they charge a fortune. A standard new passport (not expedited) should cost you $135 plus the shipping fees. The services that are offered online will cost you at least double that. Often times the need for a passport immediately leads to rash judgement and unnecessary fees. Everything you need to know for anything related to travel regulations and documentation can be found on the State Department travel site.