Travel tip: how long should my passport be valid to travel?

Friday newsletters always feature luxury travel conteststips, series, or news.

Today (March 11, 2016): Travel tip: how long should my passport be valid to travel?

Today, most travelers are well aware of the fact that passports are generally required when traveling to a foreign country. However, sometimes a valid passport isn’t enough. And I learned this the hard way last week, when I was all set to travel to Oman, one of my 2016 trips that I am most looking forward to.

So what happened? Well, I am in the possession of a valid passport, which expires at the end of August 2016, exactly 5 months and 27 days from my date of departure to Oman. Since I had less than 6 months left on my passport, I had some concern and I contacted the embassy of Oman in Brussels, Belgium (my home country), a few days before my travel was supposed to start. One of the embassy representative told me over the phone that there was nothing to worry about and that I did not need to apply for a new passport. However, when I arrived at Brussels airport on a Saturday morning at 5 am, British Airways made a big fuss about it, and I was denied boarding. Because Oman does in fact require that passports be valid for six months beyond the date of arrival. As it was weekend, there were no embassy officials that could be contacted nor could I apply for an emergency passport. So I had no other choice than to go back home. Autsj! 

The normal rule for most foreign countries is that they require you to have three months from your actual travel date before your passport expires. Three months is generally the longest amount of time you can stay in a foreign country without any sort of visa. However, more and more countries are expanding that requirement to six months. If your passport does not meet this requirements, you may be refused boarding by the airline at your point of origin or while transferring planes. Even worse, it’s possible you could be denied entry when you actually arrive in the country itself.

So, don’t make the same mistake as I did, and always check the following in advance:

  • Make sure you travel documents – including passport – are in order long before you leave. Generally, this means a passport validity of at least 6 months.
  • If you aren’t sure which documents are necessary for the country you’re traveling to and how long your passport needs to be valid, then check the website of the government (Foreing Office) of your home country.
  • Passport requirements differ from nationality to nationality, so always check the Foreign Office website of the country that issued your passport. Do not rely on information that you find on the Foreign Office website from another country.
  • Make sure that you have a written statement if you are advised by an Embassy official of a different (passport) validity as compared to the one that you find on your home country’s official Foreign Office website. Even better, don’t rely on any advice that differs from the official rules, and apply asap for a new passport when your passport validity is less than 6 months and you have some upcoming trips planned.
  • Make sure you check that your documents are valid for travel, not only for the country you are travelling to, but also for the airline you are traveling with since airline have their own rules. All airlines which are IATA members (which is most of the airline industry) use the IATA Timatic Database to decide the validity of passengers travel documents when you arrive at the airport. The database was created specifically for the airline industry and is based on the most accurate and up to date information available. Everyone can access this database and verify the validity of his/her travel documents here.
  • The number of remaining blank pages a passport should have is also an issue. Some travellers have reported arriving with one or less than one full page left and waiting for hours at immigration, until an official reluctantly grants them entry.

Of course, I was very disappointed that my travel plans (and those of my travel companion) were disrupted because of the passport issue. On top of that, I was quite embarrassed that it happened to me since I am a seasoned traveler. The good news is that we could keep our plane tickets and hotel reservations without any penalty (which was a miracle in itself), so we postponed our Oman holiday to April. And I do have a new passport in the meantime.

Have you ever had a problem at an airport or border control because of your passport’s expiry date or the number of free pages? Leave your story in the comments below.

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  1. I’m surprised that anyone who travels frequently doesn’t know about the 6 month validity which has been in force for most if not nearly all countries for many years now.

  2. Never ever ever ever ever ever rely on verbal confirmations or assurances (this should be written in stone next to other important travel adagia “Never assume anything” and “Immediately call the airline when your flight is cancelled, do not join the queue”)! While verbal confirmations could have some legal value, the fact that you cannot proof that they exist will always work against the traveler.

    Please do not blame or argue with the airline. If they travel you and you are refused entry in the country of destination, they MUST travel you back to your point of origin and they will also be heavily fined. So it’s understandable that they do not want to take any risks.

    I always put a reminder in my calendar about 9 months before my passport (or visa’s) will expire, and I have another reminder about 3 months before any travel to check my documents thoroughly.

    TIMATIC is indeed the best and most accurate reference available. I access TIMATIC through ExpertFlyer which is a paid subscription, but I learned here from your post that it is available for free as well which is nice.

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